The Stevia plant is native to South America, and has long been grown for its sweet leaves. Stevia extract contains up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar! This beautiful little plant is quickly becoming a popular natural sugar substitute. Although it is sweet, stevia is also known to contain natural insect-repelling properties, bypassed by aphids, grasshoppers, and other harmful pests. (The production of their super sweetness found in the plant’s leaves, is actually a deterrent to insects who can’t stand such an overdose of sugary flavor!)
Stevia is difficult to grow from seed because many places do not carry stevia seeds and it can be difficult to germinate them at home- so let us do all of the hard work for you! Our stevia plants are well-established and ready to be added right to your garden. Stevia is relatively sensitive to cold climates, so be sure any threat of frost has dissipated and soil temperatures are above 50 degrees before you plant outside. Stevia likes well-drained, rich and loamy soils. Add some compost to the top of your beds– the shallow roots will soak the nutrients right up.
Are you a container-gardener? Stevia is quite versitile and will grow great in pots on your porch, balcony, or windowsill as well.
As some of you may have followed our previous blogs on our Social Media and Marketing Director, Caroline’s Nasturtiums, here’s an update on her indoor garden!…
Those who know me, know that I’m a pack rat. I can’t stand to waste anything that has potential. This, coupled with my tendency to nurture, is what led me to my first attempt at indoor gardening, or, as I like to refer to it, my “Garden of Misfit Plants”. I’ve got annuals, succulents and houseplants cohabiting on an old card table that faces the sliding glass door to my backyard, that live in (general) harmony. Barring random attacks from our two nosy cats and the occasional neglected watering, my collection of crippled Cacti, Calendula and Nasturtiums have flourished in their new homes! After trials with recent repottings, I was excited to find that my ‘Empress of India’ Nasturtiums have begun to bloom yet again and my Calendulas are about to burst open in the next few days! These annual-turned-tender perennials have been such a great experiment in gardening–let’s see how long I can keep them going!
I know I say this with many herbs, but Lemon Verbena has to be one of my absolute favorites. It is easy to grow and maintain, loves living in a pot on the windowsill, and smells delightful! Lemon Verbena has a wonderful lemon flavor with no bitterness– nature’s lemon candy. Try adding a few leaves to your next cup of tea, or steep a few leaves in milk to be used in pudding or ice cream.
Lemon Verbena likes warm, sunny conditions and well-drained soil. If kept warm inside all year, lemon verbena is an evergreen perennial; if exposed to frost, it is deciduous. Do not over-water, and prune in the fall for a bushier plant in the spring.
As previously stated, Lemon Verbena’s lovely medium-green leaves give off a light lemony scent. Before guests arrive I make sure to shake and brush the leaves around a bit, to stimulate the essential oils and really release the natural aroma of my indoor verbenas. Guests love it, especially on cold winter nights when we’re dreaming of summer lemonade and sunshine.. And might I add how much healthier it is to have fresh, all-natural, sweet-smelling herbs and flowers in your house, rather than scented candles and air fresheners? Scented candles are one of the most popular house-hold carcinogens. Plants, on the other hand, detoxify your home!
One common problem associated with Lemon Verbena is spider mites. They love the underside of the leaves. Keep an eye out for these little buggers, and if you do have a problem pick up a mild non-toxic insecticide at your favorite store. You can also companion plant herbs that are natural insecticides, like Rue, Pyrethrum and Tansy nearby to help discourage unwanted pests!
Tons of cat toys are packed with Catnip to perk your cat's interest!
Looking for a great all natural way to treat your favorite feline? Try Catnip! Often found packed into the plush insides of a cute little toy or sold in dried form at local pet stores, catnip makes most cats pretty crazy. Over eighty percent of cats are affected by the chemical component Nepetalactone, which is found in the essential oils of this perennial herb. A combination of genetics and age determine whether your felines will fiend for Catnip, as studies show that kittens don’t seem to respond until around the age of three months. Though not explored extensively, there are many cases of dogs and even some bears who find the scent of “nip” irresistible. Reactions range from sleeping and drooling, to frantically pouncing and running around, and cats seem to also experience heightened tactile sensations which may include being rubbed on their face, petted or brushed to excess.
Our Media Director's cat, Sophie, eating dried Catnip. She likes the fresh stuff better!
Also known as an excellent natural insect repellent, the essential oils are often found in many DEET-free bug sprays. If making your own concoction to deter pests, try using Lemon Catnip for a fragrant citrus aroma. Catnip also has a history as a medicinal herb for its sedative properties and makes a soothing tea to help you relax, much like Valerian, an herb known to mellow you out and known commonly as “the poor man’s Valium”. Slightly numbing, Catnip is also reputed to strengthen immunities to fend off colds, fevers and the flu, and also calms an upset stomach. Growing fresh Catnip for your kitties isn’t just fun and games. The vitamins and nutrients they get from eating the raw plant is great for their bodies, and the plant itself can help cause any indigestion which may result from some store-bought foods.
Our Catnip is all natural and because we don't use harsh chemicals, it's purrrrrfectly healthy for your cat!
