Saturday, January 31, 2009

Porpagating Stevia rebaudiana from Cuttings

Propagation and Container Growing

Stevia stem cuttings root easily without hormones, but only under long day conditions. A fluorescent shop or plant growth light both work well. Leave the light on 14 to 16 hours per day, 5 to 9 inches above the cuttings. An automatic timer will make the job easier. Even with artificial light, Stevia cuttings root most easily during the long days of spring. Cuttings should be taken in March for transplanting in May or June. Plants from later cuttings may be over-wintered in pots under fluorescent lights.

Fall cuttings root successfully with the use of rooting hormones. Use a low-strength rooting compound available from garden retailers or make your own natural compound with Steve Marsden's recipe. Harvest a handful of willow branch tips and remove the foliage, then liquefy in a blender with twice the volume of water. Dip cuttings in this mixture before placing in the rooting medium.

Coarse or medium grade horticultural vermiculite works well for rooting Stevia. Mr. Marsden prefers a peat-lite mix that includes bark, especially for outdoor propagation beds. Coarse, clean sand may be used as well. Place small pots, or cell packs with drainage holes, in flats or trays to facilitate watering from below as needed. With a sharp blade or pruning tool, make cuttings 2 to 4 inches long. Each cutting should have 2 or 3 nodes. A node is where leaves attach to the stem. Cut between, rather than at the nodes. (Sumida, 1980). Plunge the proximal end (closest to the roots on the mother plant) of the cutting into the rooting medium far enough so that at least one node is buried and at least one node remains above the surface. Remove all leaves from buried nodes. Above the surface, remove large leaves by cutting or pinching leaf stems, taking care not to damage the tiny axillary leaves emerging behind large leaves. These axillary leaves are the growing points of your new plant. Keep cuttings at 60 F to 70 F. Indoors, under lights, misting is not necessary. Outdoors, or in a sunlit greenhouse, cuttings should be misted several times per day until roots are well formed. After about a week, growth should be evident if rooting was successful. After 3 to 4 weeks, transfer plants to larger pots (at least 3-4 inches in diameter) with standard potting soil. Transplant these to the garden in another 2 to 4 weeks or keep as a container plant.

For older plants, keep the fluorescent light a few inches above the foliage. When stems reach 7 to 10 inches in length, cut them back to promote branching and vigor. Over-wintered plants look devitalized by the end of the winter, but regain vigor when transplanted outdoors. Some plants will inevitably be lost, so grow more than you think you'll need. Stevia may also be grown outdoors in containers such as gallon pots. If you start with a high-quality potting soil that has organic fertilizers mixed in, further fertilization may be unnecessary, but a monthly watering with a dilute seaweed solution can be beneficial. Mr. Langan recommends a balanced, slow release fertilizer applied every two weeks for container plants. He also advises using wooden containers or the double pot method to insulate roots from summer heat. Place in full sun when it's cool, but provide shade during hot weather, making sure the soil doesn't dry out. For perennial production, bring containers indoors before the first frost.


In garden: prefers moist, well-draining soil, slightly acidic. I have grown it in the Lockhart garden in a 3 inch layer of compost over clay soil with pH of 7.5. It did OK, but not great. Was killed by frost. Will try again this year in raised bed with sandy loam delivered from east of Bastrop. Did not do well in sand at Altamira -- probably got too dry.


Last weekend I planted seeds of tomato plants I hope to set out in the garden in mid-March. I'm trying a bunch of varieties I've never grown before. The goal is to end up with 20 or 25 plants, which will be more than enough for me and my husband, with plenty to spare for friends. I always start more seeds than the number of plants I want to end up with. Some may not come up; of the ones that come up, I can pick out the 2 or 3 healthiest of each variety to grow to maturity. I started six each of the following:

Atkinson (indet, early, heat resistant)
Abraham Lincoln (indet, early, resistance to foliage diseases)
Stone (indet, drought hardy)
Stupice (indet, Czech very early variety - said to be cold tolerant which often means heat tolerant as well)
Sophie's Choice (very early [55 days], not heat tolerant, but since it produces so quickly maybe that will not matter)
Tropic VFN (indet, late, but said to be disease resistant and heat tolerant, developed by Univ of FL
Matt's Wild Cherry (Said to be quite robust, fruit is tart)
Red Currant (this one has always done very well in the heat, and the fruit is delicious. I used to help a friend sell at farmer's markets. We would bag up these little tomatoes as snacks. We always sold out quickly)

Last year, I bought a BHN 444 (F1) plant at a nursery. I place it in the garden where it got shade from around 4:00 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, I did not keep a record of exactly when I planted it. I don't think I planted it particularly late in the season, but by the time it started flowering, the weather had already gotten too hot for pollination. The plant lived on through the summer, and in the fall it produced a huge number of medium sized red tomatoes. My garden is in Lockhart, and I work in San Antonio during the week, so the garden has to get along on its own without watering for 4 days every week. What impressed me about this plant was that it remained healthy throughout the hot, extremely dry summer. Other tomato plants, even currant tomatoes that usually do well in heat, were terribly stressed, but BHN 444 kept plugging away. Could be, at least in part, because of the afternoon shade.

