Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) is a plant that is clearly picking up some serious steam and interest. I mean heck, I didn’t know about it till a little over a year ago now when I started noticing Sodas with stevia in them and packs of stevia near the tea supplies. After doing a little research I realized that I definitely had to at least try it out as something to grow. Well I have now experienced the full cycle of growing Stevia and I thought I’d share some of my insights and experience.
There is only one thing I can say about growing stevia from seed. Its VERY difficult. I had some issues the first time around when I was germinating Comfry from seed, but stevia is on an entirely different level of germination. Out of two packets of Stevia (one from Burpee and the other from groworganic.com) I was able to get ONE to germinate and live. Yep you read that right, just one. Doing a little research indicates that some seed providers just do not have good seeds for it, but there is some indications that its improving.
I wasn’t entirely sure I was actually “doing it right” because when you first get commercial Stevia seed you may not even understand what the seed actually is. It looks like a very very tiny twig, and in the packets you buy you usually only get 10 of them, so you’ll need to treat each one like a little delicate snow flake. I should note that the ones from burpee produced the good plant.
I first planted the seeds roughly January 2012 and eventually transplanted them into the garden in April.
The plant is an herbaceous green weedy looking plant. Out of every plant I have grown it probably most looks like a “weed”, even when it flowers. I believe that because of its location it did not receive adequate sun, nor had enough water retention to bring out its full potential and never really expanded or got larger than about 8 inches (except when it flowered). I honestly didn’t do anything to it once it went out in the garden. I checked up on it to make sure it wasn’t dying or anything and in the middle of summer every now and again I’d put a little water on it because where it was, there wasn’t a great amount of mulch so the soil got dry fairly quick.
Every now and again I would go out to the garden and get a little leaf and nibble on it, but I haven’t (at least yet) gone out there to “harvest” the whole plant. I think I will probably take cuttings of it here soon, to make sure it makes it through the winter and hopefully to continue to propagate it out.
Stevia is normally grown in warm and tropical locations so even here in Southern Louisiana I believe it will probably be a winter kill, at least on the days of morning frost. My aunt has provided me the secret for around here for preventing winter kill and that is using cheap sheets bought at walmart over your plants at night, so that when the dew comes (its intense here) it doesn’t get on the plants and then freeze. Luckily for me my plant went to seed (which I heard is not all that common) and I collected seed from it.
I have heard that Stevia goes to seed if it gets cold out, but I can assure you mine started going to seed probably in early September, maybe even late August. Once the plant goes to bloom and produces the white flowers eventually they will die and kind of implode into these spikey looking tips. No worry, they are soft as a feather. I found it mostly easy enough to rub the flowers while holding a bowl under them and they generally popped out, on the branches that were pretty much completely done I went ahead and chopped the whole branch off.
I did not do anything fancy or any of the regular seed saving techniques (using filters and what not). That may have worked and I’m sure there are probably some other techniques that people have written about. I wanted to get my hands dirty and do it by hand. I considered using a fan technique to get rid of the extra bits, but I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to control considering the seeds are so tiny and already have a little umbrella to carry them away in the wind.
If you pluck out one of the little exploded flowers you’ll actually find that its many seeds for each flower. Above here is the end tip that is inside the flower sepal. I decided to try two techniques. I pulled out many individual by hand, and then i tried just rubbing lots of them in my hand, and attempting to separate them out. I noticed that the seeds tend to clump together and kind of stay away from the other parts which was nice.
This is more or less what it looked like when I was about midway through cleaning the seeds. All of the fuzzy prickly looking things are the seed, and everything else is chaff. The whole process took about 20 or 30 minutes, and I probably only got about half the seed from that one plant.
This is what the final product looked like when all said and done. This bag has hundreds and hundreds of seeds in it. If you were to try and buy this from the store it could cost 50-80 dollars. Whats cool is I checked yesterday and the rest of the plant has finished going to seed so its ready to finish harvesting! I estimate I’ll probably have 3 or 4 times what I’ve got here in this picture, so next year I’ll be starting a little army of Stevia. Hopefully the germination rates are much better than this last time around.