Dreaming of the Beauty of Spring

Cold, dark days of winter let us see straight through the trees of the forest to that grove of hemlocks on the south side of the property. A small group of 6-7 white-tailed deer bed down in there on most days.

From our higher vantage point in the house we see them going to and from the hemlock area in the early morning hours and near dusk. Once the trees leaf-in in Spring, we won’t be able to view this area from on top the hill.

During December and the Holiday Season we had evergreens and pines to appreciate in the form of wreaths and Christmas trees and boughs on the window sills.

For the last couple of months the action in the field has been harvesting of planted crops like corn, soy and sunflowers. Also, hunting of turkey, bear and deer.

Outdoors there’s nothing blooming now. Most of us who seek the company of our little green friends go inside and appreciate our houseplants.

Christmas cactus blooming in bright pink.
Christmas cactus blooming in bright pink.

Other plant appreciation we get through eating the foods that we’ve canned or preserved from the garden, like salsa and tomatoes.

Right now the garden has baby lettuce about 3 inches tall that we’ll protect over the winter for an early start in Spring next year. Only an old sheet will cover these plants even in the coldest of Winter.

In the next couple of months we’ll dream by the fire of new flowers to seek out on walks in the woods and we’ll pour over seed catalogs to help us design the gardens for next year. Until then we can only dream of Spring and the beauty it brings.

Surprise Blooming of Stevia in the Garden

In the middle of November we experienced some low temperatures in the mid-20s. I was surprised that the Stevia plant in the vegetable garden didn’t appear to be bothered.

Even though it was covered with a sheet on colds nights just like the lettuce to protect it from frost, I was even more surprised when it actually bloomed!

Stevia flowers in clusters of five blossoms with five petals.
Stevia flowers in clusters of five blossoms with five petals.

At this late date I thought this sweet herb plant would be toast. Didn’t even consider that it would actually bloom as it’s native to semi-tropical Paraguay. Stevia is a Zone 11 plant so I’m quite surprised that it hadn’t yet withered in the cold temperatures we were experiencing in Central Pennsylvania in Zone 5-6.

Since about July the garden and grounds around here were pretty much neglected. The lawn wasn’t mowed, no weed-whacking was done, weeds grew everywhere and tomato plants weren’t lashed to their stakes like they should have been.

A couple of injuries kept me on the sidelines so about all I could do was pick a few cucumbers or tomatoes for my lunchtime salads and grimace at how unkempt everything looked.

One of the plants left to fend for itself in my absence was the single Stevia plant in the garden. It fell to one side but continued growing as best it could with the side branches now reaching for the sky.

Stevia side branch with many small white blooms.
Stevia side branch with many small white blooms.

I was totally surprised to see small white flowers blooming where small flower buds were at the tips of the side branches a couple of weeks before. The whole plant probably should have been harvested then, but I wanted to see what the flowers looked like.

Flower buds at the tips of side branches of the <em>Stevia</em> plant.
Flower buds at the tips of side branches of the Stevia plant.
Flowering Stevia
Flowering Stevia

Do the leaves taste just as sweet as they did a month ago? Yes! the plant was pulled out of the ground on 16th of Nov and hung upside down in the garage where it’s cool, yet doesn’t freeze. Leaves that weren’t damaged or look too dirty were cut or pinched off the plant and kept in a brown bag for storage in the pantry. We’ll brew them with some tea to lend a little sweetness naturally.

I’m curious how anyone else uses this plant from the garden. Sure, you can buy Stevia products from your local grocery store, but who else uses it in leaf form? Leave a comment below so we all can learn more about this interesting plant.