Sunday, June 29, 2014

Another Sweetie - Aztec Sweet Herb

by Carol Kagan, Franklin County Master Gardener

Delphinium 'Blue Butterfly' - now at Jean S & my house
Jean S. called and invited me on a short road trip to Lurgan Greenhouse. What a great excuse to leave housework. Although the rumor that they were having "buy one, get one free" only applied to herbs and annuals, I can assure you the trunk and backseat had plenty of plants making the trip home.

Having just written the blog on Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana), the current fad in sugar substitute plants, I was interested in the herb they offered as Aztec Sweet Leaf (Lippia dulcis). This one is touted as having sweetness of 1500 times that of sugar. WHOA!
Sweet Aztec Leaf Plant (Tender perennial)
I tasted a leaf. Yes. Sweet. Very sweet. Very, very sweet.

Salvia 'Honey Melon' (Alan Buckingham)

I bought a Salvia 'Honey Melon' sage plant whose leaves taste mildly of cantaloupe. The plant label shows a plant that looks like pineapple sage.

This will most likely lose any flavor with cooking but should be an interesting addition to fruit salads and maybe as a drink garnish. I got the Sweet Leaf free.

In looking up the Sweet Leaf plant online I was surprised to see warnings about using it internally.

It turns out that in addition to hernandulcin, an intensely sweet compound which is a volatile oil constituent, the leaves also contain significant amount of camphor. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the National Institutes of Health, listing a research article in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Lippia dulcis-Abstract), camphor is approximately 53% of the plant's oils.

The NCBI abstract notes: "This plant began to be used as an official drug in the late 19th century for the treatment of coughs and bronchitis, and at that time preliminary phytochemical investigations were undertaken. Field work carried out in Mexico in 1981 and 1982 has indicated that there is still an active trade involving L. dulcis, which is sold primarily in market places for its alleged abortifacient activity. We have obtained no evidence, either from the literature or from field inquiries, that L. dulcis has ever been used for sweetening foods or beverages."

Alas, while one or two leaves in a cup of tea may be okay, and a number of sites mentioning putting a few leaves in salads or fruit dishes, this plant is not going to replace Stevia any time soon.

The plant has a low growth habit, sending out runners, and would make an interesting hanging plant. The dark green leaves highlight very tiny, but pretty, white flowers. It's a tender perennial in zone 6 (no frost tolerance), is a fast growing, low creeper, with small white flowers and would be excellent in hanging baskets. Full sun, please.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

STEVIA – The Sweet Leaf

By Carol Kagan, Franklin County Master Gardener

Stevia Flowers
For over hundreds of years, many countries have used the leaves of the Stevia (STEE-vee-ah) plant (Stevia rebaudiana), native to high altitudes in Paraguay and Brazil, and now it is here in the United States. The extracts from the plant are reported to be 300 times sweeter than sugar.

This plant gained popularity in the U.S. as people began searching for alternatives to sugar in their diets. April Randolph, Nutrition Training Specialist with Penn State, notes in Dining with Diabetes, that not only does Stevia, the sweetener derived from this plant, have zero calories it does not raise blood sugar. This is especially important for those coping with diabetes.

Stevia is sold in grocery stores under various brands - Stevia in the Raw, SweetLeaf, Pure Via, and Truvia. The Mayo Clinic staff has noted that the FDA has determined that these are GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) and the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies have determined that none of the approved artificial sweeteners cause cancer or other serious health problems.

In using Stevia as a sugar substitute, Randolph notes that it can be used in coffee and tea or “even use it in place of sugar in your favorite recipes.” She adds that its heat stable and can be used in cooking and baking.

To estimate how much Stevia to use to replace sugar, Randolph suggests that one-half packet equals 1 teaspoon of sugar while 12 packets replace one-half cup. However, adjust to your taste.

MG Trey Gelbach overwintered his Stevia
Can I Grow My Own Stevia Plant?

The Stevia plant is native to South America and is considered a tender perennial in our area – a plant that needs temperatures above 40° F. and therefore must be sheltered indoors during the cold season. This makes it an ideal container plant.

