Top | Susan Klein — Blog

My Babies, Basil

(post, Susan Klein)

primary-image, l

      Every morning in summer, I step outside the back sliding glass door of my Eugene, OR. town-home which leads to my enclosed courtyard.  And, I check on them---my sweet, 60 or more little “babies”.  I have noticed, however, this year they seem a bit distressed, which makes me quite disturbed. With very little room to grow any kind of vegetables, I plant my favorite herb each spring.  I grow basil from seed.  This is my summer love.  I buy already started diminutive varieties of other herbs in pots, for sure.  But, I get excited when spring blooms into warm summer.  I have the chance to watch, like a mother hen, my “babies” grow into mature adult basil. However, I noticed that in the pre-toddler stage (about 2”) this year, most, if not all, of my chartreuse babies have pretty severely curled leaves.  They look like blistered faceted emeralds and not the usual flat paper-like leaves I am so used to.  
    Everyone pooh-poohed my idea of going with seeds this year.  I was a bit tardy poking the sweet, minuscule black seeds into the ground on my mere 2 foot by 6-foot small, boxed in courtyard. My girlfriend Lori stated,  “Just go to Trader Joe’s.  They have huge basil plants for only $1.99”. 
      This is not what I do.  I don’t buy full grown basil plants.  I grow my basil and I watch the stages of my seed babies advance to maturity.   I enjoy watching them grow through adolescence to full grown adults.  As they become adults, I have basil in my salads and make pesto—lots, which I store in ice cube trays, when summer passes.
    So, like a good parent, I have faithfully watered, fish emulsion fed them at the earliest age when they could eat, transplanted them at the 1” pre-toddler stage, spoken sweet words to them daily, and, ever so gently, fondled all my sweet pungent baby basil letting them know I am there to care for them every morning since germination.   I hadn’t done anything differently this year other than plant a month later than usual.  Perhaps I should have started my seeds in pots inside as it states on the back of the package. Like I do every year, I hoed and raked the soil and added a bit new potting mix to blend in with my newly exposed strip.  It was certainly warm enough.  I had the great pleasure of seeing them pop their cute, naive bodies out of the soil within a week or two.  Nothing at that particular stage seemed out of place in the growth process.
     I decided to hunt down via the Internet any and all possibilities for this leaf curling.  I even searched blogs to no avail on this phenomenon.  There were no results on why my babies were not opening their extensions in a soft and smooth way.   They were growing in size, for sure.  They were a great shade of green, about 2 inches in size, but had turned under edges more like Savoy cabbage.  This is basil!  What is wrong with my bambinos? 
      I dropped by my local organic garden store with one of my dug up basil babies, (Down to Earth— and spoke with Tigre, one of their experts with years of basil growing experience.  He wanted to sell me some expensive worm killer (as I had noticed my sweet little thing had one small caterpillar on it which meant there were probably more). I declined and left the store thinking I needed to do more internet research on how to clean my clan naturally.   I found that a spray of cayenne pepper in a water solution would rid the pests of toying with my bundle of joys.  Unfortunately, my baby basil are so delicate, that not only did it not work, it also seemed to have sunburned their delicate skins.  I then tried an infused mixture of ground up lime rinds with water (the oil in the skin supposedly repels the worms)…hmmm.  It didn’t change the ruffles but the caterpillars disappeared.  One problem solved!
       Still trying to figure reasons as to why my babies have those frilly leaves, I contacted via e-mail, Doug Oster, author of the book “Tomatoes Garlic and Basil”.  He posed the idea of perhaps my planted basil seed was of the “Valentino” variety.  My leaves were way too rippled when looking at pictures of most the varieties available.  This was not an answer to my question of ripples.
       Needing a few items at Trader Joe's the next day, and, who doesn’t, I approached their double front sliding door.  There, before my eyes, were many seemingly stacked on top of each other, fabulously voluptuously gorgeous, full grown to “20-something”, basil plants, all with unruffled leaves. I touched that perfect planar leaf. The richness of that green I know as basil, and, that smell!  I was so tempted to buy—just one.  I was lured in by the immensity of the crowd there.  They seemed to beckon me to buy, buy, and buy! 
     “Just one”, I said to myself. 
     I chose flippantly.  Before I knew it, one proudly sat where a kid would sit in my shopping cart. I was adopting an orphan to bring home to my menagerie.  I felt a bit guilt-ridden.  I felt like I was abandoning my babies back home. I headed home with my few items and an “adult”. 
     I drove into my driveway, then into my garage and lowered the door.  I felt like I was hiding something.  I felt like a criminal.  I got out of my car with my modest cloth bag of groceries, and, concealing the plant behind my body, I carried it past my 60, now two inch "tods".  I entered my sliding glass patio door and onto my kitchen counter I placed my just purchased, fully grown basil plant.   I unpacked looking at this now gangly green thing, thinking, how tasty this will be in my salads, how fantastic this will be in my veggie stir fries and how I will use every bit of this freshly adopted orphan.   My horde of kid basil out back will continue to grow. And stepping outside my back door, glancing down at my basil, I broke off a single leaf.  I placed it on my tongue and realized they are all very ok.

An addendum: I received a picture of my blistered basil plants from long time organic Gardner and environmentalist, Richard Harrington.  The variety is “Mammoth Sweet” and most likely, Richard stated, I may have used a seed mixture.