Creamy cashew pesto + homegrown basil FAQ
As a former plant killer, I get a lot of TEACH ME YOUR WAYS messages whenever I post a snap of our tiny herb garden. During my time with a black thumb (every year of my life up until spring 2017), I killed a lot of plants.. and many of you already know this. But let's take a walk through my plant graveyard, shall we?
There are dozens and dozens of succulents. A few fiddle leaf fig trees. A monstera (ok that one actually wasn't entirely my fault because the plant shop it came from had zero natural light so who knows how far gone it was when I got it). Satin pothos (the dude at my local plant shop remembers me as the pothos lady because of how many times I had to have him replace my overwatered pothos). A 3' TALL CACTUS. I overwatered it and then I dropped a stack of books on it. And I'd rather not talk about it or my dead plants anymore. Because it's 2018 and my black thumb has basically ceased to exist and I CAN GROW BASIL, YOU GUYS.
Not only can I grow basil, but I can grow that shit really, really well. And I think it comes down to a few key things: consistent watering (2x per day), direct sunlight (6+ hours per day), and trimming (once every 1-2 weeks). The first two are no brainers but do take some time to get right. And the latter is a common answer to a lot of the questions I receive even though it probably doesn't make a lot of sense at first. But, ladies, think of basil like your hair. What's the best way to grow strong, healthy hair? By getting the ends cleaned up regularly. The same goes for basil. Except instead of cleaning up the ends you chop off 3/4 of the plant every two weeks. Side note: every once in a while I'll employ the half trim method (like I did for this post), but that's only because we weren't ready for fresh pesto (fresh is always > than frozen) and I wanted to buy myself another week so I could add pasta + homemade pesto to our meal plan. (We are totally meal plan people now. I don't even know who we are anymore.)
Anyway, hope you guys enjoy this/find it useful/whatever. Big hugs and happy trimming. <3
PS - I'm a Squarespace n00b and just realized I had comments turned off on a few of my most recent posts sooo SORRY ABOUT THAT. Everything is fixed now.. I think. ;)
Do you sow your own seeds?
Nope. I snagged a few basil starters from Whole Foods this year (we got our first round from Lowe's but they bit the dust after their third hail storm) and planted them in a big pot. If sowing your own seeds, sow them indoors before moving them outdoors (we would totally sow our own seeds except we live in a small loft and don't have the space to do something like that).
How often do you water?
I water my basil (and all my herbs) 2x per day; once in the morning (around 7AM) and once in the evening (around 7PM). Figuring out how much water your plants need will depend on a few factors.. like the size of your planters, the climate in which you live, etc. It'll take a week or two to get the hang of watering so keep an eye on your plant babes and pay attention to how they react to the amount of water you're giving them. For reference: my big planters (10+ inches) get about a liter of water per watering (keep in mind I live in a hot, arid climate and my plants see 6+ hours of direct sunlight each day) and my smaller planters get about 1L between the three of them. On extra hot days, I go full on #helicoptermom and mist the leaves with a plant atomizer.
Why does my basil wilt in the sun?
It needs more water! If I don't water my basil first thing in the morning, I come home to wilted basil leaves later in the day. Give them a big drink of water and they'll spring right back.
What's the best way to keep basil growing?
Trim your plant back regularly (I trim mine every two weeks). If you let the plant mature too much, it may go to seed and then it will basically stop growing/die.
Why does my basil taste bitter?
If you let the plant go to flower (or worse - seed), the flavor profile will start to change significantly. As soon as you see flowers, pinch them off and trim back the plant. I trim mine every two weeks and so far that's allowed me to avoid any flowering.
Why is my basil so woody?
Likely because you're not trimming it back often enough. If you let the plant mature, the stems will turn woody and it won't produce as much anymore. To keep your plant producing, trim it back at least every two weeks (I get 4-6 ounces of basil when I'm trimming at this rate).
HELP! The leaves are turning yellow.
This phenomenon is also called bleaching and it typically happens when plants are overwatered (though other factors can cause bleaching, too). If your plants require so much water that they're starting to bleach (I had this problem last year), trying adding some (and by some I mean a tiny splash) liquid nutrients to the water a few times each week.
My basil always dies.
Buy good quality soil (that's formulated for herbs/vegetables). Make sure your basil plant is potted in something that allows the soil to drain properly (either in a planter with a drainage hole or in a non-draining planter with a few inches of pebbles at the bottom). Keep your plant outdoors, in a spot that gets a substantial amount of sunlight. Give it a big drink each morning; you'll know it's not getting enough water if the leaves start to wilt in the sun and you'll know it's getting too much water if the leaves start to bleach out. Water it again in the evening. Feed it every once in a while (a couple times a week). Keep an eye out for pests and take care of them as soon as you see them.
Care to share any basil growing secrets?
Contrary to what a lot of people recommend, I feed my basil liquid nutrients a couple times a week. There is such a thing as over-feeding so you'll want to make sure you avoid that (I use a tiny, tiny splash in a 2L watering can).
Pests are hard to control naturally but I've found two things that work really well depending on the type of pest. For pests that eat holes in the leaves (like slugs), sprinkle a thin layer of food grade diatomaceous earth over the soil and let it do it's thing. For pests that live under the leaves (like spider mites), spray the leaves with soapy water (just make sure you rinse the harvested basil thoroughly if you employ this method of pest control).
What else can I make with basil besides pesto?
Basil-infused oil and basil-infused salt are a couple of my favorites. Another easy thing to do with basil (or any herb) is give it a rough chop, mix it with a bit of really good olive oil, then put the mixture in a silicone ice cube tray. Freeze until solid then pop herb cubes into an airtight container and use as needed. You can also dry basil (by sun, air, dehydrator, etc.).
How do you store fresh basil?
If my basil plant needs to be trimmed but I'm not planning on using the leaves right away, I'll wrap them in paper towels and store them in a produce drawer until I'm ready to use 'em.
What other herbs are you growing?
Thai basil, curry, rosemary, mint, and a pot of mixed French herbs (sage, oregano, etc.). They're all relatively easy to grow and I care for them the same way I care for my basil.
Notes: I'm not a fan of pine nuts so I use cashews in my pesto. But if you want to use pine nuts (or any other nut/seed) (sunflower seeds or pepitas would be bangin'), knock yourself out. If oxidation is a concern, blanch the basil leaves before making the pesto. When you're ready to use the pesto (and if pairing it with pasta), thin it with ~1/4 cup of pasta water. These are the jars I use for storing pesto (and other sauces) and I LOVE THEM.
CREAMY CASHEW PESTO
3 cups (~2.5 oz) fresh basil leaves
1 cup (130g) cashews, soaked 4+ hours
1 cup (100g) good quality olive oil
Juice + zest of 1/2 lemon, optional
3-4 roasted garlic cloves, optional
Heavy pinch of sea salt flakes
First things first: rinse your basil. Thoroughly. Just because it's homegrown doesn't mean it's clean. After you've cleaned it, pat it dry and give it a rough chop (if you don't chop it the food processor will bruise it a little too much). Add the chopped basil and cashews (sans soaking water) to the container of a food processor and process for 15-20 seconds, just until the nuts start to break down. While the food processor is still running, drizzle in the olive oil and continue processing for about 1 minute, just until the mixture starts to smooth out. Off the processor and add the lemon juice/zest (if using), garlic (if using), and sea salt; process until combined. Divide between three jars then seal and freeze until read to use.
When you're ready to use the pesto, transfer a jar to the refrigerator and thaw overnight. If you're in a hurry, the pesto can be thawed in a hot water bath (though I recommend a slow thaw if you have the time).
Yield: 3 5.4 ounce jars