Stevia rebaudiana seeds are difficult to find and it is recommended to grow plants from seedlings. Plants need six to eight hours of sun and regular watering. Do not overwater or allow them to sit in water.

 Harvest small amounts often or cut bush to about two inches above the pot rim in early summer and again in late summer/early fall just before flowering. Leaves should be harvested as soon a blossoming begins or the first frost is expected.

Stevia leaves drying on a tray (Troy Reid)
As the day length shortens and temperatures cool, bring the plant indoors to a warm room. It will do best if placed under fluorescent or grow lights hung close to the top of the plants.

Using Stevia

There is definitely room for experimenting with both fresh and dried Stevia in different proportions and different foods .While Stevia is primarily considered a sugar substitute, it has its own flavor undertones, an earthiness and sometimes slight honey taste.

The sweetness of Stevia leaves from the plant varies from person to person. While some find the taste pleasant others find it bitter. At a recent herb workshop Master Gardener Jerry Lewis noted he found using the leaves didn't really sweeten his drinks but others noted that they sweetened hot tea and coffee.

Fresh Stevia leaves add sweetness to hot liquids. Three tablespoons of chopped fresh Stevia leaves are equal to about one cup of sugar. If you use two teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, you should just need a pinch or 1/16 teaspoon of fresh leaf.

You can dry Stevia leaves in a warm, dark and dry area. Put a rubber band around the stems and hang. Remove the leaves and store in an airtight container.

When ready to use, grind the leaves into a fine powder. A coffee or spice grinder is useful for this. Approximately one tablespoon of dried stevia is equal to one cup of sugar.

Sweetness of leaves vary, so quantities of dried Stevia powder many need to vary. You should try varied amounts in your foods.
Links of Interest:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Franklin County Master Gardener Workshops offer a range of topics.

Still time to register and attend the ATTACTING BUTTERFLIES workshop on Sat., June 21 from 9-11 am ($10). Learn how to attract these beauties to your yard and keep them coming back.

Of special note is the upcoming RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD rain barrel workshop on Sat., July 12 from 9-11 am. Participants are given the option of making a rain barrel to take home ($40-such a deal!) or just sit in ($10) and learn how to do it. These are great way to store and use water in your garden.

Our Master Gardeners purchase all the materials needed to make a rain barrel to take home. Pre-registration is required to make sure we have enough materials.

A truly unique offering is RAILROAD GARDENING held at the Clark's Knob Freestyle Garden Railway at Master Gardener Bob Hyatt's Orrstown home on Sat., June 28 from 9-11 am ($10). Learn about starting a railroad garden, designing the layout and adding special touches. Bob's layout has a natural garden look and he has incorporated miniature and dwarf plants to maintain scale. Call to register and get directions.
Railroad Garden at Bob Hyatt's House
Herb Series #2: USING YOUR HERBS is a hands-on workshop offering cooking and crafting ideas on Sat., July 19 from 8:30 - 12:30 ($15 incl. materials). Harvest herbs from the demonstration garden, watch refreshments being made for the break and then make herbal scrubbies and sachets to take home.

Family-friendly BUG OUT! invites children and families to have "buggy" adventure on Sat., July 28 from 10-noon ($10 per child-must be accompanied by an adult). Meet at the "Clubhouse" next to the barn for a short lesson on bugs then grab the nets and head outside. More fun than a Mason jar full of fireflies!

TOMATO TASTING DAY - Moved to Saturday by popular demand.

If you were never able to make this fun and informative event in the past, join us on Sat., August 23.  Do a blind taste tests on tomatoes and rate them, enjoy the salsa contest and vote on your favorite, see who wins the biggest and the ugliest tomato contests and more. Public event. No registration required.

All workshops and events are held at 181 Franklin Farm Lane unless noted. Call 717-263-9226 to register. Credit cards accepted.

