A step by step guide for growing Stevia hydroponically from seed
Today, we discuss the topic of growing Stevia hydroponically, hydroponic stevia planting, plant care of Stevia in hydroponics, hydroponic Stevia harvesting procedure along with hydroponic nutrient solution required for stevia farming. A single plant can play a big role in the reduction of refined sugar consumption and even it can be a natural substitute for usual table sugar. Surprised!
Easy to grow, Stevia is an excellent replacement for refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and it offers many indirect health benefits in the form of a tasty sweetener in baking and in beverages. Botanically, Stevia rubidiana is recognized by many vernacular names viz., sweet herb, candy leaf, sugar leaf, bio sweetener, etc. This belongs to the plant family Asteraceae. Through this versatile and healthy plant, various medical issues related to consumption of sugar can be corrected above all it is a nature’s sweet gift. The Stevia plant is basically an herb which entirely can be utilized. However, the maximum sugar content is present in their leaves that are very sweet yet calorie-free. Making it a perfect natural sweetener to be used daily suiting the healthy lifestyle. You will be amazed to know that Stevia plant is 200 to 300 times sweeter than the sucrose! There are some active compounds present in this little plant responsible for the exceptional sweetness that is steviol glycosides (chiefly stevioside and rebaudioside).
So enough of praises, I hope reading this all we must be thinking of raising these sweeteners at home let me give you a short description about the botany of this plants so that you make your mind clear and determined yourself for bringing the ample of healthy sweetness home. Stevia is a tender small perennial herb that reaches a height of 30.5 to 80 cm (1–2.5 feet). Its oblong dark green aromatic leaves are about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long with a prominent midrib and are arranged oppositely along the main stems. The small tubular flowers bear five white petals and are borne in terminal clusters; the flowers are generally removed in growing to practise to improve the flavor of the leaves. Can be propagated by various method but germination from seed is difficult, and most of its plants are grown from cuttings.
As we are constantly working for reaching out to our peeps with best and innovative garden practices with facts and some surprises, today also we have brought you an interesting addition to your hydroponic garden. Just because you are living within the confines of an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t have the benefit of the Stevia farming in India. This versatile plant can be grown easily in the hydroponic system on your balcony or any sunny spot. Stevia plants also grow quite well in the “container gardens.” An appropriately fertilized hydroponic setup or container garden can supply you with as much Stevia as an outdoor garden, even maybe more. Stevia cultivation in the greenhouse has also become the clear answer for a question like how to grow Stevia commercially and people are successfully doing this.
So what are we waiting for? let’s discuss growing stevia hydroponically.
Starting Stevia plants in hydroponics:
Stevia is an easy to grow plant demanding very little care. There are commonly two ways to propagate Stevia plant one is by seed and another is by rooted cuttings, latter is much successful and most opted method for starting Stevia in hydroponics. This herbal sweetener is famous for poor germination rates as low as 50% or less and if Stevia seeds are germinated it is a slow grower.
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You can take a cutting from the mature healthy, free from pest and disease Stevia plant in spring when the plant is actively growing. Take a cutting from new growth that is not too much green or too woody. If the cutting is too green and fresh it will wilt soon, and if it is too woody it may face trouble rooting. Slice the stem with a sharp knife under the third leaf node, counting from the top of the plant. A leaf node is an active area where the leaves are emerging from the stem. The cutting will be roughly about 3 inches long. Immediately place the cutting in the container of water to put a stop to it from drying out. And if you are more in favor of raising it right from seed then you sow seed in 1.5-inch Rockwool cube placed in 2-inch net-pot, make sure growing media is moistened with dilute fertilizer solution before sowing seed. The shortest way is to buy seedlings from the nursery where Stevia plants for sale are present and introduce them after thorough washing to the hydroponic system. Introducing 3 to 5 plants in your hydroponic system will provide you with a family with a year’s supply of homegrown natural sweetener.
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Favorable hydroponic system for growing Stevia:
Stevia can be grown in a variety of hydroponic system and even you can DIY basic hydroponic setup as well. Systems such as Kratky, dutch bucket, Deepwater culture, the drip system can work well and for growing Stevia, on a large scale, one can opt for Nutrient film technique (N.F.T).
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The nutrient solution for growing Stevia hydroponically:
Stevia is not a heavy feeder and doesn’t like much nitrogen. They do better with bloom formula nutrients solution which is reduced nitrogen modified Steiner formula and are easily available in market and variety of online stores. They have shallow root systems and have naturally adapted well to low nitrogen and high potassium. Experienced growers suggest feed Stevia in a hydroponic system with N-P-K (in ppm): 103-41-168 and maintain the nutrient solution pH in the range of 6.0-6.5. Stevia plant yields best in temperature ranging from 59-78°Farhenheit with medium humidity. If you are growing Stevia in indoor conditions then supply at least 8 hours LED grow light per day supplemented with 3 hours of sunlight per day. In outdoor conditions, Stevia for harvesting good amount and quality of leaves requires 12 hours of direct lights.
Pruning of Stevia plants in the hydroponic system:
In the first year, you can let Stevia plant grow and need not to prune the leaves, it will eventually grow into a tall plant with 7-8 branches.
To maximize leaf production, you will have to trim back your plants quite a few times to encourage branching. Perform the first pruning when plants are about 8-10 inches in height.
Trim the tips of the branches to induce branching to maximize leaf production.
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Harvesting procedure of hydroponic Stevia:
Simple! Pluck and Eat! Fresh and Healthy!!
When grown year around you can harvest Stevia up to 5 times a year. It will keep growing new stems from where you have cut it back. It is recommended not to cut it back beyond half of the stem height.
You will have to wait for about 4 months after planting to be able to obtain the sweet taste in the leaf- directly while chewing it. But, to get more sweetness in the leaf (more of Steviol glycoside content), make sure you pluck the leaves prior to flowering!
Unlocking the Sweetness in Your Harvest
You can use the leaves fresh, but the flavor will not be all there yet. As with many herbs, drying builds up its culinary properties. Store your dried harvest in an airtight container. Once all your leaves have been harvested you will have to dry them. The drying process is not one that has need of excessive heat; more significant is good air circulation. On a moderately warm day, your Stevia crop can be quick dried in the full sun in about 12 hours. (Drying time longer than that will lower the Stevioside content of the final product.) A home dehydrator can also be used, although sun drying is a much-preferred method.
Crushing the dried leaves is the final step for releasing Stevia’s sweetening power. You can also make your own liquid Stevia extract at home by adding a cup of warm water to 1/4 cup of fresh, finely-crushed Stevia leaves. This combination must set for 24 hours and then be refrigerated. Keep in mind that that homemade Stevia extract will always be liquid. A few drops are all you require to replace teaspoons of sugar.
That’s all folks about growing stevia hydroponically. Happy hydroponics!.
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