Growing a stevia plant

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While heading to my local home improvement I noticed an unusual plant in the herb display and moved closer to investigate.  It turned out to be a Stevia plant which is more well known as the primary ingredient in a new artificial sweetener Truvia.  I immediately grabbed a good looking plant, I have wanted to grow one of these myself but given the high price of the seeds and it is known to have serious germination issues and normally leads to failure.

The stevia plant can grow to a height of about 30 inches and a width of 18 to 24 inches.  They prefer rich, loamy soil and need frequent shallow watering to keep the roots moist but not wet.  Given the requirements growing in containers is a great option (which is my current plan).  Plant in a container about 10-12 inches in diameter and plant with your favorite potting mix.

The plant will normally not require side dressing of fertilizer but if your plant requires it, make sure to use a low nitrogen organic fertilizer since high nitrogen causes reduced leaf sweetness.

Once the plant matures in the fall, dry the leaves by leaving out in the sun for 12 hours or use a home dehydrator and the lowest possible temperature.  The leaves then can be ground with a coffee or spice grinder and made into a fine powder which is called Green Stevia Powder.  You can replace 3-4 teaspoons in place of one cup of sugar.  It retains its sweetness for at least two years in storage in an airtight container.

If desired you can also make some Stevia concentrate liquid which will allow your Green Stevia Powder to stretch a little further.  You can make your own by steeping 1 tablespoon of Green Stevia Powder with 4 cups (1 liter) of hot water for 5 minutes.  This liquid Stevia concentrate will be good for 3 days in the refrigerator and one tablespoon of this liquid is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar.

Sure much less work to buy some of this at the store, but not nearly as much fun…

First pepper of the year

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It has been slow to warm up this year but finally getting some warm enough nights to bring my peppers outside for a little while.  Though they were flowering in the grow box I was surprised to see a sweet yellow pepper already growing.  This is definitely a record for me by at least a good month.

How to freeze strawberries

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One thing I realized halfway through the winter was that I did not nearly save enough berries to make it through.  With local strawberries showing up in my garden and in the farmers market this seemed like a perfect time to get an early start this year.

Freezing strawberries is much like freezing other berries strawberries are just as easy with just a few simple steps:

1.  Quickly wash and gently dry strawberries with a towel

2.  Cut of crowns (optional but much easier to do now than when frozen)

3.  Place strawberries upside-down on wax paper on cookie sheet

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4.  Put strawberries in freezer for 24 hours

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5.  Dump frozen strawberries into freezer bag and use Poor Man’s Vacuum Pack*

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With these simple steps you can have plenty of strawberries for making smoothies or strawberry shortcake this summer/winter.  This process can scale from many flats of berries or just a handful extra from your garden.  Eat what you want fresh, freeze the rest.

  1. * Poor Man’s Vacuum Pack: Close ZipLoc bag with only enough space to fit in a drinking straw.  Suck out air with drinking straw and quickly close the bag.