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Into instant gratification and anxious to have something growing in the garden that becomes edible rather quickly? Try Basil. At Fort York we grow Basil in our communal herb garden, but you can also use it in your plant as a companion plant to tomatoes. With lots of sunshine this May, now’s the time to plant! (But don’t let that instant gratification let you forget to pinch!) Read on!

 BASIL (Ocimum basilicum)

GROW FROM: Seed, seedlings and cuttings.

PLANTING/FERTILIZING  After the last frost in well-composted, well-drained soil. For healthy growth. Worm-casting tea and compost tea can help fertilize your basil plant.   Adding mulch around it will help with regard to controlling water stress. Don’t overwater.

COMPANION PLANTS: Tomato, peppers, oregano, asparagus, petunias. Oregano and anise are said to enhances basil’s essential oils. Basil can help keep white flies away from the tomatoes and is actually said to enhance the fruit’s flavor!

BENEFITS: It adds flavor to a variety of cuisines – Italian to Thai! Also a herbal remedy for brain, heart, bladder, kidneys and lung problems. Can also be used to draw poison out of insect bites.

ATTRACTS: Butterflies.  REPELS: Mosquitoes and flies.

HARVESTING BASIL The secret to growing a great bushy basil bush is to harvest!  Prune, pinch or nip! The plant should be at least 6” or have at least 4 to 6 sets of leaves before you first “nip”.  For the first pruning you should cut the plant right above the second set of leaves. Repeat every 3 weeks or so. A well-harvested plant should be able to produce 15 – 24 cups of basil per plant per season. If you are a big pesto maker, you may want to have 4 – 5 basil plants planted 12 inches apart – or as far apart as you can in our plots. You will know the end of the basil bush is near when the buds start to flower. By cutting off the buds before they bloom, you can still harvest, but essentially the life of the plant is telling you it wants to “bolt” and go to seed.  For best tasting basil, it’s said that the best time to harvest is in the morning when the essential oils are at their strongest. At the end of the season harvest evening, including the root.

STORING BASIL Best used fresh, basil can also be dried, crumbled ,and stored in spice jars Another way is to pack the basil into an air-tight container, cover the leaves with olive oil and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.  You can also freeze the leaves (freeze individually on a cookie tray in the freezer before putting in an airtight container) or freeze via the ice cube method. Can also be used in to flavor oils. When storing fresh basil,wrap in a damp paper towel and store in the crisper, or place a basil bunch in water and cover with plastic in the fridge.

TYPES OF BASIL (from Richter’s the Seed people).

Greek Bush Basil – use as pot plants.

Basil Genovese – large leafed. Named after the Genovest district in Italy, the pesto capital of the world.

Lemon Basil – ideal for tea and pot pourri. Grows as a compact bush. Aromatically “lemon”.

Basil Red Genovese – actually purple. Has the same leaf shape as the green Genovese. Also shares aroma and flavor. Makes a colourful pesto.

Anise Basil – Puplish foliage and a sweet anise fragrance and flavour.

Thai Basil – Has the smallest leaf. Similar to Anise Basil but less licorice-like. Add it to your pho after its cooked, or on top of that pad thai.

Spice Basil – Closely resembles Anise basil.  Has strong spicy fragrance and flavour.

Cinnamon Basil – From Mexico where they use it on the table to ward off insects.  As per its name, has a distinctive cinnamon taste and odour.

Purple Delight Basil – Dark purple and medium sized leaves. Strong flavour and scent.


KUDOS! Great work Stephen Sirisko and volunteer gardeners who helped  fortify the garden boxes for the season. A new hose system has also now been installed that obviates the need for clambering up the fort’s defenses!  Thanks to Stephen for thinking the new system up and for getting it up and going.

WILD FORT YORK Fort York is about as natural as downtown Toronto can get.  Northern Hummingbirds, countless butterflies, bees, redwinged blackbirds, various finches, rabbits, groundhogs make their home there. Hawk and coyote can also be spotted. We’re really privileged to have our gardens in such a natural habitat.  Enjoy the birdsong as you garden and please, during planting season remember to take home all garden waste – pots, etc. for recycling.

PARLER FORT YORK  Wednesday, May 16, 6.30 pm, in the Blue Barracks,  PARLER FORT YORK celebrates June Callwood and the stunning new park adjacent to Fort York,  through her words: “It’s All About Kindness.”
Admission $8.85 + tax, Students admitted free

SAVE THE DATES: May 21, 11.00 (tbc) Victoria Day –  Officer’s Mess Kitchen Garden, Fort York, Seasonal Planting! Volunteers welcome.  June 3, 9.00 am. Councillor Layton’s Free Compost Giveaway. (Trinity Bellwoods Park – probably up the north end by Dundas).


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