Thursday, August 30, 2012

Saving basil seed: A Nufar-ious plot

Nufar basil
Despite what this looks like, I'm really not trying to grow the most pathetic basil plant ever.

At first glance, this beauty — yes, I think it's beautiful — looks tired, spent. And it is. After all, it just spent the past two months providing me with the biggest, most pungent leaves I've ever seen, smelled and tasted.

They were the star of pestos, the supporting actor in caprese salad, made cameos in roasted tomato sauce.

Although it looks nearly drained of vitality, I discovered my Nufar basil is actually brimming with life. It's packed into those brown, dried bits, in the form of seeds. Future generations of Nufar. It's a variety of this quintessentially summer herb that I bought on an impulse, withholding hope for it only because I find basil a bit fickle to grow.

It doesn't grow because I water it too much. It doesn't grow because I don't water it enough. It turns to seed before barely giving me a leaf. But not Nufar, once bushy with leaves the size of my palm, and now picked to a lanky, lean shell of its former self. All summer, it kept growing and giving me the best basil I've ever had.

Turns out, this relative of the popular Genovese variety is resistant to fusarium wilt, which can prevent the plant from taking up water and cause its leaves to to go limp. Clearly, Nufar and I were meant to be. It's idiot-proof basil.

A Nufar basil leaf. 

So when I figured out where basil develops and stores its seeds while studying Nufar closely one day, I decided I had to save them. It seemed like the easiest thing in the world to do, kind of like growing fusarium resistant basil.

Here's how I collected future generations of Nufar in pictures:

First, go for the brown bits on the flowering part of the basil plant. They're ready to be harvested.

I gently picked the ripe pods from the stock.

My haul from Nufar so far.

Carefully peel open the underside of the pod. You should see a cluster of three to four black seeds inside the pod. These are gold. Gently loosen them with your fingernail into a dish.

And voila! Put your clean seed in a dish or envelope and store it in the freezer until you're ready to plant.

My heart sank just a little bit when I found out Nufar was a hybrid. That means there's a very good chance the seeds I save will produce a plant more like one of Nufar's parents. I'm hopeful it's the one that's resistant to the wilt. Otherwise, I predict basil growing failure in my future.

Still, not knowing how things will turn out is the appeal for gardening for me. Every year is an adventure.

My nufar seeds will ensure 2013 is no different.

Saving basil seed: A Nufar-ious plot on Punk Domestics
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