Two years in a row my traditional Genovese basil crop has been a disappointment due to a mysterious infection I attributed to the weather and my own faulty watering techniques. “Better luck next year!” I muttered, resigned to another non-pesto season. This year, I resolved to successfully bring basil to my table and began some hearty growing research. Two weeks ago I attended a workshop Beyond Basil: Specialty Herbs for the Garden presented by Theresa Mieseler of Shady Acres Herb Farm. Now know why my basil bit the proverbial dust.
Basil Downy Mildew
A relatively new basil disease called Basil Downy Mildew (Pernospora Belbahril) is present in North America (since 2007) and Europe (since 2001). It has spread throughout the United States and now can be found in almost every state. The disease develops readily in high humidity conditions….which is almost half the summer here in Minnesota! The pathogen, Pernospora Belbahril, is a water-mold that spreads through contaminated seed, infected basil leaves, and wind-dispersed spores. Once infected, basil leaves produce an abundance of spores and the disease spreads throughout the plant as well as other plants in the vicinity.
What To Do?
Should you purchase sweet basil this season and find it infected, the sad news is that you’ll need to destroy the plant immediately so that the infection doesn’t spread. (Infected plants shouldn’t be composted). BUT, you can reduce the chances of basil downy mildew infiltrating your basil crop by planting other varieties.
Mieseler introduced her workshop participants to Eleonora, a basil variety with an intermediate level of resistance to downy mildew. It’s similar to Genovese, but a bit spicier. She recommended four other varieties as well: Ocimum canum African Basil; Ocimum sanctum Holy Nicobar Basil; Ocimum campechianum Peruvian Basil, and Ocimum basilicum Mrihani Basil. (None are hybrids).
In addition to the Eleonora, I’ll be trying some new varieties and posting on them as the season goes along. Here’s hoping that we’ll all be dining on fresh pesto and trying new recipes with a variety of basils. If you have a favorite, be sure to share it in the comments section. We’d all love to know!
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