How to Grow Basil

Garden, Edible Garden, Herbs, How to Grow

How to Grow Basil

Basil is a member of the mint family (Labiatae). Basils have the familiar four-sided stems and whorled flowers of that family; they are not, however, in the least invasive, as mints can be. There are four basic types of garden basils grown: sweet green basil, dwarf green basil, purple-leaved basil, and scented leaf basil.

Sweet basil (O. basilicum) grows about 2 feet tall. It has rather large leaves, 2-3 inches long, and produces white flower spikes. It is the most widely grown. Its “cousins” include lettuce-leaf and Genovese basils—varieties with much larger leaves—as well as the spicy Thai basil, ‘Siam Queen’ (1997 All-America Selections winner), an improved tropical basil with an intense fragrance and flavor.

Dwarf basil (O. b. ‘Minimum’) is also known as bush or fine green basil. Its compact growth reaches 10-12 inches high. The leaves are small, about 1/2 inch long, and flowers are white. ‘Spicy Globe’ and ‘Green Bouquet’ are well-known dwarf types; the former is aptly named because the plants grow naturally into rounded, globe shapes.

Purple-leaved basils (O. b. purpurescens) are very ornamental. ‘Dark Opal’ (1962 All-America Selections winner), ‘Purple Ruffles’ (1987 AAS winner) and ‘Red Rubin’ (with solid purple leaves, an improved strain of ‘Dark Opal’) are three of the most popular varieties. These basils tend to have ruffled, frilled, or deeply cut leaves, which are very pungent; they produce deep pink to lavender-purple flowers

Scented-leaf basils bring additional aromas to the basic clove-anise of sweet basil. Lemon basil (O. americanum, O.basilicum var. citriodorum) has a very distinct lemon flavor, especially in the newest ‘Sweet Dani’ (1998 AAS winner). The leaves are grayish green, the flowers white. The leaves of cinnamon basil have a spicy cinnamon flavor; flowers are deep pink with purple bracts. Anise basil has a flavor similar to licorice; its flowers are slightly purplish.

Growing From Seed
Whether you sow seeds indoors or out, remember that basil does not like cold, or even cool, weather. Sow the seeds outdoors when day and night temperatures reach about 12-15 degrees Celsius. When sown or transplanted at the right time, basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow successfully. Basil traditionally hits maturity in 80-90 days. 
Light: Full Sun
Seed Depth: ¼” or 6mm
Seed Spacing: 1” or 2.5cm
Row Spacing: 18” or 45cm
Days to germinate: 7-10

Starting Basil Indoors
Starting basil indoors is a great way to get a heads start on planting which will provide you with even more basil to cook with. Plan to sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the date of your average last frost in spring. Basil does not need a long time to grow large enough to transplant to the garden. 

  • Fill a shallow container, flat, or individual 2- to 2 1/4-inch pots with a commercial seed-starting mix (such as Pro-Mix) Moisten the mix and let it drain. Sow the seeds in rows in a flat or two to three seeds per pot. Cover the seeds with about 1/4 inch of the mix. Press the mix down lightly and spritz the surface with water to moisten it and settle the seeds.
  • To keep the mix from drying out while the seeds are germinating, cover the containers with sheets of clear plastic wrap, or place each in a plastic bag and close it with a twist-tie (preferably a proper seeding tray and clear dome will give you the best results).
  • Set the containers in a warm location; the growing medium should be at about 21-23 degrees Celsius. Seedlings will emerge in 4 to 7 days. When they do, remove the plastic covering and place the containers in bright light or direct sun in a south-facing window or a fluorescent light garden. Give the containers a quarter turn every few days so the plants grow straight instead of leaning towards the light source.
  • Keep the mix evenly moist by watering from the bottom: Set the container in a sink filled with a couple of inches of water until beads of moisture appear on the surface. A liquid fertilizer at one half the recommended rate can be given to seedlings to promote healthy plants.
  • When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall and have at least two pairs of true leaves, transplant those in flats to individual pots. Thin those started in small pots to one per pot by snipping off all but the strongest looking plant with a scissors. It is not necessary to transplant purple-leaved basils, such as ‘Dark Opal’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’, if you sow them about 1/2-1 inch apart. If young plants become tall and spindly, the growing tip can be pinched to encourage branching and compact growth.

