Unbelievable! My stevia plant is flowering!
I brought my large stevia plant indoors about a month ago. We have had a very cold, wet Fall in Toronto which does not bode well with the delicate nature of stevia. I have learned over the years that stevia is easy-to-grow but particular. Hailing from a warm Latin American climate, stevia likes it warm and sunny, but not TOO sunny. Outdoors I keep it just underneath the gazebo tent where it gets some shelter from my rooftop’s mega-sun exposure. Indoors I keep it in a window with southern exposure. Another key is to watch the soil moisture. Stevia does not like to dry out entirely but prefers even moisture. However it does not like too much moisture, most especially cold moisture (aka ‘wet feet’). I grow mine in a terra cotta pot that allows for better air circulation around the roots and I wrap the pot with a T-shirt during the winter months to ensure that it stays warm and cozy.
Stevia grows quite tall and large so I prune it back regularly throughout the growing season to encourage a bushy growth habit. I bundle the pruned stems together with a piece of hemp twine and hang to dry in a dry place out of direct sun. Stevia leaves dry quite quickly and are brittle and easy to crumble directly into a cup of tea. Stevia is unbelievably sweet so only a teeny tiny pinch is necessary. Of course you can also use a sliver from a fresh leaf but they are even sweeter. I grind the dried leaves in a coffee grinder set aside especially for grinding herbs (I grind a lot of herbs!) and package in tiny Ziploc baggies with harvest dates labeled. I guarantee that you’ll get more dried stevia from one plant in one growing season than you’ll be able to use. I still have some from several years ago kicking in the back of my cupboard!
[Note: There is more on growing and using stevia as an herbal tea sweetner on page 144 of You Grow Girl.]
For those who are pondering using stevia as an herbal sweetener but have heard some negative press about the plant, I leave you with a few articles to read and consider.
I made a discovery while turning the compost heap at my community garden last week. It turns out that someone had stashed away all the ingredients needed to turn our pathetic pile into a reasonable bin — someone just had to make it. And so using what I had on hand: a shovel, a ball of jute, bricks, broken pieces of concrete, and muscle power, I managed to cobble together a solid compost bin.
Our craptastic former compost heap.
Having done it wrong many times, and yet having had it turn out right regardless, I can tell you that it does not take a degree in soil-ology to make compost. We have the standard City issue black bins at the garden but never use them. I have TRIED to get those suckers to do something but they just fall apart and drive me nuts. Everyone has become afraid to go near them since a fellow plot member was attacked by a swarm of hornets living in the base of an inactive bin. On the other hand our crappy Pile O’ Stuff with Plastic Cover has been putting out the black gold with little effort. Putting sides up around the pile means we can continue to make easy compost — and more of it! I can’t tell you how giddy that makes me! I walked away from that completed bin dirty, sweaty, with cuts on my hands and punching the air victoriously.
All of that green sitting on top of the pile in this photo is lemon balm that I cut back. Our communal “Herb Garden” has quickly evolved into a “Lemon Balm and Friends Garden.” I’ve decided that the new common name for lemon balm should be lemon BOMB considering it’s highly invasive nature. I really love this herb as it is a gentle, lemony remedy for an upset tummy, but I am fairly certain that our garden has produced more than enough to treat the upset tummies of me, you, and everyone we know.
Here’s the pile after I moved the straw I had purchased for mulch beside it. That is the most beautiful crappy thing I have ever made. Sigh.
Davin and I went on a dandelion picking mission at the community garden the other day, harvesting what we thought was enough to make the dandelion Hortopita recipe. As we picked, I repeatedly muttered that I didn’t think we had enough. I went to the garden without reviewing the recipe for amounts but I was certain that whatever we picked would boil down to a smallish blob. It turns out that this 9″ wide bowl holds what does not come even close to 2 lbs of dandelion greens. In fact, what you see here is more like just over half a pound.
Lacking the correct amount of greens called for slashing the size of the finished Hortopita significantly and reducing the ingredients accordingly. I don’t think I have ever in my life followed a recipe exactly as written so not one to be deterred we marched ahead rather than waiting another day until we could go collect more. It still came off famously! I have never before boiled dandelion greens. They smelled surprisingly like spinach while boiling and completely lost their bitterness in the process. They were so delicious on their own as a boiled green that I plan to continue harvesting them with vigor for what remains of the growing season and eating them as-is with a dash of salt and sprinkle of oil.
The Hortopita itself was light and crispy on the outside, salty and fresh on the inside. In the future I will try adding eggs for protein and supplementing with other greens or veggies as I don’t expect to harvest enough dandelion leaves at any one time to make the full-sized pie.
Well it took a couple of weeks, but I think I have finally accepted Fall. Once the windows were closed, the houseplants brought indoors, and the knitting projects pulled out there was no turning back. Monday is Thanksgiving here in Canada. We are a non-traditional household who generally ignore most holidays, but we like Thanksgiving as a way to celebrate the harvest (the garden was good to us this year) and an excuse to stuff ourselves with food.
Inspiring Thanksgiving Ideas:
- Maple Leaf Roses – Link via the forums. A distinctly Fall way to make a centrepiece.
- Pumpkin Pie – We’ve got the pumpkin so it’s all systems go. I know I pump this one a lot but I’m proud of it and we enjoy it whenever pumpkins are available.
- Apple / Pear Pie – Another pie I have developed. I still have to write the actual directions down but the trick to it is that I first make apple sauce (sometimes adding pears too) and then spoon it on top of the apple and pear slices in the pie before putting the top on. It makes a moister pie that allows for less sweetner. We use maple syrup.
- Yam Butter
- Roasted Pear and Fennel Salad
- Baked Lemon Basil Chicken – I am just about to harvest my remaining lemon basil.
- Dandelion Hortopita – This is on our list for Monday’s meal. I’ll be going over to the garden this weekend to harvest a bunch.
- Drying Gourds. We made these mini pumpkin lights for the table a number of years ago. Davin made them by cutting ridges into the sides with lino carving tools and using a drill to make little dots.
- Gourds, Just Sitting There – I like these wee gourds on Wee Wonderfuls. Just sitting there. So pretty. I currently have a pumpkin and two acorn squash (one green and one variegated) sitting on my special hutch in the kitchen waiting to be cooked but in the meantime they are just sitting there. Looking pretty.
- Here are more Fall-like things sitting and looking pretty. Together. Except the peppers which are still growing. The flat pumpkin is a Long Island Cheese Squash. I think they’re gorgeous and could sit and stare at one for hours, but they also happen to make a great pie.
- This is a Hubbard Squash that I carved out and planted up with lemongrass and pansies. Everything is edible!
My new plot at the community garden has been a revelation. I have enjoyed my time there and am thoroughly bummed that it will all be done in a month — I don’t want this gardening season to end! The plot is in the sun and has not only opened up new in-ground growing opportunities, but provided a few surprises of its own. Our cool, wet fall (boo) has been the perfect breeding ground for dandelions and they have been coming up both in that plot and the communal herb plot. It’s saddens me that the dandelion is so maligned as a pest. I associate its yellow flowers and puffy seed heads with spring and childhood wishes. I love its toothy leaves that are useful as a healing edible green great for flushing out your kidneys.
Some contempt for the plant is obviously connected to the way it can take over a lawn, which is laughable to me because it is the conditions created by a lawn that allows it to thrive there in the first place. However, I think that a lot of our North American predjudice against the dandelion is culturally embedded, tied up in eliticism, class, and race. I am currently reading the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and there is a passage near the beginning of the book in which he describes the poverty his family endured after his father was murdered. At one point the family was “reduced” to dinners of boiled dandelion greens and rumours were soon spread that they were eating “fried grass.” This shocked me given that this was rural America in the early 30s. Eating and using dandelion parts is also commonly associated negatively with immigrants. Growing up in Southern Ontario, Canada I can recall many sunny spring days watching old-world Italian women collecting the bright yellow flowers for wine. The women would pick mostly in public parks where dandelions were prolific, while their middle class neighbours would scoff at the primitiveness of it. I discovered an edible weeds book at the library in highschool and became fast obsessed with all of the wild foods growing unawares in public parks, backyards, and cracks in the sidewalks. One particular book (I wish I knew the name) placed each plant into historical context outlining how some plants had been in use abundantly before they became marginalized or passe. It’s shocking to me how much good food is overlooked simply because our ancestors collectively decided it was beneath us.
And so I’ve been collecting the young, tender dandelion greens from my community plot. While the books often state that commercially available varieties tend to be less bitter, I have found that they harvest those when they’re too large and mature. My greens are bitter, but no more so than the arugula. We’ve been able to eat a handful raw and mixed with other greens. I have read that dandelion leaves taste better in the fall than in spring and that may also account for the difference. I am planning to try out this Hortopita recipe using spelt filo. It’s the perfect time since onions and leeks are also in season. Dandelion leaves and roots can also be collected and made into a calcium-rich herbal vinegar. The book, “Herbal, The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living” suggests blanching the leaves right on the plant by inverting a plant pot over the plant and overing the drainage holes with stones. “After a few weeks the leaves turn pale green and lose their bitterness.”