Monday, June 16, 2014


by Carol Kagan

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly  (Laurie Collins)
There's still time to sign up for the "Attracting Butterflies" workshop Sat., June 21 (9-11am).

Join Master Gardener Laurie Collins and learn about the basic design principles and important requirements to maintain a successful butterfly garden. The class will review the basic life cycle of butterflies and review some found in our area.
Monarch on tithonia (a great flower for  butterflies)
The workshop will end with a walk through the demonstration gardens to observe and identify visiting butterflies.
Pollinator Garden July 2013
All course and events are held at the Agriculture Heritage Center, 181 Franklin Farm Road, Chambersburg, unless noted.

Our programs are growing in popularity and now require pre-registration. Call 717-263-9226 for more information and to register. You may also request to be added to our regular emailing of our events.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Two hobby tracks meet at a junction

By Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

When Bob Hyatt goes out into his Orrstown backyard he can choose to tinker with the trains or manage the miniature landscape that goes in and around the loops of train track.
At an early age his father gave him an American Flyer train followed by an HO scale set. “My Grandmother used to take me to the switching yard in Allentown to watch the trains,” Hyatt said.
One of Bob's trains

Hyatt’s career experience and Master Gardener training prepared him for giving both turfgrass management and landscape gardening workshops.
For this Franklin County Master Gardener, his life-long interest in trains and pleasure in landscape gardening merged into his Clark’s Knob Freestyle Garden Railroad.
This year for the first time, Hyatt will be holding a “Beginning Railroad Gardening” workshop on Saturday, June 28 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Participants will learn the "ins" and "outs" of this unique style of gardening at Hyatt's home on Shives Lane. 

The workshop will provide information on starting a railroad garden as well as designing a layout and adding the finishing touches.

World's oldest railroad garden, Bekonscot Model Village, England, est. 1929

 The popularity of having train models follows the history of railroading as people sought to bring some of the excitement into their own homes and yards. Moving from large outdoor trains to small sized and toy indoor models, around 1970 trains began to be designed specifically for use outdoors - rugged with the motor parts enclosed.

“It’s not a cheap hobby,” said Hyatt, who has been adding to his layout since 2002. He currently has about 400 feet of track in three loops and uses “G” gauge (1/29th scale) trains and brass track.
Deciding what kind of railroad garden is a first step. Some railways may just meander through the existing normal-sized plants in a yard or garden. Other railways are stationed at a village and may even have a theme such as the Old West or a logging or coal town. 
Bob Hyatt adjusting his homemade coal factory

Hyatt used stones from his property to build a number of walls and focal points. He uses brass track which weathers while the stainless steel stays bright. “I like a more natural look,” he said, noting that he does have houses to put out in an area alongside the track.
One of the many beautiful succulents Bob has available
To maintain a realistic scale, the plants he uses are typically dwarf varieties or small succulents. After finding plants for his layout, Hyatt has expanded into a small business selling these types to other outdoor railroaders as well as miniature container and fairy gardeners.

He has had several Open Houses. “It’s a lot of work to get ready for an open house and some friends come and help.”
Open House 2013
This is when friends and family visit Clark’s Knob Freestyle Garden Railroad and can appreciate how Hyatt has coupled two of his favorite hobbies.

Some links of interest:

Bekonscot Model Village

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Nature Photography Workshop June 14

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

Laurie Collins, Master Gardener and presenter for the June 14 Nature Photography Workshop, took some beautiful photos at Master Gardener Nancy Miller's house.

The workshop will be held at the Agriculture Heritage Center, 181 Franklin Farm Road, Chambersburg on June 14 from 9 am - 11 am. Call 717-263-9226 to register. Cost for the class is $10.

Laurie, an experienced amateur photographer, will share her techniques for basic photo composition and some of her secrets for taking great backyard nature photographs with your digital camera. This is a non-technical class for the everyday person. 

Bring your own digital camera and be familiar with the basic camera and function settings. You will be able to practice what you learn at the Extension Demonstration Gardens.
Here's more from Nancy's house.


Nature Photography Workshop-June 2013