Sowing Directly in the Garden
Sow seeds in the garden when the soil has warmed up to about 15 degrees Celsius. Sow the seeds about 1/2 inch deep in good garden soil; if you cover the seeds with less soil, they may float to the surface after a heavy rain. Basil germinates readily, therefore you do not need to sow thickly. You can sow the seeds in rows or in groups; drop two to three seeds in each hole for the latter. Keep the seedbed moist until germination occurs. When the seedlings have at least two pairs of true leaves and are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin them to stand 10 to 30 inches apart, depending on the species or cultivar. Begin pinching out the growing tips for compact growth when the seedlings are 3 to 4 inches tall. To have an uninterrupted supply of fresh basil, most gardeners sow basil seed several times during the growing season.

Basil from Transplants
Basil is so popular that you can readily purchase plants at garden centers or nurseries in addition to growing it from seed. The plants may be sold in individual pots, six-packs or flats. Look for young, compact plants. Avoid tall, leggy plants—even though you can correct their growth habit somewhat by cutting them back after you have planted them at home. The leaves of sweet basil should be a clear deep green; spots on the leaves may indicate they have been exposed to the cold. Pass up plants that have obvious pests, such as aphids, on stems or leaves. If you can’t plant the herbs the day you bring them home, set them in a protected area away from the drying effects of direct sun and wind until you can put them in the ground or in containers.

Out In The Garden
Select a Site. Basil grows best in a location that receives full sun—at least six hours (or more) of direct sun daily. With less sun, the plants have a tendency to get “leggy.” Plants in containers require the same exposure. Prepare the Soil. Although herbs are not very fussy, they do need a light, fertile soil with good drainage. Amend what you have by digging in about a 2-inch layer of peat moss and compost before planting. This is particularly important if your soil is mostly clay.

Choose a cloudy, calm day or late afternoon to transplant basil to give them a chance to settle in before they have to contend with the drying effects of sun and wind. It is very important to plant at the right time, which means not too early in the season. The slightest cold will set them back. Set the plants in the ground at the same depth they were growing in the pots. If you bought six-packs or flats of basil plants, water them first; then carefully lift each plant out of its cell or separate them from each other in the flat, keeping as much soil around the roots as possible to minimize moisture loss. Space plants 10-12 inches apart; dwarf basils, 8-10 inches apart; larger basils, such as ‘Sweet Dani’, up to 20 inches apart. Water the plants immediately after setting them in the ground.

Compaion Plants
To help grow the best basil try growing with these companion plants - Tomatoes, Peppers, Oregano and asparagus. Petunias are also helpful in repelling thrips, flies and mosquitoes. Sage is known to be an incompatible plant with basil. 

Garden Uses
Basil is as ornamental as it is edible. Put it in a traditional herb garden, in the vegetable plot in the center of a bed of red and green-leaf lettuces or edging a bed of tomatoes. Use both the green- and purple-leaved varieties in borders; the latter are especially beautiful with perennials such as coral bells (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’), Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’, fountain grass (Pennisetum), dusty miller, and blue Salvia farinacea. Both combine well with annuals, such as dwarf or medium-height snapdragons, nicotiana, French marigolds, and petunias. With its natural round shape, the dwarf basil ‘Spicy Globe’ makes a wonderful edging for any type of garden: perennial, rose, or herb. Try the old-fashioned technique of keeping flies away by planting basil around a patio or in containers on a deck.

How to Grow Asparagus

Garden, Edible Garden, Vegetable Seed, Asparagus, Asparagus Roots, Asparagus Seed, How to Grow

How to Grow Asparagus

Asparagus is one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables around. It is high in potassium, fiber, folacin, thiamin, vitamin B6 and rutin and contains glutahione. It is not only low in calories but is fat free and has no cholesterol. Aspara­gus can be a tasty side-dish when steamed or grilled on the BBQ. Not only can you eat asparagus, once the plants have matured the ferns from them can be used to add flare to floral arrangements.

