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My Affair with 'Steve'

steviaDon't tell anyone, but I've been sleeping with my husband's best friend! 'Steve' (the object of my attentions) has been whispering sweet nothings into my ear for over a year but it wasn't until late this spring that I finally succumbed to his charms. In case you think too badly of me, I should say right now that 'Steve's' real name is Stevia – Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) to be exact. He also goes by the nickname 'Sweet Leaf'. Keith (that's my health-conscious husband) discovered him a year ago and since then, like many others who are trying to cut down their sugar intake, he's been buying 'Steve' in powdered form from our local organic shop.

Originally from South American, stevia is a calorie-free herbal sweetener. In his natural desiccated form, he doesn't come cheap, which is why I decided to take an interest in him myself. I purchased some stevia seed from Kings Seeds way back in late October and a small vial arrived in the mail. It contained only about 12 seeds, which immediately had me feeling nervous. I bought the best seed raising mix I could find, adopted the most fail-proof seed raising methods I could think of, and held my breath while I waited to see if the six seeds I sowed would germinate. Talk about a strained way to begin a relationship!

Much to my relief, all six seeds came through the soil. A heat-loving plant, I placed the seedlings on a window ledge (not a sunny one, however, there being no sun this spring in our part of the world) and hoped for the best. The plants kept on growing, albeit slowly, but they looked as if they were going to make it. Enter, the mice!

One morning, I awoke to find chaos on the window ledge. Punnets of nasturtium seeds and newly germinated vegetable seedlings had been dug up – their contents spilled over the floor. Worse still, my precious stevias were lying on their sides, tiny roots in the air. In the cold conditions, mice had come into the house looking for warmth. They had chosen my seeds as their dinner, and wrecked my seedlings in the process! That's when Steve and I became more intimate.

Each night, I took my stevias to bed with me on a tray, sitting them right on top of my bedside table. I did this for two weeks by which time I felt they were large enough to survive another rodent attack. Since then, 'Steve' has have been on holiday to my mother's while we were away from home for a week (people are so liberal these days!), and has been introduced to a number of my friends who have watered him while we've been away on short breaks. The plants are now 30 cm high and I've even had a little nibble of one or two of the leaves. And yes, they were sweet!

Hopefully, we'll receive some sun over the summer, the stevias will put on growth, and we'll be able to pick their mature leaves to dry and pulverise into the same ingredient we currently pay good money for at the shop! My husband will be happy, I'll be happy, and by taking some cuttings from the stevias to pot up for indoor growing over the winter, Steve's presence in our home will be continued and he'll be happy. It may sound like an odd sort of ménage-à-trois but I'm confident I can make it work!

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