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Friday, September 26, 2014

How to Grow Stevia - Guilt Free, Chemical Free Sweetener


Stevia is an herb, but it does not contain any sucrose (sugar) which can make you gain weight, and alter blood glucose levels in diabetics. This is a chemical free sweetener, that will knock the socks off any Splenda or NutraSweet. Check it out today!



Stevia leaves can be used to sweeten tea and other drinks.
Stevia is grown for its leaves that give food and beverages sweet taste without the calories of sugar.


Published on Aug 14, 2014

growing stevia in the garden


If growing your own calorie-free, natural sweetener sounds too good to be true, it’s time to get to know stevia. Native to Paraguay and other tropical areas of the Americas, the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana) produces leaves packed with super-sweet compounds that remain stable even after the leaves have been dried. Stevia leaves have been used to sweeten teas and beverages throughout South America for centuries. More recently, diabetics and dieters alike have turned to stevia to reduce their sugar intake because, unlike honey, maple syrup, agave or molasses, this natural sweetener has zero calories and is not metabolized by the body. Stevia is especially well-suited to sweetening drinks, fruits, salad dressings, yogurt and most creamy desserts. Stevia can substitute for some, but not all, of the sugar used when baking, because it does not provide all of the multiple functions that sugar does.


The Whole-Leaf Stevia Difference


Many commercial drink mixes and packaged sugar substitutes are sweetened with a derivative of stevia. This sweetening compound is called Rebaudioside A and is listed on labels as either Reb A or Rebiana. These are highly processed products developed by large food corporations. Most of the raw stevia used to produce these products is grown in China. These “natural sweeteners” have been stripped of many of the plant’s healthful properties. Teas, extracts and tinctures made from high-quality, whole-leaf stevia, on the other hand, contain up to seven sweet compounds (glycosides) and an array of antioxidants.

Grow stevia for its sweet leaves and for the green color it brings to your herb garden.
Stevia is a pretty, green plant that looks a little like some of the flowering salvias.

Growing Stevia Plants


Growing stevia is easy in well-drained beds or large containers, and the leaves can be dried for winter use like any other herb. Stevia grows best in warm conditions similar to those preferred by basil. Plants grown in warm climates will grow to 24 inches tall and wide. Where summers are cool, expect stevia plants to grow up to 16 inches. Grow three to five plants for a year’s supply of dried stevia leaves.

Stevia can be started from seed indoors in late winter, but it’s best to grow it from rooted cuttings. Germination of stevia seeds tends to be spotty, so keep seed-sown plants under bright lights until the weather warms in spring. Look for stevia plants in the herbs section at garden centers, or locate mail-order suppliers using our Seed and Plant Finder. 
Choose a well-drained site, and set out the plants 2 feet apart after your last frost. Be sure to choose an accessible spot, because you will need to gather stems often. Where summers are extremely hot, stevia benefits from slight afternoon shade. Elsewhere, grow stevia in full sun.

Left unpruned, stevia will grow into a lanky, upright plant that produces tiny white flowers in late summer. To maximize leaf production, you must trim back the plants several times to induce branching, first when plants are about 8 inches tall, and again in early summer. You can use the leaves from the pinched-back stem tips, or root them in moist potting soil to increase your supply of stevia plants.

When your stevia plant blooms in fall, trim off the flowers and the plant will make more leaves.
Stevia bears small white flowers in the fall. At this point, the plant stretches out and offers fewer good leaves for harvest. Trim off the blooms to keep the plant producing leaves as long as possible.


Growing the Herb Stevia

It is not recommended sowing Stevia seeds directly outdoors. Start inside 8 to 10 weeks before average last frost. Germination is best at 70 to 75 degrees F. Seedlings should emerge in 7 to 21 days. When seedlings are large enough to handle, you can transplant them into 3-inch diameter pots and keep inside until nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit consistently.  Transplant outdoors in a prepared bed of rich well-draining soil incorporated with organic fertilizer and compost. Stevia prefers sun, but afternoon shade is ideal especially in hot climates.  Space seedlings every 18 inches. Space rows 20 to 24 inches apart. Individual leaves can be picked at any stage or the whole plant pulled. Entire branches can be cut from a mature plant, and the leaves stripped off. Never remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time if growth is to continue. To dry leaves, hang small bunches of stems tied together upside down in a dry, well ventilated room. When leaves have dried, remove and store whole. Crush before use.