When to Plant
Asparagus should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. One-year-old crowns or plants are preferred. Seeds are sown in a production bed and allowed to grow for a year. The young plants have compact buds in the center (crown), with numerous dangling, pencil-sized roots. Adventurous gardeners can start their own plants from seed. Although this adds a year to the process of established the bed, it does ensure fresh plants and the widest pos­sible variety selection. An optimum planting site for asparagus would be a sandy well-drained location. Asparagus don’t take well to saturated soil conditions.

Spacing and Depth
Place the plants in a trench 12 to 18” wide and a full 6” deep. The crowns should be spaced 9 to 12” apart. Spread the roost out uniformly, with the crown bud side up, in an upright, centered position, slightly higher than the roots. Cover the crown with 2” of soil. Gradually fill the remaining portion of the trench during the first summer, as the plants grow taller. Asparagus has a tendency to “rise” as the plants mature, the crowns gradually growing close to the surface of the soil. Many gardeners apply an additional 1-2” of soil from between the rows in later years.

As asparagus plants grow, they product a mat of roots that spreads horizontally rather than vertically. In the first year, the top growth is spindly. As the plants become older, the stems become larger in diameter. Following freezing weather in the fall, the asparagus tops should be removed to decrease the chances of rust disease overwintering on the foliage. Because asparagus remain in place for years, advance soil preparation helps future production greatly. Working green manure crops, compost, manure or other organic materials into the proposed bed well in advance of planting is a good approach. Asparagus should be fertilized in the same way as the rest of the garden the first three years. In the spring, apply an organic fertilizer such as the gaia green 4-4-4. Starting in the fourth year, apply fertilizer but delay the applicant until June or July (immediately after first harvest). This approach encourages vigorous growth of the “fern” which produces and stores nutrients in the roots for next year’s production season.

Weeds and grasses can be problematic with asparagus. They compete with the developing spears, making an unsightly area in the garden and will significantly decrease yield and quality. Start frequent, light, shallow cultivation early in the spring in both young plantings and mature patches that are being harvested. 

How to Grow Tomatoes

Garden, How to Grow

How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are native to the Americas, and a favourite to grow in home gardens. They are full of vitamin C, iron and protein. They are easily grown in our Maritime Climate.

There are five major fruit shapes that differ between varieties of tomatoes; cherry, plum, pear, standard and beefsteak. Cherry tomatoes are defined by weight in the range of 1/4 to one ounce. The plum and pear tomatoes are the fruit shapes as described and weigh between 2 to 6 ounces. The standard tomatoes are round to globe shape weighing 4 to 8 ounces. The beefsteak size differs depending on the variety, but can be 2 pounds or more.

Tomatoes are also categorized by their maturity date. The maturity date means the number of days from planting outdoors to expect ripened fruit ready for harvesting. Tomatoes can be early, mid-season or late. Early tomatoes will ripen from 55 to 65 days from transplanting. Mid-season is considered 66 to 80 days for ripe fruit. Late types require over 80 days or more to ripen

Plant Growth
There are basically two types of plant growth for tomatoes. They are determinate and indeterminate.

Indeterminate growth means varieties grow, blossom and produce tomatoes throughout the growing season until the end of the warm season. Because of the abundant lush growth, pruning indeterminate plants is highly recommended. To prune, pinch out suckers inbetween the 'V' shape that forms between the main stalk and the stems that branch out. Examples of indeterminate plants are Beefstake, Early Girl, Big Beef, Early Cascade and Sweet Million. When growing indeterminate varieties it is esstenial that they be grown on steaks or in tomato cages as they can often reach well of 5' tall. 

Determinate tomato plants will reach a predetermined height and not grow beyond that height. They are relatively compact and produce a full bushy plant. The plants flower, set fruit and ripen in a short time so that the main harvest is concentrated into a few weeks. Examples of determinate varieties are Scotia, Celebrity and Tiny Tim. These are great varieties to grow in containers on the patio. 