I forgot to order seeds, but since this variety performs well in the heat, no harm in ordering it now and starting it a bit late. Johnny's seeds has it among their listings.

Speaking of shade, I would very much like to have some mesquite trees, or something similar, growing throughout the vegetable garden, to provide light shade, thus maybe prolonging the spring growing season. I gathered some mesquite seeds last year but stuck them in a drawer forgot to plant them. Need to check their germination requirements. I haven't found any mesquite trees for sale at plant nurseries. They are generally considered pest trees, something I've never understood, since they enrich the soil, provide protective shade for other plants, produce edible seed pods, and beautiful hard wood.

Preserving Tomatoes in Wood Ash

I have never tried this, but will save some ashes from the stove and give it a try next fall.

Ken Hargesheimer sent us a copy of the "From Garden to Kitchen" newsletter published by UNICEF. It provides a way for Pacific Island populations to share gardening and nutrition information suited to the local region. If you are in the Pacific Islands, you are eligible to receive this newsletter (no fee). Write South Pacific Commission Community Education Training Centre, c/o UNDP, Private Mail Bag, Suva, FIJI; phone 300439; fax (679) 301667. The following is from issue #10.
Farmers know all too well the problem of large quantities of tomatoes (and low prices) during season, followed by short supply and higher prices. The Bureau of Education in the Philippines says you can extend the season in which tomatoes are available. Fresh tomatoes can be preserved in wood ash for up to three months.
Preserve only newly picked tomatoes which are ripe but not soft and overripe. They must be free of bruises and blemishes. Select a wooden or cardboard box or woven basket and line it with paper. Gather cool ash from the cooking fire and sift to remove sharp particles. Spread the ash evenly on the bottom, 1.5 inches (4 cm) thick. Arrange the tomatoes upside down (stem end facing down) in one layer and pour another thin layer of ash on top. Continue layering tomatoes and ash until the container is full. Cover and seal the container and keep in a cool dry place. [The article does not say how to cover and seal. My best guess is to cover with ash then a loose-fitting cover to keep the ash from being disturbed.] The skin will wrinkle but the pulp inside will remain juicy.
The article does not mention what effect the wrinkling of the skin has on marketability. If you try this method, I would be interested in your observation

Saturday, January 24, 2009

35,000 Free Range Chickens

How can people have (or pretend to have) such tunnel vision?

These photos say it all -- factory-farm "free range" and truly free range . Can you guess which is which?

Warehoused chickens photos from:
Pastured chickens photo from Grass Fed Farms

An article on Discovery News online reports that caged chickens are healthier than free range chickens. Free range chickens peck each other more. They tend to have more problems with bacterial infections such as E coli. Why could that be?

From page two of the article:

Flock size was part of the problem, Fossum said. Cages held a maximum of 10 birds. But free-range flocks sometimes contained as many as 35,000 chickens. Even though these chickens had the freedom to hop outside and roll in the dirt, they were more likely to bump into each other, fight, and share diseases.

Thirty-five thousand chickens confined in one static space? Walking around in feces-laden litter? I've read elsewhere that "free range" chickens of this sort are often not let outside until they have become too old to try new things. Newly hatched chicks will accept whatever world they find themselves in, but as they grow older, they become set in their ways. If management doesn't open the gates to the outside early enough in the pullet's life, she may never go outside. What would be the point anyway? Even when chickens do go outside, it's not as though they find green grass to graze and rich soil where they can scratch for insects. The best they might hope for is a dust bath that's already been used by thousands of other chickens.

There's a young woman here in Lockhart who sells eggs from "free range" chickens she keeps in the yard at her home. I bought a dozen from her and was very disappointed to find the same thin shells and pale yolks one sees from factory-farm hens. The young woman mentioned that the hens were eating purchased feed. I suspect she was keeping a fairly large flock of hens in a relatively small space. The hens had probably killed all the grass, and the soil was probably toxic from too great an accumulation of manure. In other words, these were not truly "free range" hens. The eggs themselves tell the truth. There's a great photo here: of ten eggs, all from the same hen. Some of the eggs were laid when the hen was outside eating grass and insects, the others are from when the hens were penned.

