Saturday, August 21, 2010

Okra - Happy In Heat and Drought

In these dog days of summer, okra seems to be the happiest plant in the garden.  The tomato plants are  stressed from the heat and the squash plants dead from squash bugs, but the okra plants need to be picked several times a week.

The Jack-in-the-Beanstalk story may have been inspired by the growth rate of okra pods as they reach full size within 6 days of flowering!  The pods are most tender when they're 2-4" long.  Larger pods become stringy and tough but may still be tender and edible in good growing conditions

Okra is a tropical plant that loves the heat and tolerates brief periods of drought.  It's relatively problem free and any pests bother the leaves, not the pods.  The only growing challenge is getting the seeds to sprout as okra seeds don't germinate well in cool soils.

One of the downsides to okra is the prickly spines on the plant. Gloves and long sleeves make harvesting more pleasant as do scissors or pruners to cut off the pods.  Okra does does not store well so use it within two or three days.

Okra's beautiful flowers resemble hibiscus as it's in the same family.  It grows to over six feet tall with leaves and structure that look similar to a schefflera house plant.  In winter, the stalks add nice structure to the barren vegetable garden.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's August - Time to Plant for Fall Harvests

Despite our hot August weather this week, it's time to plant for the fall garden. On Saturday at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we planted seeds for cilantro, bush beans and mustard greens.  We planted seedlings of cabbage and broccoli.

Most of these vegetables will take 60 days to mature so we'll be harvesting them in early October.  "Cole" crops like mustard greens, broccoli and cabbage will tolerate a light frost.  Another member of the cole family, collards, has been producing all summer long at our garden and will continue to provide collard greens through the fall.

Cilantro is another excellent fall crop as it likes cool weather better than hot weather. Many gardeners who plant cilantro in the spring think they have a failed crop when the weather warms up. Their cilantro fails to thrive because heat causes cilantro to flower.  When it flowers, it doesn't produce large green leaves for picking.

For a detailed planting calendar for what you can plant now, visit on the website of the Kansas City Community Gardens.