Sowing Seed
If starting tomatoes from seed you need to start them inside (typically end of Feb, early March). Tomato seed should be sown indoors 6 to 12 weeks before the last predicted frost for your region. Most seed will germinate in 5 to 12 days. For maximum germination, the soil temperature needs to be kept warm, about 21 to 24 degrees Celsius. Place in a sunny location (or even better use grow lights), keep seedlings warm and water regularly. Because seedlings are inside for quite a while prior to planting out, you may need to move the them from the small cell paks they were started into a larger 4-6" pot. When transplanting up the tomato seedling can be planted deep, to the first leaf stem as roots will develop along the buried main stem, making a better established root system. Continue to provide as much direct sunlight as possible. Grow lights should be used to supplement the natural sunlight while inside. The plants may stretch or get leggy if they do not receive enough direct light. Occassionally fertilizing the seedlings will help to keep the plants strong, Plant Prod 10-52-10 is great for plants during rapid growth periods and transplanting.  

Prior to moving tomatoes outside, it is necessary to harden the plants off (so the plant does not go into shock). It is recommended to harden off plants before placing them in the garden. 

Put plants outside in a protected area where they will receive full sun, but out of the wind. Move plants inside at night. After being outside for a week or two, the plants should be hardened off and ready to transplant. To prepare an optimum growing space in the garden for toamtoes add compost and other organic materials to your soil to improve nutrinets, texture and mositure holding capacity. Products

 like kelp meal and Halifax Seed's Grow All Fertilizer 8-12-6 as well as a fertilizer with calcium are all great for tomatoes. 

The use of a Kozy Coat can help to extend your tomato harvest season. These plastic, red, 'wall of water' forms a teepee over the tomato plants, protecting them from chilly temperatures and giving them a head start. 

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and require attention. Use a water soluble fertilizer to feed your tomatoes throughout the season. Gaia Green Tomato Supreme or Neptune's Harvest Fish and Seaweed fertilizer are both great choices for healthy tomato plants. Continue to monitor the plants for suckers that need to be pruned out and watch for insects and disease. Ensuing the plants are properly staked will provide good air circulation around the plants to help prevent disease. Consistant watering will help the plants to grow uniform, plump toamtoes and will help prevent cracking. 

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Garden, How to Grow

Growing Vegetables in Small Spaces

Back in the 1970’s the average backyard vegetable garden was about 1000 square feet. Now it is typically 200 square feet. New houses tend toward smaller yards, so the farm model of growing food and the generous space it required has become obsolete. Contemporary vegetable gardening borrows the best design ideas from the past, while incorporating new technology and materials to make smaller vegetable gardens easier to manage, and more productive. Two ways to coax more production from limited space is by borrowing from old cultures, the concepts of raised beds and vertical growing. Shifting a garden layout from rows to raised beds almost doubles the available growing area, as most of the ground formerly devoted to paths is dedicated to production. Growing food vertically to exploit the airspace above the garden again almost doubles its effective production area. This configuration facilitates the use of soaker hose irrigation, woven fabric mulches and other space age materials to dramatically reduce the amount of work involved in producing crops.

Raised Beds
Raised beds are permanent, rectangular plots holding soil that remains loose and rich because it is never compacted by foot traffic. Paths between the beds are also permanent. While they require a significant investment of physical labor to dig and box, they do not have to be dug again every year. Raised beds promise years of virtually instant bed preparation and easy planting each spring. Try one bed at first. Dig it in the fall when the weather is cool, then add more beds over time. Because their excellent soil permits intensive planting, it will not be necessary to have as big a garden overall as before.

Making Raised Beds
Lay out the bed’s dimensions with stakes and string. A width of 3 or 4 feet is a comfortable reach from either side for most adults. Lengths of 8 or 12 feet (conveniently allowing for evenly spaced trellis supports every 4 feet) are most adaptable to the typical backyard. Begin digging within the string at one end, cultivating the soil to a depth of at least a foot--deeper is better. If working in a turf area, put aside pieces of sod for the compost pile. Working backward to avoid stepping on newly dug soil, turn over shovelfuls of soil and mound them in a loose pile within the measured dimensions of the bed. This is a good time to incorporate organic material such as compost, peat moss or chopped leaves into the soil.

Designate at least 3 feet for path area around the bed. Scrape off the valuable top few inches of topsoil from the paths and mound it on the newly dug bed to increase its height, then spread wood chips or gravel, or lay bricks in the path area to eliminate future problems with mud. Rake and level the surface of the mounded soil in the bed and it is ready for planting.