If you plan to grow Catnip for your cats indoors, you may want to plant two pots, one to keep out of their reach outdoors, and one for them to enjoy inside, but make sure to swap them occasionally so they don’t completely attack the indoor pot! If you’re growing it outdoors, be aware that neighborhood cats may be flocking to your garden. To prevent their frantic frolicking from interfering with other, more tender plants that may be growing nearby, either plant your catnip in a well-drained, separate area of its own, or build a fence around your garden. (If you have problems with container-planted Catnip, try placing it in a large, metal bird cage or dog kennel, where the kitties can’t plow through it all and destroy your plant.) If you want to really encourage your cats to love you more, try planting Catmint, Lemon Catnip and Valerian in your garden. All three of these great herbs are kitty-friendly, human-friendly and make a really calming tea. Treat your cats the natural way and grow them a garden full of treats!
Catmint is another great herb to get your felines frisky!
Nasturtiums are typically started from seed– but why do the sowing yourself, when we are happy to sow them for you? While most of the country is experiencing another record-setting snowy winter, your nasturtiums are in good hands here on the farm, safe in our warm and well-tended greenhouse. While most people are ordering seeds that ship immediately, we’re nurturing and hand tending our plants with care until it is warm enough to ship them via mail couriers like Fedex, this spring. This way, you get healthy, happy plants that arrive on your doorstep and are ready to plant or pot, instead of seeds that have battled the rigors of the icy weather AND the postal system. Our nasturtiums are a great example. Below, see us starting these little guys on their life journey.
Sowing Nasturtium seeds
When spring arrives at last and you receive your Nasturtiums, plant them in well-drained soil and full sun. They are easy to grow, and do not require a lot of maintenance. In fact, they do better with a little neglect. They like weekly waterings, or whenever soil is dry to the touch.
Nasturtium leaves have an interesting watercress flavor to them, and are a wonderful addition to salads and cheese sandwiches. Use them to spice up cream cheeses, dips, or egg dishes. Colorful nasturtium flowers are not only beautiful, but are also edible. Many health food stores carry these edible flowers– but at a high price! Take advantage of your nasturtiums by picking their flowers soon after they open up. The flowers can be served whole as a gorgeous decoration to cakes, or petals can be sprinkled on salads.
If you would rather keep your blooms on your plant, be sure to remember to pick off dead blooms. This will allow your nasturtium to bloom continuously. If you don’t dead-head them, they will start to go to seed, as our social director Caroline recently discovered! You can read about her experience in our previous blog. These seeds can also be pickled and used as you would use capers.
'Alaska Mix' Nasturtium
*Our Marketing and Social Media Director, Caroline has been attempting to turn her brown thumb green since she began working here, and it looks like she may be getting the hang of it!*
This past fall I salvaged some ‘Alaska Mix’ and ‘Empress of India’ Nasturtiums who were at the end of their season and growing closer to being composted. I decided it would be a great winter project to try to keep these creeping beauties alive in my kitchen for their culinary value (their leaves, blooms and seeds are all edible!) and it would be a great test to see how green my thumb had grown since joining The Growers Exchange team. Though light is a little scarce since neighboring buildings block it for most of the day, and my cats terrorize the curtain-like foliage by using it as cover (and as a snack), I’ve managed to keep the majority of these guys green and somewhat healthy! It’s been interesting to see how at different points of the day the foliage will crane their stems to follow the sunlight as it moves across my kitchen, like these herbs have a mind of their own!
'Alaska Mix' Nasturtium variegated foliage
While watering the other day, I readjusted some of the variegated, viney leaves to allow more of the ‘Alaska Mix’ to get more light and two, hard, green little nodes fell off! At first I thought this was some kind of pest or bug that had invaded my little indoor oasis, but after some research and thorough poking with my finger, I realized that my plant had started to go to seed. These light green seeds are rounded on one side and sort of pinched and puckered looking on the opposite side, and can apparently be prepared with hot vinegar to create “poor man’s capers”. These pretty annuals have been trying to go to seed all season and thus, end their life cycle. Keep yours blooming by continuing to prune dying foliage back and to deadhead them which will prevent the process of going to seed and keep them vibrant for much longer. I’m going to try to plant these alien-looking little seed pods and see if I can sprout some more of these awesome spiller herbs!
'Alaska Mix' Nasturtium seeds
I also recommend growing these indoors to any novice or brown thumb, like myself, or to anyone who has kids. The Nasturtium‘s non-toxic, edible leaves make a beautiful contrast to their bright, continuous blooms, and because they grow quickly and can take a little abuse or neglect. Though I need to repot mine, as they’re getting too big for their britches, I’d recommend a hanging pot or container to hang them in a sunny window. This way, their leaves and tendrils can have room to stretch and grow, and they’ll be out of the way of little furry monster who may try to dine on them. These Nasturtiums, along with a few Calendula (which I haven’t been as successful with) have been a true delight during these dreary, cold months. Just a little green around your home can make a huge difference in picking up your spirits while it’s gross and gray out. Try growing some today– they’re a great first time herb plant!