What is stevia and why are more and more people growing stevia in their gardens or backyards? Stevia rebaudiana is native to the subtropical and tropical regions of South America, particularly Paraguay and Brazil. Mostly found near marshes and streams, the wild plants grow in acidic soil that is quite sandy.
This species is the only one among the genus it belongs to that has a high concentration of glycosides. Stevia’s dried leaf is ten to fifteen
times sweeter than cane sugar, earning the name “sweet leaf.” It has become an organic alternative to sugar and has been widely cultivated for the saccharine properties it has. Stevia rebaudiana is gaining popularity in the market as a calorie-free sweetener. It has also become the sweetener of choice for diabetics who yearn for a natural sugar substitute.
Growing Stevia: What You Need to Know
When you are growing stevia, you should be aware that it takes 7-10 days for stevia seeds to germinate; and 90-100 days to harvest. Aside from watering your plant regularly and frequently, you need full sun and some light shade to protect the plant from the heat.
The process of growing Stevia starts with the germination of Stevia seeds. Purchase stevia seeds only from shops with good standing and buy more seeds than you plan to plant since the failure rate of stevia seed germination is high. Unused seeds should be placed in a tightly sealed glass container and kept in your fridge.
Separate black seeds from tan and light-colored ones. You need to do this because dark colored seeds are the only viable seeds for planting. The light colored stevia seeds are empty, lacking an embryo.
Stevia rebaudiana is best grown on loam or sandy loam soil or on raised plant beds around 4-6 inches high and 3-4 feet wide. These beds retain the moisture that the plants need to flourish, yet prevent the soil from being saturated. Mounding soil into separate hills for each plant is recommended for it prevents the plant from being waterlogged. A cultivator of stevia must constantly monitor the plant’s exposure to water for too much water exposure can cause it to rot.
What if fertile soil is not available? It is best to add organic compost made from grass, leaves, kitchen wastes and manure into the soil. It will improve the quality of the soil and provide the plants with nutrients. The soil must be added while tilling or spading around the plant. If you decide to use fertilizer, avoid those which contain nitrogen. Instead, use a fertilizer which has boron. Nitrogen lessens the sweetness level of the plants produced. Boron increases it.
Avoid compaction of the soil when growing stevia by stepping only on the pathways. Excessively compressed soil cannot retain moisture and dries out easily. Constantly watering the plant is vital to the plant’s survival. Weekly or bi-weekly irrigation is necessary especially if rainfall is scarce.
Placing a “weeping” soaker hose made from recycled rubber in between two rows will ensure all-around moisture. One can also use mulch made of newspaper or dried leaves to prevent excessive evaporation, inhibit weed growth, and enrich the soil.
Don’t let your plant grow too tall because it will easily bend and break whenever wind blows it. Therefore, after a month from planting, keep the growth of your stevia plant under control by nipping the top buds of leaves from the plant. This also helps in promoting growth of side branches.
Planning to transplant your stevia plant? You ought to do this only when frost is not expected to form anytime soon. When you do, dig and loosen the soil well; then, plant your seedlings with about eight to ten inches between seedlings in a place where there is good sunlight.
Do you live in a place where summers are very hot? If you do, you must plan where you will plant your stevia carefully. You must look for a plot where your plant will get good shade. One good option is to plant it close to tall plants that can provide the needed shade.
Growing Stevia is most rewarding when you are finally harvesting the leaves. Stevia leaves are harvested before the plant begins to flower. This is done by simply plucking the Stevia leaves off the plant, washing them, and putting them out to dry for a few days or until they crumble easily.
The sweetness of a dried stevia leaf lasts and is retained for years. Start growing stevia now, and you can be enjoying a sweet and perfect home-made tea with stevia in a few months.
Category: What is Stevia