Good Night, Sweet (stevia) Prince

Good night, sweet prince”  (Forgive me, I love Shakespeare.)

What I am referring to is the death of my stevia plant.  I killed him.  On purpose.

how to grow stevia

He was a beautiful plant, except where I kept cannibalizing him!  😀

Why?  Because for it to survive, he must live inside my house, as he did last winter, and that’s not going to happen this year.  Why?  Well, for one reason, we are in the early stages of selling our home in the valley so we can move up to our future homestead and build our new house. (It’s about time!!) The garden where the stevia was planted (before I potted it up last winter) has long since been turned back into lawn – which according to our real estate agent is what most potential buyers want to see. So, my poor sweet prince has had to live in his pot on my front porch. 🙁

But more importantly, I don’t want to have the stevia in the house because last winter he became infested with an itty bitty critter called scale.  I’m not sure where the scale came from, and though I think I finally got rid of that pesky pest, but I don’t want to chance infecting my other house plants, either here or up on our future homestead.

Salad in the window

Here is my sweet prince in my windowsill last winter. The plant thrived and even bloomed in that south facing, warm window!

He served me well.  Very well. ” And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Well, don’t be silly.  I know plants don’t go to heaven.  But I will tell you, this plant was heavenly!  Next spring I hope to start at least four stevia plants, and I will use what I have learned about growing this plant so my future sweet leaf plants thrive as well as, or even better!  What did I learn?

First – they like water, but don’t like wet feet.  In other words, keep their soil moist but not wet.

Second – they love sunshine – sort of.  When my stevia seedlings were first planted in the spring, they actually did quite well.  That is until the zucchini horned in on their space and shut out their direct sunlight!  Once I pulled out the zucchini (it got squash mosaic virus), the stevia started growing like wildfire!  Well, not really like wildfire, but certainly faster than it did when it was partially shaded by the big bad zucchini! Of course, that was in the spring.  Once the hot days of summer set in, the stevia seemed to suffer a bit in the strong sunlight!  I think they would have done better with a bit more afternoon shade.  Lessons learned.

One of two stevia seedlings in the garden.  Can you see how that squash leaf is starting to encroach in the stevia's sunlight?

One of two stevia seedlings in the garden. Can you see how that squash leaf is starting to encroach in the stevia’s sunlight?

Third – humans aren’t the only critters who like the stevia leaves.  I don’t know if bugs can taste sweetness (I am sure they can’t), but it seemed like every aphid, white fly and eventually scale wanted to munch on my stevia.  The white fly and aphids were easy enough to control with a spray made of water and just a drop of olive oil steeped in rosemary.  The scale seemed a bit more resistant.  I discovered, however, if I examined the plant every day and scraped off each scale as I found it, then continued to spray on my organic pest concoction, the scale was at least controlled (I haven’t seen an adult scale in about three months now) or completely eradicated!

Since I knew I wasn’t taking the stevia with me up to the future homestead and I couldn’t bring her into the house, I decided to harvest the last of her sweet leaves.  The simplest way to preserve the leaves is to just dry them in open air out of direct sunlight.  They dry to crunchy status within a day or two.  Store them in a jar or some other air-tight container and they can be used for at least a year.

how to grow stevia and what to do with it

Air drying stevia. It only takes a few days – then store in an airtight container.

How to I use my dried stevia leaves?  I drop some crushed leaves into my herbal teas. The heat from the water produces a lovely, natural sweetness.  Or, soak in very warm water for about 15-30 minutes (until soft and pliable and cooled off), crushing leaves against the side of the container every 5 minutes or so, then strain water into a pitcher of a cool beverage that you want to sweeten.  Lemon balm and stevia is refreshing on a hot summer day!

I have also made a tincture with stevia, which works great.  See this post HERE.

how to grow and use stevia

Store stevia syrup and/or tincture in dark glass bottles in a cool dark place.

As I throw the stevia carcass on the compost pile, I can only dream of next year’s crop.  I hope to be able to keep the new plants in the ground year-round, but we’ll see if that’s possible on the future homestead.  Being a semi-tropical plant, stevia does not like frost, and freezing temperatures are a death sentence.  However, with careful tenting and heavy mulching, I am hopeful.

how to grow and use stevia

Stevia flowers are beautiful and the plant usually blooms in the fall (November in my area). However, the blossoms can make your stevia leaves a bit bitter, so harvest as soon as you see the first blossom…      In other words, do as I say, not as I do!  😉

Do you have a stevia plant?  If you do, do you leave it in the ground for the winter or pot it up and bring it inside?  Also, do you have any special recipes you use your stevia in? If you do, please  share your recipe in the comments below, or add your post url containing the recipe!

