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How to Harvest and Store Basil

July 26, 2010

The summer crops are starting to roll in. I spied my first cherry tomato flushing an orange-red yesterday. Last night, I pulled out the biggest atomic purple carrot I’ve ever seen. I picked our first cucumber right off the vine and sliced it onto our plates last night. And, this morning, as I ran the irrigation in stages throughout the garden, I took some time to pinch back our various basil plants.

Mixed Basil & a Cucumber Fresh from the Garden

Mixed Basil & a Cucumber Fresh from the Garden

Basil is a plant that is best harvested through pinching out the tips rather than cutting off lateral leaves. Pinching out the tips removes the growth hormone controlling other buds down the stem. This encourages the plant to produce more, bushier growth through the season. If Basil isn’t pinched this way, it will get tough and leggy as it forms flowers, then seeds, and then the plant will go kaput. (Although basil is good to prune this way, don’t assume all plants are going to respond to this kind of pruning. In most cases, this kind of pruning is actually bad for plants like woody shrubs and trees.)

The genovese, lettuce leaf and fine verde basils I harvested this morning were washed, spun and placed in a freezer bag. As I continue to harvest basil through summer, I’ll continue to fill the bag. During the winter, I’ll be able to grab a fishful of freshly-flavored basil for stews, spaghetti and other dishes. No, it won’t hold its beautiful green color for salads, but I do believe it tastes better frozen than dried. Between freezing fresh basil and making pesto, which I will also freeze, we’ll be able to reach into the freezer for the basil-y summer goodness even during winter storms in December.

Oh, and the cucumber in the photo? Well, that’s the second one I’ve harvested this summer. It’s chilling in the fridge. There are several growing on our vines in the greenhouse. By continuing to harvest them young not only to do I get to enjoy tender, sweet cukes right away, but the plants will continue to throw energy into producing new flowers and more fruit through the months ahead. More on cukes and squash in the coming weeks!


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