This is guest post by:
Elle loves food forests: wild jungle-style self-sufficient gardens. She is a former plant nursery owner and now runs Outdoor Happens (https://www.outdoorhappens.com) from her 10-acre homestead, shared with 3 dogs, 11 chickens, 4 horses, countless cattle, a husband, and 2 little girls. You can find Elle on Pinterest (pinterest.com/outdoorhappens) and Facebook (facebook.com/outdoorhappens)
Stevia, or Honey Leaf, has made itself well-known over the past few years. It is hailed as an almost-calorie-free sweetener that doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. Did y
ou know, however, that it also has numerous health benefits, and is surprisingly easy to grow?
Stevia is a perennial, so no re-planting year after year, a big plus. It grows up to 1m tall, with upright stems and small, white flowers.
How to Grow Stevia
Growing Stevia is easy from cuttings, seed, and rhizome division. Cuttings are best taken in the warmer months, and this, of course, requires you to have an existing Stevia plant or that you know someone with one. Seed is best sown fresh, so try and buy seed as fresh as possible to increase germination rate.
Stevia grows best in temperate to subtropical conditions. I have successfully grown Stevia here, in the tropics, but this has to be done in the cooler months as it doesn’t handle the hot humidity. At my old farm, in a subtropical region, it grew incredibly well year-round. Choose a semi-shaded position if you are in a hot climate.
You can grow Stevia in colder areas too, but you’ll most likely need to bring it inside, or nearer to the house, or give it protection from cold. Big piles of mulch can help a lot, as can a mini greenhouse (3 bamboo sticks with plastic wrapped around).
Soil should be rich, loose, and well-draining. It doesn’t like drying out, nor does it like wet feet. Mulching deeply can help a lot with keeping conditions more stable, it helps keep the water where it’s needed, keeps cold and heat of the roots, and increases soil quality at the same time.
Stevia loves food, so give it plenty of NPK fertilizer (I love the organic ones, with seaweed extract already built-in!), manure, and other organic matter.
Sugar Cane, Saccharum officinarum, is one of my favorites. My homestead is surrounded by Sugar Cane on three sides, and if there wasn’t a road on the other side, I’m sure they would’ve planted that side out as well. Sugar Cane belongs to the grass family and is very similar in care.
It can grow 3-4m tall, and although it can look quite nice in the garden (similar to Bamboo), it does require maintenance to do so, by regularly clipping old leaves. They can look a bit ratty, but their usefulness makes up for it.
How to Grow Sugar Cane
Being from the grass family, it requires similar care to grass. It loves water, loves food, and loves sun. It won’t deal with frost very well, although you can grow it in big pots and move it to a warmer position to get it through winter. It also grows well in a self-sufficient grove garden, where it is protected from frost by other, tougher plants.
Sugar cane is super fast-growing. Most farms around here harvest twice a year, and the growth we see is incredible. One day we have views for miles, the next it’s obscured by 3m tall cane!
Aztec Sweet Herb
Aztec Sweet Herb, Lippa dulcis, is an intensely sweet perennial herb and can be used in drinks and food. This one is only for occasional use however, as it also contains camphor, a compound that may be harmful if you take it in large amounts. Personally, I think it is still a very worthy herb for your self sufficient garden because not only is it delicious, it may help with inflammation and respiratory problems as well.
It grows approximately 40cm tall, with tiny, sweet-smelling flowers. The whole plant tastes very sweet, even the seeds. Roots taste like licorice. Aztec Sweet Herb was used by the Aztecs for respiratory ailments, like coughs, colds, and bronchitis.
How to Grow Aztec Sweet Herb
Aztec Sweet Herb will happily grow in the garden or in a pot. You might choose to grow it in pots in cold climates, so you can move it indoors or to a warmer position in winter. It prefers full sun to semi-shade. If you live in a hot climate, Sweet Herb will appreciate some protection from the hot afternoon sun.
Aztec Sweet Herb doesn’t like acidic soils, so add some lime and lots of organic matter to the soil before planting. Cover the base of the plant with a deep layer of mulch. This will also make sure that your soil is well-draining; this herb does not like constantly wet feet. Not many plants do!
If you do have boggy soil, consider planting some edible gingers or Taro instead, they will soak up the water and don’t generally mind wet feet.