Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Needing help with some fickle Basil plants

I have had a trying relationship with fresh Basil since we first met at Trader Joe's in California. It was a beautiful Fall day and I saw a Sale sign. Being a graduate student, I always paid attention to words after  'Sale.' The plant looked full and beautiful. In its leaves, I saw pesto and....well actually I didn't know much about Basil except that it went into pesto, so all I really saw was pesto. I purchased it and read the growing instructions: place in direct sunlight. When I got home to my meager graduate student housing apartment, I tried it out in several places in our living room. By the couch so it would be close to me when I did my nails (I only allowed myself to watch TV when I did my nails, needless to say I always had really nice nails when I was in graduate school) or across the room so I could look at it when I did said nails (the life of a graduate school lacks a certain je ne sais quoi). 

Now that I had established its home, I called the only person I knew who could cook and asked her how to make pesto. She told me to throw some basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese in a food processor. Did she tell me how much of each? No. Did I ask? No. I wanted to act like I knew what I was doing. The end result was a green, slimy, inedible mess and an almost bare Basil plant.

Then the real trouble began. My plant began to die. It was slow and painful. I moved it all over the apartment, I talked to it, I coaxed it, I think I even sung to it at one particularly low point. Finally my roommate, Susanna, who didn't talk to me very much told me I should just let it go.

This was a low point in my first semester at graduate school. It may sound trivial but graduate sucks. You need these little victories and on top of the great television debacle of 2006, a dying Basil plant did not help my morale. 

As I was bemoaning my state in the graduate student lounge, another student laughed at me. Cruel, I know but graduate students are cruel. Then she sighed, looked down her nose and said "Kimberly, those were end of season basil plants. They're supposed to die. That's why they were on sale." 

Two lessons here: 
1. Always read the words before 'Sale.' Had I read them, I would have seen 'End of Season.'
2. Basil plants die in the Fall. Deal with it.

I stayed away from Basil for a long time and then last summer, I was given a Basil plant through our CSA. It died a terrible death. Granted when I replanted it into a bigger pot, there was only one leaf but I was optimistic. The next day the little leaf was laying on the ground. Did I give up? No. Then it rotted. Did I give up? Yes but I also decided that it was a sacrificial offering to other herbs in the pot and I felt better. 

Now this year I bought two Basil plants. I used a bunch of the leaves and now I am growing concerned. After removing all of the dead leaves, this is what remained.

One is doing significantly better than the other. As I told Manatee, the one on the right isn't dead but it is mostly dead. I guess you could also say it is a little alive but Basil brings out the pessimist in me.  

Any tips for bringing it back to life? 
Any tips for growing fresh Basil?
Making pesto? 


  1. I wish I had some tips for you on this, but mine died too :(

  2. Maybe plant them in a bigger pot outside once it gets warmer out? I'm thinking they probably need a lot of sunlight... also maybe pinching them back so they don't get to tall and leggy?

  3. Hi there! Thanks for stopping by curry and comfort. I had to comment on your post here because it's something I have been trying to do myself. I have never been successful at growing basil (or any herb) indoors. I am trying to grow them out on the deck this summer. **keeping my fingers crossed** I wish I had the green thumb to give you some advise...