A layer of straw (not hay) or chopped leaves will protect the soil over the winter and discourage erosion of the mounded soil into the paths. While it is not necessary, boxing each bed with 2 by 10 inch wooden planks prevents erosion most effectively, makes beds easier to manage and looks more attractive. Boxed sides also provide a place to fasten fixtures to permit quick attachment of sturdy vertical supports for various crops.

When picking out wood for your raised beds make sure you are using untreated wood. Good choices for your raised bed would be cedar or hemlock or another wood that doesn’t rot quickly.

Reasons to Use Boxed Raised Beds:
- Save space
- Maintain soil texture
- Do not need annual digging
- Heat up earlier in the season
- Use water and fertilizer more efficiently
- Improve soil drainage
- Permit intensive planting
- Are neat and accessible
- Support trellises securely
- Permit use of shade cloth or plastic tents
- Avoids soil compaction due to foot traffic

The Value of Vertical
Another way to maximize production in limited space is to exploit the air space above the garden bed. Combined with raised boxed beds the potential for dramatically increased production with vertical growing is enormous. Plants grown vertically can be planted more closely together and produce more in the rich, friable soil of a properly managed raised bed. Because they take up only a few inches of surface soil, there remains lots of bed left to be intensively planted with low-growing vegetable plants. Orienting beds on a north-south axis assures that plant-laden trellises do not block the sun from lower growing plants as it moves from East to West across the yard during the day. Erecting vertical supports is always a time consuming problem. Free-standing ones provide flexibility in placement, but are precarious, tending to collapse part way through the season from the weight of maturing crops. The planks that enclose a raised bed offer a convenient place to attach year round fixtures that make setting up and taking down trellisesquick and easy. They make it possible to have a flat trellis system that runs along either side of the bed that is stable, yet easily reconfigured to facilitate crop rotation.

Establishing a Trellis System
There are lots of ways to fasten trellis poles to the wooden planks of boxed beds. One tried and true method is to fasten 12 inch lengths of PVC pipe, 1½ to 2 inches in diameter, with plumber’s brackets at four foot intervals along the insides of the long sides of the bed. Dig the PVC pipe into the soil so the opening is flush with the top of the board. Sturdy vertical poles, wooden or PVC, up to 8 feet long, fit easily and quickly into the PVC pipe fixtures for instant stability. Since their first 12 inches sit in the fixture below the soil level, the trellis will actually be 7 feet tall, about maximum reach for most adults.

Next you can cut 4 foot lengths (the distance between the vertical poles) of furring strips or similar 1 by 2 inch slats, to make crosspieces to make panels of trellis which fasten to the vertical poles at top and bottom. The trellis material itself may be hand-strung wire or twine, or commercial netting made of nylon or plastic. Mesh with 4 or 6 inch holes allows for easy access when picking large vegetables such as tomatoes. Fasten it to the crosspieces with a staple gun to form panels that are easily mounted and removed from the vertical poles, rolled up and stored for next year. Drill holes at the ends of the crosspieces and at the tops and bases of the poles for attaching panels of trellis netting with screw bolts and wing nuts.

Veggies That Grow Well Vertically:
- Beans, Lima Pole
- Beans, Pole
- Cucumbers
- Melons
- Peas
- Squash, Winter varieties such as acorn, butternut
- Tomatoes, indeterminate

Benefits to Vegetables of Vertical Growing:
- Better air circulation
- Better access to sunlight
- Less exposure to soil pathogens
- Easier to harvest
- Dry off faster after rain
- Less likely to be curled or deformed

How to Grow Blueberries

Garden, How to Grow

How to Grow Blueberries

How to Grow Blueberries

Blueberries require specific care and conditions to provide you with maximum fruit yields. With proper care, you will get optimum yields of large, juicy berries perfect for eating along with a beautiful shrub within your landscape. 

Blueberry plants thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade; however, the fruit production can be less if they are in partial shade. They require acidic, well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter and a soil pH that is between 4.2 and 5.0. In Nova Scotia, we have naturally acidic soil, although the pH level should be tested every 1-2 seasons. Peat moss (a slightly acidic soil amendment) can be added to soil, as well as compost and manure as organic matter.

