Okra: here in the South, is a favorite fried, and available at many southern restaurants was not a ‘love at first sight’ kind of experience for me. As a student at the University of Tennessee, I was given a bunch of okra at the UT farm where I worked my first summer; I took it home and boiled it. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why anyone would eat such a slimy mess.
Later, perhaps when my taste buds matured and I learned various ways of cooking to avoid the slime from my native friends I came to appreciate this southern vegetable and now it is one of my favorites in the kitchen garden. I can’t imagine my garden without it.
Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, a member of the mallow family is a sun loving plant native to Africa that is beautiful in the kitchen garden, flowerbed or even in a container.
Varieties to Try:
‘Clemson spineless’ is an old favorite that always grows well. It usually grows 3-4 feet tall. I have found this can get 5 feet tall when happy.
‘Burgundy’ is a prolific heirloom producer with beautiful red pods and stems.
‘Little Lucy’ is a dwarf variety that is only two feet tall with red-veined leaves and yellow and purple flowers. Pods are about 4 inches long and dark red; perfect for small gardens, flowerbeds or in containers.
Easy to start from seed:
After all danger of last spring frost and when the soil is warm it is time to sow seeds. Soak the large seeds in water overnight or nick the seeds with a file before planting to make germination quicker. Sow seeds about ¾ inch deep in average pH (6.0-8.0) soil rich in organic matter and compost.
Spacing: Okra is a large branching plant growing 2-6 feet tall, I usually space plants about 12 – 15 inches apart in my raised beds but I would space them 18 – 23 inches by 3 feet in a row garden. After the plants are up and set leaves I usually thin or transplant to fill in any areas needed in the bed.
Mulch: Mulch around plants as soon as they are 3 – 4 inches tall using newspaper, cardboard, straw, leaves or anything else that will keep moisture in and weeds out.
Water requirements: Okra needs regular watering to germinate seeds and to get established but after that it is drought tolerant during hot dry spells.
Fertilize: Once a month side-dress with compost or water with compost tea. Because I start with composted soil I don’t find the need to fertilize along the way.
Basil or borage
Healthy okra that has been rotated and planted in good soil seldom has pest or disease problems. Should leaves begin to yellow and wilt, your okra plants may be infected with Fusarium wilt which is a soil borne disease. If you see this happening just pull up affected plants and destroy.
Time to harvest:
In about 50-60 days pods you can start picking pods, they are best young and small (about 3 inches long) but they can be bigger as long as they are still tender.
Pick often as they grow pods quickly, I use clippers but you can use a sharp knife too. Wear sleeves and gloves when picking as contact with plants and pods can make your skin itch…even if you plant a spineless variety.
Continue harvesting regularly and you will have fresh okra until frost. Okra can be cut down to about 6” midsummer, fertilize and it will produce a second crop. I have done this when I’ve been out of town and couldn’t harvest all the pods.
Enjoying the harvest:
My favorite way of eating okra is fresh off the plant while I’m still in the garden. Dip the pods in your favorite ranch dressing or hummus or slice them into salads or on sandwiches.
Okra is great in gumbo and stew because it is a natural thickener. Freeze whole pods for use later or slice and place in a dehydrator for a healthy crunchy snack. Of course there is nothing better than fried okra. No matter how you fix (except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without it(except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without(except for boiling) or eat it, okra is one vegetable no garden should ever be without.
Resources: ‘Little Lucy’ hybrid seeds available at www.damseeds.ca
‘Burgundy’ and other heirlooms – www.rareseeds.com and www.burpee.com
Now for the rest of the story:
Here are a few things you may not know about Okra:
Okra contains: protein, niacin, riboflavin, phosphorus, zinc, copper, potasiums, Vitamins A, B6, C and K, thiamine, manganese, folate, calcium and magnesium
- Fruits or the pods can be dried and ground into powder and used to thicken soups, sauces, curries, gravies, etc.
