Stevia

Stevia rebaudiana is a subtropical perennial. A member of the daisy family, Stevia is native to the mountains of Brazil and Paraguay. The people there have used it for many centuries as a sweetener. Stevia in its natural herb form is 10 to 15 times sweeter than granulated sugar. Here are some wonderful benefits of using Stevia;

~It's diabetic safe

~It's calorie free

~It does not adversely affect blood sugar

~It is non toxic

~Inhibits the formation of cavities and plaque

~It can be used for cooking

In the wild, the plant grows in infertile, moist, sandy soil near streams and marshes. It reaches a height of about 2 feet (up to 3 feet in cultivation), with many branches and attractive, slightly serrated, opposite leaves. The pretty flowers are tiny and white with a pale purple throat, but they must be pinched off or they will steal sweetness from the leaves. While the plant is native to a somewhat exotic location, it is quite adaptable and capable of being cultivated in climate zones as diverse as Florida and southern Canada. It generally survives winter outdoors only in areas warm enough for citrus. It can be grown outside everywhere else as an annual. Or it can be grown either in pots on your balcony or any sunny spot, or else in a hydroponic unit. Plants grown at higher latitudes actually have a higher percentage of sweet glycosides. It would be difficult, at best, to start a stevia patch from scratch -- that is, by planting seeds. Even if you could get them to germinate, results might well prove disappointing. I recommend that you buy starter plants from a nursery. Get plants locally if you can. They do not ship well. Try to harden them off for a couple weeks before transplanting. Soft, succulent plants will usually die after transplanting. Because tender young stevia plants are especially sensitive to low temperatures, it's important that you wait until the danger of frost is past and soil temperatures are well into the 50s and 60s before transplanting them into your garden. Stevia grows on most soils, but prefers a sandy loam or loam, high in organic matter. Its native soils are on the acid side, but stevia tolerates a wide range of soil pH. Stevia requires a  consistently moist soil, but not waterlogged. Too much soil moisture can cause plant rot. Moisture is best supplied by a soaker hose such as the "weeping" hoses made from recycled rubber. Since the feeder roots tend to be quite near the surface, it is a good idea to add compost for extra nutrients if the soil in your area is sandy. 

Frequent light watering is recommended during the summer months. Adding a layer of compost or your favorite mulch around each stevia plant will help keep the shallow feeder roots from drying out. Stevia prefers partial shade in climates with considerable summer sunshine. Day length is more critical than light  intensity. Long spring and summer days favor leaf growth. Stevia plants respond well to fertilizers with a lower nitrogen content than the fertilizer's phosphoric acid or potash content. Most organic fertilizers would work well, since they release nitrogen slowly. In fact organic gardeners in particular should find Stevia an ideal addition to their gardens. Though nontoxic, Stevia plants have been found to have insect-repelling tendencies. Their very sweetness, in fact, may be a kind of natural defense mechanism against aphids and other bugs that find it not to their taste. Perhaps that's why crop-devouring grasshoppers have been reported to bypass  stevia under cultivation.

Harvesting should be done as late as possible, since cool autumn temperatures and shorter days tend to intensify the sweetness of the plants. In fact the best time is  after the plants have formedflowers. Always pinch off flowers in order to produce the sweetest leaves. When the time does come to harvest your stevia, the easiest technique is to cut the branches off with pruning shears before stripping the leaves. As an extra bonus, you might also want to clip off the very tips of the stems and add them to your harvest, as they are apt to contain as much stevioside as the leaves. Dry leaves for later use by hanging the whole branch in a warm spot with good circulation or put the leaves in a dehydrator on low heat. On a moderately warm fall day, your stevia crop can be quickly dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. Dried leaves remain sweet for many years and may be ground into a powder with a kitchen blender or food processor. If you live in a  relatively frost-free  climate, your plants may well be able to survive the winter outside, provided you do not cut the branches too short (leaving about 4 inches of stem at the base during pruning). Stevia plants may be held over indoors in winter in pots placed in sunny windows or under flourescent lights. A 10" to 12" diameter container filled with a lightweight growing mix is an ideal size for each plant. A little mulch on the top will help retain the moisture in the shallow root zone.

Propagation is by layering or root cuttings. Cuttings need to be rooted before planting, using either commercial rooting hormones or a natural base made from willow tree tips, pulverized onto a slurry in your blender. After dipping the cuttings in such a preparation, they should be planted in a rooting medium for two to three weeks, giving the new root system a chance to form. Mist them often and then they can be potted -- preferably in 4.5-inch pots -- and placed in the sunniest and least drafty part of your home until the following spring.

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Mulch

Add a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch around your vegetable plants to suppress weeds, maintain soil moisture, reduce watering, moderate soil temperature, improve soil health, and keep vegetables cleaner. Pine needles, shredded leaves, straw, and grass clippings from untreated lawns work well. Avoid herbicide-treated lawn clippings, hay, and fresh sawdust and manure. Apply mulch after the soil has warmed in spring and replace as needed.

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Mosquitoes are very sensitive to certain scents, Chamomile and Citriodora especially. Both are easy to grow and both are used in dry flower arrangements. Citriodora is also used in potpourri. To make a great mosquito repellent, take one oz. of green leaves from both plants and boil in a gallon of water. Strain and place in therefrigerator. Before going outside, splash the mixture liberally over your face and exposed parts of your body. You will enjoy the fresh, citrus smell but the mosquitoes will stay far away.

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Brandie

"How much the making of a garden, no matter how small, adds to the joy of living, only those who practice the arts and the science can know."

 

 

 

 

 
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