Sunday, July 25, 2010

Okie Dokie Okra

Growing up, I was always told that I would eat poop if it was covered in Chocolate. Well, that was, and still is, probably true. As I have gotten older, you can add deep fried to that. There is one food that I can definitely think of that the ONLY way I can eat it is deep fried, and that is Okra. Though, I haven't tried it covered in Chocolate yet.....hmmm. All my southern friends just went....EEEWWW!
And yet, I still grow Okra. I flour it and freeze it for use later on. I actually grow two kinds of Okra, the typical Clemson Spineless and a Red variety that I do not know the name of. What, never heard of or seen Red Okra? Take a look at this:

Pretty Huh? The leaves are even red hued.
I really don't taste or can tell the difference between the two colors. Though, having the two colors works really well for me and my love of everything Christmas, but that is a story for another time.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a flowering plant in the mallow family which includes Cotton, Cocoa, and Hibiscus. It is valued for its green (or red) fruits, harvested when they are immature, and eaten as a vegetable.
Okra is native to West Africa and has become established in the wild in some tropical areas. It is believed that okra first reached the New World during the days of slave trafficking.
It may have been introduced to southeastern North America in the early 18th century. It was being grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748. Thomas Jefferson noted that it was well established in Virginia by 1781. It was commonplace throughout the southern United States by 1800 and the first mention of different cultivars was in 1806.
Growing Okra is rather simple. It is among the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable species in the world.
Many gardeners soak the seed before planting to improve germination, I have actually soaked it and planted it direct....neither seemed to be superior over the other. It WILL NOT germinate in cool or cold soil, so plant the seeds after the soil has warmed in the Spring. Okra grows best at temperatures between 75 and 90 degrees. 
The crop can be grown on all soil types, although a well draining soil, high in organic matter is the most desirable. Poorly drained soils or ones with heavy amounts of clay, may result in drowning of the plants. They prefer a uniform amount of moisture. Water the garden sufficiently to moisten the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Lighter sprinklings will encourage shallow rooting of the plants. Plant in full sun for best productivity.
When fertilizing your Okra, it tends to respond to a high Phosphate fertilizer (the second number on the bag, i.e. 6-12-12).  The plant has a sensitive balance between vegetation (leaf production) and reproduction (pod production). Extra amounts of Nitrogen should be avoided until the pods begin to affect the plant growth.
Okra should be ready to harvest anywhere from 50 to 65 days after planting and when pods are 2 to 3 inches long. At this stage the pods are still tender. Larger okra pods will tend to be tough and woody. You will want to harvest the pods every 2-3 days. It is a very fast growing plant. If you delay and let the pods mature too long, first off they will become woody as mentioned earlier and second, the plant will not produce as many as it could. I slice, flour and freeze mine after every harvest, they will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 7 days though.
Aphids, Cabbage Worms, Japanese Beetles and Rootknot Nematodes are the most serious of pest problems you will have. Stink bugs can also cause a problem of stunted, twisted pods. If a plant is stunted, pull the plant out of the ground and check for galls on the roots. These galls are caused by the nematodes, which are microscopic worms. Crop rotation is the best way to avoid this problem. As for the rest of the bad guys, if there is a major infestation , there are products on the market labeled for Okra. Please read and follow all packaging directions.
There are many people that like Okra, of course here in the South one of the main ways it is eaten is in Gumbo. Another way is Okra and Corn with Tomatoes served over rice. No matter how you eat it, there appear to be some pretty good health benefits to eating Okra. 
According to Sylvia W. Zook, Ph.D. (nutritionist), Okra has several benefits. 
Okra is a supreme vegetable for those feeling weak, exhausted, and suffering from depression. 
In India, Okra has been used successfully in experimental blood plasma replacements. (Gives a whole new meaning to having Okra in my veins.....Blog authors commentary)
Okra is used for healing ulcers and to keep joints limber. 
It helps to neutralize acids, being very alkaline, it provides a temporary protective coating for the digestive tract.
On top of all of this, it even has a pretty flower:
You can see the resemblance to the Hibiscus flower that it is related to. 
Why not give Okra a chance in your garden, if nothing else, I am sure you have a neighbor or family member that would love the huge amounts of pods you are going to end up with.  According to North Carolina State University, average yields are about 250 bushels (4 tons) per acre.
So now, if you don't mind, I have some Okra to go harvest.......where did I leave that dipping Chocolate!?
Happy Growing!

1 comment:

  1. Love using it in floral work. You can tell the true southerners, they always say, "What a shame."