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Irons in the Pot

I have had a lot of irons in the pot lately.

First of all, my garden won’t let go of me!  It is still producing vegetables, despite the date on the calendar!  It is true that I live (for now) in the Sacramento Valley of California and our weather is pretty mild in the winter, but jeeze louise – it’s time for the summer vegetables to stop growing, don’t you think?

Tomatoes blooming in November

Heaven’s to Betsy – it’s November 7th already – STOP BLOOMING !

And I still have hoards of tomatoes ripening on the vine.

Tomatoes on the vine in November

Ppffftt, and I was worried all of my tomatoes wouldn’t ripen before winter.

This zucchini got a late start (I had to replant because of the squash mosaic virus – see HERE) and I wasn’t sure it would produce anything, but here is it’s fourth zucchini growing, and it’s November for Pete’s sake!

Zucchini blooming in November

Can you believe the zucchini is still blooming? In November!!!????

I have also stopped picking my McCaslin green beans (I have enough frozen green beans in the freezer for a year) and so the ones still on the vine are being allowed to mature and dry.  They will be used in soups this winter.  I already have a quart of dried beans with much more to come!  Those plants are amazing.

Green beans to dried beans

McCaslin Heriloom green beans drying on the vine. What a wonderful and prolific variety this turned out to be!

On top of all the gardening, I have been experimenting in the kitchen.  My biggest project has been working with acorns, and you can see the latest post about some of my experiments HERE.  It takes 10 days to leach my acorns to get all the tannin out and a few more days after that to produce acorn flour.  My next culinary adventure with the acorns will be making shortbread cookies!  I’ll let you know how it turns out……. or doesn’t!  🙂

Leaching tannin from acorns

My refrigerator filled with acorn pieces and acorn meal slowly leaching the tannin out. My acorns are pretty bitter and full of tannin, so this is a 10 day process for me. Oh, the big jar on the left – that’s minced garlic.  I sure wouldn’t want to mix the two!

And then I read that you can make your own extract from lots of things.  My first foray into the “extraction” world was with stevia extract/syrup, which turned out great.  You can see that article HERE.  Now I am trying a lemon extract, using a tutorial from “The 2 Seasons“, and will follow that with orange extract, almond extract and vanilla extract.  I just need more vodka!     🙂

DIY Lemon Extract

Making lemon extract with lemon peel and vodka. The recipe suggested a little bit of sugar. I think I will wait and add my homemade stevia syrup to taste!

Between doing all of this, I am also working on some K-Cup Advent Calendars for my grandchildren.  You can find the tutorial to make one HERE.  My dining room table hasn’t seen the light of day for a few weeks because I can’t find more than a few minutes here and there to work on these!

DIY advent calendar

Oh my. Such a mess, but so much fun!    🙂

Up on our future homestead we have been working some summer and fall weekends on building an outhouse.  It’s finally at the stage where we can use it, but it certainly isn’t done.  We still need a front step, trim on all the outside corners, a rain gutter so we can collect water into a storage tank for summer irrigation, and then finish off the inside with a sink, mirror, and some tile work to make it easy to clean (easier than just plywood!)

Building an outhouse

A fully functional outhouse! Wahoo! We still have a long way to go with all the finishing details, but at least now it is useable and safe!

Speaking of bathrooms, probably the biggest iron in the pot, these days, has been the remodeling of our master bath.  In the end, it will be a complete gut job.  We are going from two rooms to one and replacing everything!  Originally there was a divider wall with a pocket door between the shower/toilet room and the sink room, which just made them both seem so small.  We are putting in new cabinets, new shower, new sinks, new tile counters, new lights and a new tile floor!

Bathroom remodel

In my mind this is going to be a beautiful bathroom…..some day soon I hope!

So, you can see, I have had a lot of irons in the pot.  But, truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

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We’re Growing Stevia!

I decided to try growing Stevia in my garden this year.  My husband has been using the supermarket’s version of the stevia plant in his coffee.  However, from what I have read, what you find at most supermarkets isn’t pure stevia, but is mixed with other chemicals and/or sugars. So I decided to do some research.

