Saturday

Bring Butterflies to Your Garden

Butterflies in a Herb GardenEncouraging butterflies and hummingbirds to share in your herb bounty will add dimension to your gardening efforts, give your flying garden friends a welcome place to rest or a meal, and embrace the unexpected in the garden. A frisky hummingbird will tease your cat, which might seem dangerous, but I've never seen a cat catch one of these fast fliers. As for butterflies, watching them take flight is like seeing flower petals in motion. Interested?

If you like to entertain in the garden, there's no better way to bring the beauty of the outdoors right to your patio or deck than with some flying visitors that don’t bite or sting.

To Invite Butterflies to Your Garden Try Growing:

Catmint
Creeping thyme
Dill
Geraniums
Mints
Oregano
Parsley
Sweet marjoram

Throwing in some bright red flowers wouldn't hurt either.

Bring Hummingbirds to Your Garden With:

Bee Balm
Bergamot
Catmint
Comfrey
Hyssop (Anise)
Rosemary
Texas Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Throwing in some deep-throated flowers, like trumpet vine, would be a big draw too.

Tuesday

Growing Stevia


Stevia (Stevia Rebaudiana)

Stevia is a delicate perennial that should be planted in light, sandy soil with a neutral pH. Give it full sun and wait to transplant it until the soil warms up in spring. Once the evenings start getting into the 60s and your tomato plants start to put on some growth, stevia should to do well. Stevia likes rich soil, so compost it well. Space plants 18 inches apart, and keep them uniformly moist but not wet. Mature plants will grow to two and a half feet high.

Propagating Stevia

Notoriously difficult to germinate, stevia is best propagated from cuttings. Premier plants will be those with the highest concentrations of stevioside, a big part of what makes the plant so sweet. Once you have a sweet plant, take cuttings in fall and keep young plants indoors till spring.

If you want to try propagating stevia from seed, choose the darkest seeds for next year's crop, and plant more seeds than you think you'll need . . . lots more. Even the few that take might not be sweet, so taste your plants and take cuttings and seeds from the sweet plants only.

Harvesting Stevia


Harvest your stevia crop in the fall before the first frost. The leaves will be much sweeter than the stems. Sun dry leaves or use a dehydrator. Once the leaves are crackling dry, store them in an airtight container in a dark place.

Using Stevia


Stevia can be used in cooking and baking. Depending on the plant, it can be many times sweeter than sugar . . . possibly as much as 15 times sweeter. Do some testing to see how your plant tastes. Stevia can be used fresh or dry. You can also boil it in water and make a sugary syrup from it.

Stevia PhotoIf you've tried the processed stevia sweetener available in your local market and didn't like it, home grown stevia has a more natural, less chemical flavor. It tastes great in beverages and desserts; just grind the leaves fine. Think of it as another way of going green in the kitchen.

Health Benefits of Stevia

There have been many studies of the stevia plant, particularly in Japan. With all the concerns about artificial sweeteners, this isn't so surprising. Some of the evidence is encouraging. Stevia shows promise in regulating blood pressure and as an anti-bacterial agent. It has been linked to controlling tooth decay, gum disease and warding off colds and flu.

Processing any herb for mass production involves changing it in some way, so growing your own stevia plants makes sense if you want a safe sweetening option.

Hungry for some stevia fun facts? Visit my last post: Understanding Stevia.

If you grow stevia and want to make a sweet syrup with it, visit:  How to Make Stevia Syrup


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Photo1 - Stevia3_Wiki.jpg By Gabriela F. Ruellan (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0f/Stevia_rebaudiana_%28potted_plant%29.jpg

Stevia photo (2) courtesy of Tamara Dourney at Flickr. You can also visit her at: Saponifier

Understanding Stevia



Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is an herb with some very powerful marketing connections. A sweetener extracted from stevia is making waves in the United States these days. This is probably a bit of a surprise to the Japanese, who have been using stevia extracts for decades.


The stevia plant originated in South America, probably in Paraguay. Stevia extract is promoted as being 200 times sweeter than sugar, but you'll have to be the judge. Some people swear by it and others find it has a chemical aftertaste. Specific plants can vary in sweetness as well.

Some folks prefer dried stevia leaves to the processed product available in your local supermarket under the name Truvia. Dried, homegrown stevia does have a less "refined" taste that the processed alternative -- in a good way. It has a "clean" sweetness, and plants are relatively easy to grow once established. Drying and using stevia in recipes, or making a batch of stevia syrup, is pretty easy too.

If you want to avoid all the marketing hoopla and growing pains, try buying dried stevia leaves from your local health food retailer to sweeten your coffee, tea or just about anything else that suits your sweet tooth.

If you like the naturally sweet taste enough to make room for stevia in your garden, there are some tricks you should know:

Stevia plants can vary in its sweetening ability, so purchase stock from a few suppliers and try some different cultivars until you find a compatible flavor profile.Stevia Photo


If you're growing plants from seed, expect a low germination rate, so plant plenty.

Plan on giving stevia some TLC. These plants aren't hardy. Provide them with optimum conditions as stipulated on the materials that come with the plants or seeds you purchase. Even though they're persnickety when young, stevia behaves much more predictably once established.  To learn more, visit:


Dried and Ground Stevia

Growing Stevia
How to Make Stevia Syrup

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Photo 1 - Stevia4_WikiBy Crobray (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Stevia2.JPG

Stevia blossom photo courtesy of Tamara Dourney at Flickr. You can also visit her at: Saponifier