Basil Harvesting, Handling & Marketing
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Walter Goodale
Posted on: September 30, 2006

A few basic questions about basil.

When you "prune" a basil plant to encourage branching, do you simply pinch off the leaves or do you trim off stems?

It is necessary to pinch off the stems. The growth hormone, auxin, controls where growth occurs and it is usually present at the highest concentrations at the growing tips of the branches. When you remove those "hot spots" then the next highest concentrated positions at leaf nodes further down the stems become the new "hot spots" and growth begins there.

Is basil normally sold by the pound (leaves only) or bunch (stems and leaves)? Price ranges in the Northeast US.

Most fresh herbs are sold by the bunch with leaves attached to stems.

For handling and storage considerations, does the foliage last longer if left on the stem?

Yes.

How long is a basil plant productive?

When basil flowers it is no longer productive. Resources are redirected toward the flowers and seeds instead of leaves. Harvest should occur before flowering for best yields and best quality.

What percentage of the potential crop is realized after an 8-10 week growth period in a hydroponic system?

You may find that basil is best cut to the ground at harvest rather than cutting a portion and waiting for a second or third cut. Labour costs are an issue and it is easier to simply cut a whole crop at the base. In addition, there are disease and aesthetic quality issues with regrowth material. So, to answer your question, you will likely opt to complete the growth cycle within your 8-10 week time frame.

Would it be profitable to market the entire hydroponically grown plant intact for fresh herb customers at the 8-10 week period delivered in water?

I think so, but I would leave out the water. The ball of roots can be enclosed in plastic to preserve moisture and maintain leaf turgidity. This format would different from the usual fresh basil on the market, so the marketing should emphasize that. Your marketing could stress that fact your product is still alive when it reaches the consumer’s kitchen. Lettuce is sometimes marketed this way. "Living Lettuce" is one brand name I remember.

How would you price it? Base it on percentage of leaf to stem?

If you go with the "living basil" concept you may be able to price it at a premium. My guess is that a 10-20% premium would be accepted by the market. Otherwise pricing will be comparable to market material by weight though it will be sold by the bunch.

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