Young basil plants are packed with all of the flavour of mature plants... but are much easier to manage indoors.
While basil is synonymous with summer, it can be tricky to grow through winter when light levels are low, particularly if expectations are based on the summer growing experience. However, all of that glorious fragrance and flavour can be enjoyed indoors during the winter with a little reframing of how to best go about growing basil.
The concept is simple: if you grow basil as a baby green everything becomes much easier! Baby greens are leafy herbs and salad plants sown densely and allowed to grow for between 21 and 45 days before their first harvest. This is usually about half the time required to grow full-sized versions of the same plants, and the expectation is never to grow these plants on indefinitely but instead get a number of harvests before resowing. Because you sow densely, you get a ton of productivity packed into a small footprint and typically small, shallow containers are all that is required.
The basic process for growing basil as a baby green is simple: pre-moisten your compost-rich soil (we use our Winter Greens mix, which has extra Sea Soil or worm castings compost added for productive leafy growth without the need to add other fertilizers), fill your containers and then sprinkle seed liberally. In our Solstice gift, we are including 40+ seeds to sow into a 5" container vs. the 3 - 5 seeds we would sow per pot if planting in spring for later transplant. Once seeds are sprinkled, gently press them into the mix, mist, and then set in a bright, warm location.
There is no question that basil is at its best when given as much light as possible, so baby basil will still require the brightest location available. Grow lights are not required for baby greens if a very sunny window is an option but using grow lights will certainly speed-up production when growing between December - March and are therefore recommended if available.
Basil germinates quickly; in fact, within a few hours, you will see your seeds swell up with a light purple gel-like substance around each one which is the beginning of germination. Within 10-14 days you should be able to recognize your little plants as basil and by about 35 - 45 days you can start regularly snipping the tops off the basil to enjoy.
Speaking of snipping, basil is a plant that responds particularly well to being pinched from the top, rather than plucked, and this rule of thumb applies to baby greens as much as full-sized basil. By doing so you encourage branching. Use sharp scissors to harvest.
As mentioned earlier, if you use a soil mix that includes high-quality compost there is no need to add supplemental fertilizer at any point while growing your baby greens.
The watering requirements for your baby basil will change over time. Initially, plan to mist or lightly water daily (unless the soil really does not seem to dry out, in which case it is likely too cold for basil). The germinating seedlings need to be kept evenly moist. As the roots fill out in the soil and the young plants fill out, you may notice your baby greens do not need a full watering each day, but more like every two to three days. Later, closer to the 45-day mark, much of the soil will be filled with roots and you'll want to water deeply each day or two.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you want a continuous supply of any type of baby green you'll need to plant for succession sowing. A good rule of thumb is to sow your second crop at about the halfway point of your first crop. So, with basil which takes 35 - 45 days to first harvest, you could start your second crop 18 - 22 days in.
So, there you have it! A new approach for enjoying one of the most summery of plants through winter!