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.