Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Basil and Asparagus

Basil growing happily in the asparagus bed.
Sometimes I stumble on great things entirely by accident. This year, with a new asparagus bed going in I was thinking about the use of garden space and wondering if I couldn't just squeeze a little extra room by companion planting some annual goody into that perennial bed. It is very hard to wait 2-3 years for asparagus, and as a rather large portion (2' x 12') of my garden expansion this year was dedicated to said veggie, I wanted to maximize the return on that bed with some more immediate results. And I needed to plant my basil somewhere.

A quick google indicated that they were not enemies, and one site even listed basil as an acceptable companion plant for asparagus. I decided to trust that one site (which I did not bookmark, and now wish I had) and went back to the garden with my packet of basil seed.
Basil from the third cutting.
I am happy to report, Basil and Asparagus are BFFs in my garden. The asparagus, purchased from a box store, has also thrived in spite of it's dubious clearance rack origins. I have never had box store baggies give me a 100% survival rate before, especially on something as fussy as asparagus can be. Clearly a beneficial relationship. And this summer has seen the best basil harvest ever, so it would appear to work both ways.

Basil is most effective as a cut and come again herb crop. If you wait to cut it until it gets "big" it will simply get leggy instead. Taking regular cuttings from the top of the plant keeps the stems stocky and sturdy and produces more leaves. It also puts off flowering, keeping the basil sweet.

The top clippings can add up faster than you think. After harvesting several pounds in one day I realized I was not going to be able to fit everything into the dehydrator. That one cutting created about 2 ounces of dried basil.  Plus:

Basil: better than lettuce on my lunchtime sandwich.
A portion of my steak and tomato sandwich (okay, it was really a roast sliced up to make "steaks").

A pint of roughly chopped basil preserved in olive oil. This ready to go infused oil keeps extra long in the fridge. (I have never managed to go longer than 6 months before it gets used up, but I think it could last longer than that even.)

A pint of Pesto Base, which is just the nut-free paste of fresh basil, cheese, olive oil, and salt. It does oxidize a little so I wedged out the air bubbles several times as I filled the jar, filling it level to the rim. As I use it the top will begin to show oxidation but as it will discolour from cooking anyway that won't matter. In the meantime it will show a nice pretty green through the glass jar.

And about three cups of fresh leaves frozen in a baggies because I got tired and decided not to get any fancier than that with the rest of it.

Pints of basil chopped in oil for cooking, and a nut-free pesto paste.
With all of that there was still enough basil left to make a very basil heavy "fresh spaghetti" for dinner (and leftovers for the next several days) with more sheep cheese and some tomatoes from the garden.

"Fresh Spaghetti" is made by dicing uncooked tomatoes into a saucepan
with cooked noodles and assorted seasonings, and tossing it only long
enough to get warmed through so the finely grated cheese will melt.

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