If you’re on the fence about whether or not to grow basil for your market garden this year, you have come to the right place!
I will try to convince you to absolutely try and grow it, and as early as possible.
Here’s the thing about basil: if you can have it ready for the farmer’s market around mid-May, you can command a top dollar for it.
The earlier you can start selling it, the better.
Once summer rolls around, and everyone else is selling this delicious herb, the price goes to less than half of what you get for early sales.
Basil tends to be a more popular crop to sell at the farmer’s market rather than to chefs.
Once or twice a season, chefs will buy large amounts for making pesto. Other than that, it’s mainly a farmer’s market item.
During the later months of summer, farmer’s market customers will buy large amounts in bulk to make pesto for themselves during canning season.
For these reasons, two plantings of basil per season is a good course of action.
We will be gathering our information from Curtis Stone, author of The Urban Farmer, and his experience growing and selling basil.
There are just a couple of varieties that Curtis Stone grows, they are:
The Early Basil Crop
You may get small pickings in late May. At this point, basil can be sold in small 2 oz. bags for $3. That’s $24 per pound!
Do your best to prioritize these early plantings and try to have a lot available in times of scarcity.
The Second Planting
This will be started in June for a summer to fall harvest.
At this point, the price has fallen to about $8 per pound.
You can see why it’s important to aim for that early harvest, as you can triple your profits.
Basil is a steady crop that just keeps producing from around June through September, depending on your climate.
Basil is generally transplanted out, especially the early crop.
Plant your transplants at 6” centres and look for pickings without a lot of stem and in high frequency.
There should be 2-3 seeds per cell, planted at 4 rows per bed.
Curtis often interplants basil among tomatoes. One or two rows at 6” spacing, about 8” from the tomato row.
The tomatoes won’t shade out the basil until later in the summer. At this point, you could have another crop going somewhere else.
This method allows you to be overlapping the growth of both your basil crops.
This is also a good idea if you choose to sell basil throughout the summer as well.
The days to maturity (DTM) of basil is 76 days from seed, and 24 days from transplanting.
Basil can be harvested at any time of day, but it must never be harvested wet or kept in a sealed bag as moisture will turn the leaves black.
This herb should be stored in a cold room in a half-open bin to prevent condensation.
Usually, the first harvest is very light, as it is early in the season. However, production should double after each harvest until you reach a point in the summer when you’re picking 20 pounds per bed every week.
At this point, when the price for basil is so low, you may want to abandon it for the rest of the summer. This will all depend on the demand, but it just might not be worth the time and effort of harvesting.
There may be other veggies you are growing that command a higher price to be focusing on instead.
The earlier you can get basil started and to the market the better!
The market gets saturated in summer, so it may not be worth your effort to harvest vast amounts of basil for little profit.
Try not to compete for low prices, it will hurt your bottom line at the end of the day.
Later summer harvests may be worth your time as your customers may be ramping up for a pesto making extravaganza!
Please keep in mind that your market and climate are different than Curtis Stones’.
Your particular market is going to dictate what you grow and don’t, so just always be listening to your customers and what they are telling you with their voices as well as their dollars.
We are growing basil this year for our market garden, with an emphasis on growing early basil, so I will let you know how that goes in a future article!
What is your experience with growing and selling basil? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers