Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sweet Miracle

I can't say that I wasn't warned. From seed catalogs to articles on the Internet, the consensus was unanimous. Stevia is hard to grow from seed because the germination rate is low and the survival rate of the seedlings is low as well. Any sensible person would have listened to the chorus of voices that advised buying the plant from companies where someone else had already done the hard work, but when has being sensible been any real fun? And since part of the reason I started gardening was to have access to edibles that weren't readily available in the local market; how could I resist the challenge?

So last year I planted about half the stevia seeds I ordered and waited for them to come up. I waited in vain. After considering all the possibilities, I decided that I had planted the seeds at the wrong depth. So I took half of the remaining seeds and put them on a wet paper towel in a plastic yogurt cup to germinate them. Half of the seeds germinated and I transplanted them to seperate cups hoping that at least one would reach maturity. None of them did. So much of the growing season had passed that I decided to wait until 2011 to try again.

This year I repeated the paper towel germination process with the five seeds I had left. Two of the five germinated and I transplanted the sprouts. One sprout died after about ten days. The other grew very, very slowly.

Finally, when I thought it was big enough, I set it out to harden it off for transplanting. After a couple of weeks I set about transplanting it into a large pot. I carefully slid the root ball out of the small container it had been in and started to lower it into the new pot; but I wasn't careful enough. The root ball shifted, slid off the trowel and dropped a few inches into the bottom of the hole that had been prepared for it. As it fell, I heard a sound reminiscent of a piece of cloth being torn in half. And I was sure that I had damaged the stem or tap root to a point beyond recovery. I completed the transplant anyway and decided to see what would happen.

In the first couple of weeks after transplant, the leaves closest to the base of the plant fell off and I was sure it was dying. I checked every day expecting to soon see a bare, whithered stem. However, the upper leaves of the plant stayed green and intact, although there were hardly any signs of growth. Then one day, I noticed what I thought was a new leaf emerging at the top of the plant. It was so small I wasn't sure that it hadn't been there before. So I watched and waited a few more days. And then, something unexpected happened. The plant was long and slender at that point in time and part of the stem was bent over and touched the soil in the pot. New roots formed where the stem made contact with the potting soil and within a couple of weeks the plant's growth took off. The result of that growth can be seen above.

So why bother to go through all the trouble for a plant that's so difficult to cultivate? Well, the rewards are sweet, literally. There are about 240 plants that are members of the species Stevia. Most are found in Mexico, South America and Central America. Only Stevia rebaudiana is naturally sweet. It contains a substance that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, yet it has little or no effect on blood glucose. The calorie content is negligible and research performed in India indicates that this same sweetner can also lower blood pressure. This unremarkable looking plant is one of nature's most remarkable creations! Thank goodness it was discovered before we destroyed it and its natural habitat.

It really makes you wonder what treasures we may have plowed under in the wild areas of the world in our mad dash to so called development; the cures to cancer, high colesterol, perhaps even AIDS? Stevia is a reminder that we should tread more lightly on the Earth and look more closely least we miss the bounty that surrounds us.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Welcome To The Jungle

This year, as in years past, I went out to the garden in early spring to see what the retreating snow had left. I surveyed the area and vowed that this time, I would leave more than enough room for everything to grow, with plenty of space to navigate between the rows for an easy harvest. As you can see, once again my well laid plans have come undone. Although there will be a bountiful harvest, the rainiest July on record caused a profusion of growth that has blanketed the area with a carpet of green and caused the tomato plants to intertwine and become like hedges. Quite a transformation from March(photo on the left) to August(right) wouldn't you say?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Have You Eaten Your Chinese Parsley Today?

One of the things I enjoy about trying to grow something new each year is that win, lose or draw; I always learn something. I knew that coriander was also known as cilantro(its Spanish name). I knew it was used in salsa and other dishes common to Mexico. But I had no idea of the health benefits attributed to this plant.

It contains antioxidants that can help slow aging. And it also contains chemicals that have been found to act as antibacterial agents against Salmonella. Clinical trials with mice have shown that it has both insulin-releasing and insulin-like activity; which explains its use as a traditional treatment for diabetes. And Persian culture has used it for centuries for the treatment of anxiety.

No wonder the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates once said, "Let food be thy medicine, and let thy medicine be food."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Yearly Ritual

The first jalapeƱos of the season have arrived so I have performed the annual ritual of setting afire the entrails of a goat by the light of the full moon while facing in the direction of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and reciting a poem of praise to the deity Tonacatecuhtli. The actual ritual is not that complex, but it seems that with each passing year it becomes more and more difficult to find the requisite number of Vestal Virgins. Just another sign of the times I suppose.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Bugs Are Back, So What!?

You would think that after the snowpocalypse of a winter that we had here a few months ago, any squash bug eggs that were left over from the fall would have been totally obliterated. Ah, but insects haven't survived for approximately 400 million years because they're easy to exterminate. And while I'm sure there were some bugs which emerged and died from lack of food because the cold, rainy spring delayed planting, some didn't hatch out until after my squash plants were in their containers and well along in their development.

Their arrival hasn't been a welcome event, but the delay in their appearance gave me ample time to prepare for combat against them and has given the plants the chance to reach a healthy, mature state to help fight them off. As you can see from the photo above, lack of summer squash won't be one of my problems this year.