The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Harvesting the Last Basil

Nipped basilLast Tuesday and Wednesday night, the outside temperature dropped down to 38 F --- not quite a frost but close enough to nip the sensitive basil leaves.  When I went out the next morning, I could see brown bruises forming on the leaves and knew that if I wanted to make another basil harvest I'd better act fast.

Mark and I grow one bed of basil (about four feet by three feet), which gives us enough of the spicy herb for the whole year.  We adore pesto, which I use as our "I'm starving and need dinner in fifteen minutes with no work!" meal year-round by freezing it like crazy all summer.  Luckily, basil is the easiest crop in our entire garden --- I plant it thick so that after weeding it once it outcompetes the weeds and needs no more care for the rest of the year.  Until frost threatens, that is...
So I got to work this morning snipping off the tops of the basil plants with my garden scissors then whirring them in the blender with walnuts, olive oil, garlic, parmesan, salt, and pepper, before scooping them into individual ziplock bags.  I've read that other people like to freeze them in ice cube trays, but to me that's a lot of work....  Instead, I freeze about a cup at a time --- enough to make a big batch of pesto to feed me and Mark for two meals.

An hour later, I had eleven baggies of pesto ready to pop in the freezer.  There are few things more heartening as the first frost approaches than a nearly full freezer!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna, Went back to the front to see where this all began - that's where I found your "full to overflowing freezer" photo (completely gorgeous BTW; ) However, when looking on my phone screen it looks perilously close to the top in places... Did you know, for proper air circulation (even freezing temperatures/food safety) that you need at least 2 inches of (head)space between the lid and your food? Isn't it a great feeling to be ready for winter? (Kind of makes me feel like a happy little squirrel: )

Comment by Deb W Mon Aug 27 00:02:54 2012
Deb --- I think you might be confusing two different issues that shouldn't be relevant here. When canning, it's essential to allow proper head space, and when freezing in glass, you want to allow head space so that the contents won't expand and crack the glass. However, when freezing in plastic, many people actually vacuum seal containers to get as much air out as possible since the air is what causes freezer burn. I'm pretty sure there's no safety issue with filling a plastic freezer container up to the brim, and we've been doing it for several years now with no problem.
Comment by anna Mon Aug 27 08:00:55 2012


I believe that Deb may have been suggesting that a freezer needs to have two inches of space between its contents and the lid. Not the containers in the freezer. This would allow airflow throughout the freezer and maintain even temps. However, I usually have to set something heavy on my freezer lid to keep it closed.... :)

Thanks for all the great information and continuous updates!


Comment by Tim Martin Mon Aug 27 16:29:41 2012

Tim --- I was trying to decide which she meant, but felt pretty sure she meant head space in individual containers after rereading. You might be right, though --- air space on top of the food and under the freezer lid does seem more relevant.

When I did a google search, one site suggested you need air space there so the thermostat can sense the temperature. (Not sure where the thermostat is, actually, on my chest freezer.)

We try to make sure the lid goes all the way down flat, mostly from an energy saving perspective. But there's seldom any air up there, and nothing seems to go bad. Sounds like something to research further....

Comment by anna Mon Aug 27 16:42:40 2012

We've got one of those neat little "click and grow" indoor basil growing kits. Love all your outdoor pics, and scenes. In urban dwelling, it's great to brighten up the indoors with some greenery that we can also eat! I decided to grow basil, lemon grass and thyme. When I came back from a week's holiday, I noticed some of my basil leaves did have some "bruising" -- and the plants had grown and actually used all the click and grow water reservoir. Plus, it's getting much colder, but I can't imagine cold enough for the plants to really feel its winter being indoors. I do wonder what causes the bruising, as before going away for that one week, the leaves were completely green!

Best wishes & thanks for the great blog!

Comment by Basil Grower -- London, UK Sat Jan 9 16:43:59 2016

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