By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
The other day, I was in one of my favorite stores and you guessed it, it was an old-fashioned feed and seed.
Well, as I was looking through the seeds, tubers, and other types of plant material, I came upon a seed packet that caught my eye.
While I have already spent my garden budget, I just had to have these seeds and while I knew my chances of success were limited, I just had to try.
So to the checkout I went with my little package of sweet gold and that is the stevia plant.
Stevia started from seed has about a 10 percent germination rate but I was going to try this propagation method. I have read that to improve germination rate, one should go through the seed and only plant very dark seeds. Also, utilizing a propagation mat that offers bottom heat helps increase the germination rate to around 85 percent.
This herb loves a light, sandy, well-drained soil that has a neutral pH. It likes full sun but does not like hot weather. A way around this is to grow your stevia inside.
When it comes to stevia, mulching is very important. It keeps the soil evenly moist while controlling weeds and reducing displacement of soil. Soil splashed up on the leaves can give the leaves a gritty taste. To avoid this, use an irrigation system like a drip or soaker hose.
If you do not want to explore the world of stevia seeds, there is another propagation approach and this approach works well if you know a fellow stevia grower. This herb is easily started by taking cuttings or through tissue culture.
Stevia can be used fresh or dried. The key to this use is to harvest the leaves before the plant blooms. This typically occurs late September to early October. To harvest at the end of the season is simple. Just cut the plant down to the base, wrap a rubber band around the bunch and hang in a warm, dark place that has a lot of air circulation. In two to four days, your leaves should be dried and ready to process. To turn the leaves into a stevia powder only requires the use of a coffee grinder but be careful. Over processing the leaves can affect the taste so only grind for 25 to 30 seconds.
When using this herb keep in mind how sweet it really is and use accordingly. Stevia is 150 times sweeter then sugar.
So until we blog again, sugar is sweet, stevia is sweeter, when growing this herb, remember to keep her, plant outdoors for a summer treat but extend the harvest by planting with heat. Place inside to enjoy a year round sweet treat.
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