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What's the best way to harvest basil?
What's the best way to harvest basil?

Learn how to harvest basil for a higher yield & longer shelf life

Written by Halle Brake
Updated over a week ago

Who doesn't love basil?

Basil is a well-loved crop in almost every community. It can be sweet, savory, peppery, tangy, and it smells amazing. There are dozens of varieties, from spicy bush basil, to lemon basil, to Thai basil. It's been used some way in almost every place in the world.

Our favorites are the classic sweet basil, Genovese basil, and dwarf basil. And let me tell you - basil grows better in ZipGrow Towers than in any other growing technique in the world. Grow rate and yield consistently amaze us. 

Basil prefers warmer temperatures (65-95ºF) with a lot of light (14-18 hrs of good light), a pH range of 6.2 - 6.8, and EC between 1.4 and 2.2. 

All said, basil is a favorite among the Upstart Farmers, who grow it easily and sell it at good prices. 

Getting the most out of basil requires pruning

When it comes to harvesting basil and storing it, however, basil can take a while to get used to. 

Basil has been bred to be a single-stemmed plant growing upward. For your purposes, a bushier multi-stemmed plant is better. Although basil grows very well in towers regardless of pruning, a pruned tower looks better, makes your towers balanced and easier to carry around, and yields more. 

Basil is a popular and high-dollar crop, so this increase in yield can result in a significant boost to revenue. 

Pruning to harvest

That upward growth typical of untouched basil plants is called apical growth. To change the way that basil grows, you'll be triggering a secondary type of growth that moves outward and up instead of straight up. This is called lateral growth.

If you look at a young basil plant (say 5-10 inches tall), you'll see places on the stem where there are little buds on the side of the stem that haven't really grown out yet. Those are the lateral buds (where that treasured lateral growth will occur); they're like back-ups that will only grow if the main stalk gets badly damaged or removed.

That's what you want to happen. If you clip the stem right above those lateral buds, they will be triggered to grow out. The  great thing is that there are two instead of one, so you're doubling the production of that branch.

When you prune, snip the stem right above the lateral buds where you want the plant to bush out. (Not at the base of the plant.)

If you prune a basil plant correctly, then you'll see an increase in yield each time you harvest for the first three harvests at about weeks 5, 8, and 11. 

Post-harvest care


Once you have crates full of fresh, springy basil cuttings, you'll want to extend their shelf life as long as possible. The most important trick with basil is storing it above 55º F- preferably at a temperature of 60º, where it can attain a shelf life of 12 days. If basil does get too cold, it gets pretty nasty pretty quick.

Several times now, we've had a conversation that goes like this:

"I brought a crate of basil cuttings to the chef at the restaurant I service. The next day, I got a call from him saying that the basil had gone bad! That's impossible... I had just harvested it."

Every time something like this happens, we ask, "did he put it in a cooler?" and always, the answer is yes. Usually coolers are kept at 40-45º degrees; the basil can't handle it. Instead of cooling the basil, keep it in a higher-temperature cooler, or on a counter in a cool room. For home consumers, a jar of water on a counter can do miracles.

If growers package basil in bags or cartons that reduce moisture loss (plastic with little or no air exchange), be sure to keep storage temperatures steady to avoid condensation.


Basil is also a delicate herb. The leaves are easily bruised, and bruising can increase the rate of deterioration. Many Upstart Farmers have found that selling basil packaged in clam shells is helpful for preserving the herb. 

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