Back to the Discovery article -- what blows my mind is that a "study" was required to convince people that it's not healthy to keep thousands of hens cooped up together. I have to wonder if these people have ever bothered to learn the conditions required to have a truly healthy hen.

The most disturbing thing to me about this article is that it is confusing to the point of being deceptive to someone who has never raised truly free-range, healthy chickens. The unfortunate creatures packed into warehouses with outdoor "runs" that make the worst state prisons look like palaces are NOT free range chickens.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What's Blooming

mums (only a few blooms)
fava beans
garden peas
roses (a few here and there)

silver beet
Chinese cabbage
turnip greens

Money Garden

The economic depression may be good for seed sellers.

Burpee Seeds is offering six packets of seeds for $10 that they say will produce $650 worth of food on a tenth of an acre. The Money Garden collection was available to ship starting this January. The package contains seeds for garden peas, carrots, lettuce, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes.

Although the season for growing peas, carrots, and lettuce is already more than half over, if one were to order the Money Garden package right now, there would still be time to enjoy harvests of all the veggies in the package. You'd want to get the lettuce, carrot, and pea seeds planted out in the garden ASAP, and start the tomato and pepper seeds indoors immediately in order to have good sized plants to set out in the garden in March. Since green bean plants are killed by frost, you'd want to wait until mid-to-late Feb to start planting the bean seeds, then make a planting every couple of weeks. You can enjoy a longer harvest period that way, than if you plant all the beans at the same time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Turnip Green and Sweet Potato Soup

This is adapted from a recipe that called for adding sugar and then cooking the hell out of the greens. I am trying to limit my intake of refined sugar, and I had a sweet potatoes that I harvested in October, so I substituted the sweet potatoes for sugar. In order to prevent overcooking the greens, I added them last, after all the other ingredients were done.


Mild flavored legume such as white, Anazazi, pinto, or cream peas (turnip greens are a winter-time crop in central Texas, so there are no fresh legumes other than baby fava beans and dried beans. I did not think fava beans would taste right in this recipe, so I used dried pintos. I rinsed, soaked, and cooked them until tender before adding them to the soup)
Fresh turnip greens, chopped - about 2 cups
Chicken broth - a couple of pints
a couple of slices of pork or lean bacon
a bulb onion, chopped
a couple of Irish potatoes, chopped
a couple of sweet potatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic
fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, rosemary)
salt and black pepper to taste

Make the chicken broth and strain it through a fine sieve. Add Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes, onion, garlic, and cooked beans, or fresh uncooked beans if they are available. Cook until everything is tender. Add the chopped greens and herbs and cook for just a few minutes so that the greens are bright green. If they start losing their bright color, you've cooked them for too long and need to remove them from the heat immediately. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tilapia Filet Baked in Yogurt

I found a similar recipe on the Internet and adapted it to use ingredients that are growing in the garden today. Recipe is for one person.

Cut a tilapia filet into bite-sized bits and put it into a baking dish.
Pour on enough un-flavored yogurt to pretty much cover the fish, preferably whole milk yogurt that has not had anything done to it to make it "smooth and creamy."

Cut some lemon grass, parsley and dill from the garden and, using scissors, cut the herbs into bits directly onto the yogurt-covered fish.

Cover and put into a pre-heated 350 degree oven or dutch oven on top of wood stove in which the fire has burned down to red-hot coals.

Cook until the fish is done (you can tell it's done when it flakes apart when you stick a fork into it).

Sprinkle on some chopped shallot or chives or green onion and some freshly ground black pepper just before serving.

Time to prepare: 10 minutes, including cutting herbs from garden. 15 or 20 minutes or so to cook. Cost: $2.50 for the fish; $0.50 for the yogurt. A cent or two for the olive oil and vinegar for the salad and the black pepper. Total is half or less what one would pay for a toxic meal from a fast food joint.

Serve with fresh mixed greens from the garden and fresh tomato. I do not have tomatoes growing in the garden now, as the tomato plants were all killed by a freeze back in late November. The day before the freeze, I picked all the green tomatoes off the vines and stored them in closed paper bags to ripen. Next year, I plan to try growing Long Keeper tomatoes.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange blurb claims that they can last in storage up to six months. I'd be happy if they could last through February.

I don't mind going a couple of months (Mar - Apr) without fresh tomatoes. It makes them seem that much better when you finally have them again in the garden in May.