- Young leaves can be steamed like spinach for a summer time green
- Flower buds and petals can be eaten or used to make tea
- The seeds can be dried and used like beans, especially nice added to rice dishes or ground into flour for bread
- Roasted seeds can be ground and used as a coffee substitute
- Leaves, small fruit, and even roots can be used as a poultice to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation
- A leaf tea has been used in Africa for heart pains and to help with childbirth delivery
- Decoction of okra pods has been used to treat fever, headache, arthritis, and urinary problems.
- Okra seeds may treat and prevent muscle spasm.
- Turns out all that slime is good for you, eating okra may help normalize cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well as help with asthma. The mucilage in okra binds with cholesterol and bile acids and exits the body through stools. Also acts as a lubricant and a laxative for the intestinal tract.
- Full of dietary fiber and Vitamin A, eating okra helps to clean out gastrointestinal system so your colon can work properly and help mucous membrane health in the process.
- Some folks report success in stabilizing blood sugar levels with drinking a cold infusion daily of 2 pods pierced with a fork and left to soak in cold water for few hours or overnight. Seems
- Okra helps to smooth skin, prevents pimples, repairs damage and encourages collagen formation – Boil a few pods until tender, cool and mash and apply to face for five minutes, rinse. A slimey but softening facial!
- Okra is high in Vitamin C so it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and helps to lower homocysteine levels, which may prevent heart disease.
- May inhibit bacteria growth that might cause stomach ulcers and cancer
In Case you missed it….here it is…..
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Drink more water, you hear it over and over but sometimes its hard to get 8 glasses of water a day down. Sweet tea, sodas and so called power aid drinks are easy to reach for when you are thirsty and open the refrigerator door, even though in the back of your mind you know its probably not the best for you.
Infused water to the rescue! A tasty alternative that is actually good for you and easy to prepare and have at the ready when you need a cool drink now. Plus it is a great way to use extra summertime produce and herbs.
I took great care to bring one mullein plant with me when we moved to our homestead. Even thought Mullein,Verbascum thapsus, is a wild
herb that grows here and there along country roads and hillsides, I wanted to make sure I had one conveniently located in my herb garden.
Ironically, another plant came up after I claimed my new gardens and built beds in an old horse paddock. I was thrilled. Mullein is a bi-annual
so the first year is a fuzzy rosette than the second year a towering gray-green leafed monster with fat flower spikes taller than me. Such a drama Queen
in the garden, shouting ‘look at me’! [Read More…]
I have always loved Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrot, Dacus carota. She was supporting cast in the first short story I wrote for a college creative writing class. My future husband used to go to a sweet little flower garden called Rowe’s garden in Charlevoix, MI to buy flowers with Sweet Pea and Queen Anne’s lace for me when we were dating. On the way to our church rehearsal he stopped to pick me a bouquet from a patch of these roadside lacey flowers to carry down the practice aisle (the beginning of many romantic adventures)
After Several days of rain, the sun peaked out this morning so I was off to the meadow (some would say pasture or field) to harvest the first blooms of this incredible herb. Some folks are worried that they might confuse this plant with a deadly one called Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum). Both are in the same family and have white umbel type flowers and look similar in stature. However there are so many differences that once you know the facts, it is easy to confidently identify Wild Carrots.
***If you are ever in doubt about harvesting wild plants…don’t until you have positive plant identity.
Here are some ways to know the difference: [Read More…]
Click below to view my gardening segment for this week on Nashville Channel 5.
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Thanks to Tuwanda Coleman and the NewsChannel5 team!
Saving Okra seed is as easy as picking mature pods (way past their prime) and letting them dry. Many folks use these cool pods for craft projects like Christmas Decorations. So this past year I decided I would make these re-useable, multi-purpose ‘Okra Angels’ for gifts.
They are easy to make:
- Use a hot glue gun to attach two Bay leaves on the okra pod for wings
- Make tiny wreaths just by winding Sweet Annie branches (Artemisia annua) into circles to form halo
- Glue a raffia loop to the top and Okra angel is ready to hang on tree or cabinet knobs, door handles, chandeliers, etc
After the holidays are over:
- These angels can be placed in pantries or closets since Bay leaf is a natural insecticide for moths and weevils that love to live in the pantry
- Sweet Annie is a natural moth deterrent so perfect for closets.