When choosing blueberry plants, ensure you have a minimum of 2 different varieties to cross-pollinate as this will give you optimum crop yields. Choosing varieties with different maturity dates will lengthen your harvest period ensuring fresh, tasty blueberries all season long. 

When planting blueberries, ensure they are spaced at least 1-1.5 m apart. Blueberry plants have shallow root systems, so be aware of this when handling the plants while transplanting: damaging the roots can provide growth set-backs or the loss of the plant. The plants should be kept uniformly watered throughout the growing season. Mulching will help conserve water, as well as controlling fluctuations of moisture. During dry spells plants should be kept well watered.


Since blueberries are acidic loving plants you can fertilize with an ammonium sulphate fertilizer to help keep the pH low. They should be fertilized three times in a growing season. The first fertilization should be done in the spring, just prior to bud break; the second should be after petal fall; the third should be in early July. Older bushes should have most of the fertilizer around the outer spread of branches. At Halifax Seed we highly recommend our blueberry fertilizer with ammonium sulphate; however, we also carry organic lines, like Gaia Green, whose Power Bloom product would also work as a great blueberry fertilizer.


For the first 2-3 years, your plants will need little to no pruning. While this is important, it is also imperative to remove any damaged, diseased or dead growth, as well as spindly growth, as it will encourage an upright and vigorous growth habit. After blueberry plants are established, annual pruning will help invigorate and improve the health and yield of the plants. After 5 years, high-bush blueberry stems are typically no longer productive; pruning 5 year old stems and weak branches, as well as thinning out crowded spots after the initial growth period, promotes healthier growth and a higher fruit yield. Plants should be pruned when they are dormant, so it is important to find the right time to prune: typically in Atlantic Canada this is February to April. Once a blueberry bush has been pruned, it will stimulate new growth; if this is done too early, it can cause damage. As a rule of thumb, any single cane that is older than 5 years, or larger than 5 cm in diameter, should be cut back to the ground. Keep 4-6 mature canes per bush and 2-3 vigorous shoots per bush. After the winter, remove all the extra sprouts and let the healthiest ones go. Pruning out the older canes allows the new shoots to be more productive and take over.

The fruit develops on one-year-old wood. In the first 3 years the fruit buds should be cut back to encourage the growth of the blueberry plant, ensuring the best possible yields for the future.

When pruning a blueberry bush it is necessary to keep in mind the optimal shape for the plant. They are tight at the bottom with an open and spreading centre. Removing some of the canes and cutting back in the centre will help the plant develop into the right shape, preventing the interior of the plant from becoming too dense with leaves. 

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) Varieties most common to Halifax Seed Garden Centres:*

Jersey: A late mid-season berry. The fruit is medium sized, has medium scar, fair colour and flavour, and is firm. The bush is very vigorous and productive. The clusters are long and loose. Grows 1.8-2.1m (6-7') tall. 

Duke: An early variety, with striking autumn foliage of yellow and orange. The berries are of medium size, firm, and light blue. The flavour is mild, but becomes more aromatic after several hours in the fridge; perfect in a fruit salad. The bush is vigorous, with stocky canes, but is well branched. Typically grows 1.2-1.5m (4-5') tall.

Bluejay: A mid-season berry. The fruit is medium sized with long stems that aid in mechanical harvesting. The bush is vigorous and upright. Grows 1.5-2.1m (5-7') tall.

Bluecrop: This mid-season producer is one of the most widely grown varieties. Medium to large size fruits, light blue colour, small scar, firm with good, tart flavour. The berries are resistant to cracking. Will grow 1.2-1.8m (4-6') tall. 

Northland: Produces fruit early mid-season. Fruit size is small, dark blue, and has a wild-berry flavour. It has limber branches which do not break under heavy snow loads and adapts well to a sub-zero climate. This variety is self-pollinating. Grows 0.9-1.2m (3-4') tall. 

*Availability and varieties can change from throughout the season. Our stock of High-bush Blueberries are field grown and will typically be available in Halifax Seed Garden Centres early spring. If you have any questions please contact one of our stores for pricing and availability.