Growing Cultures

In containers, hydroponics, or transplanted into the soil. Stevia can be grown year round indoors in containers with proper care. Pinch back to desired height. 

Plant Height

Stevia can grow as tall as 4 feet (120cm).

Plant Spacing

Space Stevia plants 12 to 18 inches (30-45 cm) apart.

Preferred pH Range

Stevia will grow in a wide pH range between 5.0 (strongly acidic) and 8.0 (alkaline) with an ideal range between 6.5 and 7.5.

Propagation

Stevia is most commonly propagated by seed indoors in flats or containers eight weeks prior to transplanting outside. Plant only very dark seeds when room temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit for best germination results. Stevia is also easily propagated via cuttings and tissue culture.

Seed Germination Period

Stevia seeds will germinate in soil between approximately 7 and 21 days.

Number of Seeds per Gram

There are between approximately 2500 and 3000 stevia seeds per gram.

Soil Requirements

Stevia grows best in rich, well-drained soil incorporated with organic fertilizer and compost. Mulching helps keep roots cool and prevents moisture loss, while helping to deter weeds. Do not over water.

Alternative Growing Media

Soilless potting mixes (Pro-Mix, Sunshine Mix, etc.), perlite, vermiculite, rockwool, coco peat, Oasis Rootcubes.

Time From Seed to Saleable Plant

Seeds to finished plugs, 5 weeks; plugs to saleable plants, 4 weeks.

Sun & Lighting Requirements

Stevia grows well in full sun, with afternoon shade in hot climates.
Stevia will grow indoors satisfactorily under standard fluorescent lamps, and exceptionally well under high output T5 fluorescent plant lights, compact fluorescent, or high intensity discharge (metal halide or high pressure sodium) plant growing lights. Keep standard fluorescent lamps between 2 and 4 inches from the tops of the plants, high output and compact fluorescents approximately one foot above the plants, and HID lights between 2 and 4 feet above the plants, depending on wattage.
Have an oscillating fan gently stir seedlings for at least 2 hours per day to stimulate shorter, sturdier, and more natural plant habit.

USDA Hardiness

Zones 9-11 as perennial; annual in all other zones.

Water Requirements

Requires consistently moist soil during summer heat. Water stevia on a regular schedule, allowing soil to go almost dry. Guard against overwatering, especially in containers and after transplanting.

Potential Plant Pests and Diseases

Pest and diseases are not generally a problem with stevia. Besides cutworm and animals that like the sweet taste, pests are minimal. Aphids, thrips and whiteflies can be a potential problem in greenhouses.

Special Notes

It is best to harvest stevia plants just prior to flowering, as the flowers can impart an unpleasant flavor to the leaves.

Buy Stevia Seeds by Botanical Interests

Organic Heirloom Stevia SeedsGrow your own calorie-free, carbohydrate-free, low-glycemic sweetener, Stevia, easily at home all year long!
How to Grow Stevia - A Guilt Free, Chemical Free Sweetener! - YouTube:


http://www.stevia.com/Stevia_Article.aspx?Id=8077

http://herbgardening.com/growingstevia.htm

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/stevia-plant-zm0z13fmzkin.aspx

http://commonsensehome.com/stevia-grow-your-own-sweetener/

http://bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-stevia/


Bibliography
Brandle, J.E.; Starratt, A.N.; Gijzen, M. "Stevia rebaudiana: Its biological, chemical and agricultural properties." Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 78, pp 527-536 (1998).
Columbus, Mike. "The Cultivation of Stevia, 'Nature's Sweetener'." Food and Rural Affairs Factsheet. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, May (1997).
Oddone, Blas. Technical Manual on 'How to Grow Stevia.' Guarani Botanicals, Inc. Pawcatuck, Connecticut. (1997).
Shock, Clinton L. "Experimental Cultivation of Rebaudi's Stevia in California." Agronomy Progress Report. University of California, Davis, April (1982).
Sumida, Tetsuya. "Studies on Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni as a New Possible Crop for Sweetening Resource in Japan." Journal of the Central Agricultural Station. 31, 67-71 (1980).


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