Sure enough, this label (to the right) said:stevia packet

INGREDENTS:  Dextrose, Reb A (Stevia Extract), Cellulose Powder, Natural Flavors.

Knowing that ingredients must be put on the label in descending order of amounts, Dextrose is the predominant ingredient – not Stevia!  Dextrose is a simple sugar that breaks down into glucose in the body.  Wait, SUGAR?  Yep. That’s the <1g.

But wait, there’s more (bad news)!  The next ingredient Reb A (Stevia Extract) is apparently also suspect!  According to the patent application Coca-Cola used to obtain approval to use Reb A in their products (see here) they use a very un-natural process for purifying the stevia leaf that includes the use of acetone, ethanol (what you put in your gas tank) and isopropanol (rubbing alcohol).           Seriously???!!!!!

The third ingredient is Cellulose Powder.  Pretty safe, right?  According to wikipedia, cellulose powder is  “An insoluble dietary fiber that is a tasteless, odorless & colorless powder produced from naturally occurring components of plants.”  Basically it is just a filler so you feel like you are getting more than you really are. Okay, but what kind of plant does it come from?  It’s hard to know where the producer of any commercial product gets it’s powdered cellulose (trade secrets?).  Traditionally, powdered cellulose has come from wood, but lately the trend has been to make the cellulose powder from cornstalks.  Unfortunately, according to Margie Kelly of the Huffington Post (see article here), “Corn is the No. 1 crop grown in the U.S. and nearly all of it — 88 percent — is genetically modified.”                         Oh no – GMO!  keurig and cup - stevia story

And who knows what is in those “natural flavors”!   Wow, I wish I had read (and understood) the label before I bought this for hubby’s coffee!

Well – since one of our self-sufficient goals is to be able to grow our own food organically with heirloom, non-GMO seeds, I figure we should find a way to sweeten what we eat in a natural way. We are going to have two bee hives next spring for honey, and according to Lisa Lynn of The Self Sufficient HomeAcre and The Prepper Project (see post here) I can grow sugar beets and make my own grannulated sugar.  But I wanted another alternative – thus the Stevia.

I bought my seeds from The Peaceful Valley Nursery in Nevada City on the day that we picked up our new almond and walnut trees.  Everything I have read said that germinating the seeds may not be the easiest task, but I didn’t have any trouble getting two out of the three seeds planted to germinate.  After a couple of weeks I transplanted the two seedlings out into the garden.

At this time they seem to be growing very   s    l    o    w    l    y…..

This is one of my two stevia plants.  Not growing so fast, but growing nonetheless!

This is one of my two stevia plants. Not growing so fast, but growing nonetheless!

But, they are growing, afterall.  I think the squash may be shading it too much, so I am going to pull back the squash later today. In the meantime I have been researching ways to extract the sweetness from the plant.  I have found several blogs with different extraction methods and I hope to be able to try a few of them.The first website I found that had step by step instructions on extracting the sweetness from the Stevia leaves was Food Renegade.  The instructions on this site use Vodka 😉 to get a sweeter result than just plain water.  On another website – Cheap Vegetable Gardener – the article shows how to make stevia powder.  Basically, all you do is dry the leaves then pulverize them in a blender or coffee grinder!  Sounds simple enough!

But then, how do I use it?   Well, I found a handy, dandy chart someone gave me when they heard I was growing stevia (sorry, I don’t know who to give Kudos to):

Stevia is available in powder form or liquid form. Here is a basic conversion chart:
Sugar ———— Powdered Stevia————- Liquid Stevia
1 cup————–1 teaspoon——————-1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon——-1/4 teaspoon—————–6 – 9 drops
1 teaspoon———1/16 teaspoon—————-2- 4 drops

Okay, but I’ve heard that it can be tricky to cook with and I wondered if there were any recipes to use this stuff.  Yup.  A general internet search will bring up hundreds of recipes.  One place to start is the website Food.com.  They have almost 500 recipes that use both the liquid and powdered form of stevia.

Hooray!   Between the honey, stevia and possibly a little beet sugar, I should never have to buy sugar again!  That makes me feel self sufficient and frugal at the same time! 🙂

Now, if I can just get my plants to grow faster!  Any suggestions?

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