Late Spring when its time to plant warm season crops:
- Break the Okra angel open and collect the seed
- Soak the seeds overnight in water to help break down the thick coating for faster germination
- Plant the seeds in the garden
A great way to save seeds while enjoying them all year long!
For more “Cracked Pot” wisdom please check out my book shown on the right side of the page.
Where: Fern Top, 7731 Fernvale Rd, Fairview, TN 37062
When: May 2 and May 15, 2014
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Friday, May 2nd 10am
Eat Your Yard!
Join me on a walk around Fern Top to help identify plants that are edible, medicinal or play an important role in sustainable gardening practices. We will collect plant material as we do this to bring back to the pavilion to make a mini herbarium to take home.
Thursday, May 15th 10am
Herbs Herbs Everywhere
I will be exposing the truth about herbs that grow all around us. She will talk about plants that you may be familiar with but don’t really know what to do with them. After we discuss how to grow these herbs, we will come back to the pavilion and make easy nutritious herbal snacks to show how easy it is to incorporate herbs into our daily lives.
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Asparagus, Asparagus officinalis is a perennial vegetable in the onion family that I look forward to each spring in my kitchen garden. This vegetable brings back memories of my childhood when I had to help pick a half-acre every other morning for weeks in the spring. My mother assured me that it would whittle my waistline and keep me limber. That promise didn’t mean much to a sixteen year old but now I hope its true as I tend my own asparagus patch.
Buying asparagus at the store is usually expensive and sometimes tough and wilted; why not grow your own crop? It will give you something to look forward to during the cold gray days of winter. Once you’ve had fresh homegrown asparagus you will wonder why you waited so long.
Since we have moved and I couldn’t take my asparagus with me, I ordered 50 crowns to insure we are ‘putting down roots’ in our new kitchen garden. I ordered Jersey Supreme (great all male crowns for warmer climates) from Nourse Nursery http://www.noursefarms.com/ and went to work. I dug down deep in two 6′ x 6′ raised beds placed where my chickens coop and yard had been…seems like a good start for most anything don’t you think? In one of the beds I totally dug down the entire area and layer the crowns in an intensive zigzag pattern and in the other I dug trenches – we will see which works best.
Planting and growing asparagus is easy once you understand the basics of this perennial herb. Here are some tips to get you started:
Where to plant: Choose a sunny site that receives 6 hours of full sun or all day-dappled sun that can be left undisturbed for at least 15-20 years. Although beautiful in the garden, asparagus once it goes to seed can shade sun loving plants so consider planting it on the North side of your warm season crops.
Soil: Prepare the bed, as far in advance as possible to be sure it is weed and rock free by planting time. Add sand and compost for good drainage, a raised bed works well. Be sure to test the soil, as asparagus likes a pH of 6.5-7.5
When to Plant: Early spring as soon as the soil can be worked…when a handful of soil crumbles nicely.
Start with seeds: Asparagus can be started from seed indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost. Harden off and transplant young plants into the garden in the spring. Easy to do but if you are inpatient like me you will probably want to buy roots or crowns.
How to Plant crowns:
In garden soil:
- Dig a trench 8-10 inches deep by 18 inches wide. If your soil is heavy or has lots of clay don’t dig trench as deep. Add a couple of inches of mixed rotted manure, compost and soil.
2. On top of that lay the asparagus roots in a zigzag pattern 10 to 12 inches apart. This forms a wider row of about 2 feet.
3. Cover roots with a couple inches of soil and water well.
4. Each time the asparagus starts coming through the soil, add two more inches until the trench is once again level with the ground.
In a raised bed:
- If you are planting in a raised bed simply dig a large and deep enough hole for each crown and follow trench directions or
- Start with a new raised bed and dig the whole area below ground level. Lay the crowns in a zigzag pattern and follow directions above. I find in a raised bed I can place the crowns closer together as it is a more intensive way of gardening in general.
***Buy crowns that are 2 to 3 years old from a reliable farm or nursery. The crowns are long with lots of fingerling roots that look like some kind of sea creature.
