I've been harvesting and drying the culinary herb, basil, for several weeks on a regular basis. I'm keeping it under wraps, though, literally.

The basil is growing under a "row cover," you see, a lightweight, spun fabric that's designed to thwart pests like insects, birds and rabbits.

Even so, because a young rabbit has its eye on our basil, I've been keeping my eye on the rabbit.

But I'm having my way with this particular rabbit, so far, since I can practically scare it to death with a look - just like the mythological creature known as a "basilisk" scared the citizens of ancient Rome.

The Basilisk

Believed to have come from "roosters'" eggs that were nurtured by serpents, basilisks were described by the ancient Romans as winged dragons with chicken-like heads.

Killing with a look was the basilisk's claim to notoriety. So when it was rumored that a basilisk was close by, every living creature fled for its life - the way our pesky rabbit runs, ever since I pummeled it with a marble-sized peach!

Still, and even though I can't protect our basil 24 hours per day from a persistent rabbit, the row cover is helping.

I've noticed, for instance, when a breeze causes the row cover to flap like a flag, the rabbit stares at it suspiciously and keeps its distance. To the rabbit, then, I suppose the row cover must appear as real a peril as the imaginary basilisk.

Basil

Native to western and tropical Asia, basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a frost-tender, annual herb and a member of the "Labiatae" (mint) family.

Depending upon the variety, basil grows one to two feet tall and has leaves that range in color from green to purple. Leaves are pointed and from one to two inches long

Beginning in June, small, white or lavender blossoms appear on flower spikes in tiny whorls. A specimen's flower color, as well, is determined by the variety of basil grown.

Basil can be started from seeds sown indoors during March. But store-bought seedlings should never be planted in the garden until all danger from a late, spring frost has passed. Although once the danger from a spring frost has passed, potted basil can be transplanted to the garden throughout the growing season.

Grow basil in full sun and in soil that drains freely. When the plants reach a height of six inches, begin the harvest by pinching basil plants halfway back. Bushy, basil plants - containing more basil leaves - will be your reward.

Surplus basil can be dried by hanging stems of basil upside down from the ceiling of a dark, airy room until the leaves easily crumble. Depending upon the temperature and humidity of the room, however, the drying process may take several days.

For faster results, fresh basil can be dried in a food drier in just a few hours.

When sealed in airtight jars, dried basil stays tasty for years.

This Week In The Garden

When I scooped water from our rain barrel I notice some mosquito larvae on the surface. Due to the fact that West Nile Virus - a mosquito-born disease that can be fatal to people - appears to be in our area to stay, I need to be more careful about giving mosquitoes access to any standing water on the property.

As to the larvae, I scooped them out and stirred the water. A tight lid will cover the rain barrel from now on.

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