Fertilizer: Add compost spring and fall or add a 10-10-10 fertilizer when picking is finished (follow directions on package or figure 10 pounds per 100 foot row).
When to Harvest: A full harvest is usually not permitted until the third year (depending on how old the crowns are to start with). The rule of thumb is; pick none the first year, some the second, tons the third year. When the spears are about the thickness of your finger and tall enough that the head is still tight (6-8” tall) they are ready to pick. Gently bend the spear over until it breaks easily. This way of harvesting leaves the typical tough end you have to cut off from the grocery store in the garden.
After a rain the spears will need to be washed a couple of times in cold water to get the sand and dirt off from under the little triangle leaves on stalk. Give each spear a good sloshing action in the water. A thin layer of mulch in the spring should remedy gritty asparagus.
It is always best to eat asparagus while it is fresh but it will last up to a week in the refrigerator if you bunch the spears with a rubber band and stand them in a container with water in the bottom.
When to Stop Picking Spears: stop the harvest when the spears get spindly and woody and allow the remaining spears to shoot up and leaf out (look like ferns) reaching a height of three to five feet.
Cut the dead asparagus ferns to the ground in late winter or early spring (if you have a lot you can use the lawn mower), rake them up and burn or dispose of to kill any leftover pest eggs trying to coast until spring when they can raise havoc.
Water: An inch or two per week during the first year then only during dry spells like the rest of your kitchen garden.
Pests: The asparagus beetle is the major pest. This troublemaker usually shows up in April and May so be on the lookout for him and his friends before they become a problem. Kill and destroy organically by hand picking or use an organic pesticide like Rotenone spray.
Companions: Basil and parsley.
Varieties to Plant: For heavier soils try ‘Jersey Knight’, for warmer climates, ‘Jersey Supreme’. For fun try ‘Purple Passion’ which is not the most productive perennial vegetable but it is worth some space in the asparagus patch just for its color. These tender spears will be something to look forward to each spring and make a delicious addition to salads. As with most color packed veggies, the color may fad with cooking but the flavor remains.
If you love asparagus plant at least 10–15 crowns per person.
Because asparagus needs a cooling off or dormant period, it is tough to grow in zone 9 and warmer.
Maintain weed control in the asparagus bed, it is easy to forget about this area of the garden after the harvest is over.
Benefits: If you are looking for a healthy vegetable/herb to eat, asparagus is hard to beat for nutrition. It is so low in calories that by the time you chew and digest it you are looking at negative numbers on the calorie scale. Loaded with fiber it helps to lower “LDL” cholesterol and has a healthy dose of anti-oxidants, B-complex and K vitamins along with plenty of folates and minerals.
Asparagus is a cleansing, bitter herb that helps the kidneys, bowels and liver. Because this plant contains asparagusic acid, it helps the body rid itself of internal parasitic worms and toxens. Eating Asparagus may help with cystitis, kidney disease, rheumatism and gout.
Note: Don’t worry if your urine has a strong stinky smell in as little as 15 minutes after eating a few spears. It is caused by the asparagusic acid and is perfectly normal.
Preserve: The best way to retain flavor and color is by freezing. Canning will give you a fair product. Pickling is a wonderful way to can asparagus and add extra flavor with herbs and spices.
Simple ways to prepare asparagus: The easiest way is to simply steam the spears, whole or cut up for about 8 minutes or until they are just tender.
Roasting on the grill or in the oven with a little lemon balm or lemon grass infused olive oil brushed on is another great way to prepare the stalks.
Cut up raw asparagus and add to salads. Serve spears on a vegetable tray with a dip or make a veggie wrap.
Mom’s Creamed Asparagus on Toast
- 4 cups asparagus spears cut into 1” chunks
- 4-5 cups milk
- 1 T butter
- 2T cornstarch or 3 T flour dissolved in about ¼ water or less –
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cook asparagus in water till tender (don’t overcook), drain water.
Add milk and butter. Heat until milk is hot (don’t boil).
Add cornstarch mixture gradually until milk is thickened.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve on buttered toast or hot biscuits.
Growing up, we ate asparagus everyday while it was in season. Creamed and served on toast or biscuits was a quick and filling meal.