I was already working on a piece about direct sowing warm season crops when what should pop up but a great tip from Adrian Higgins at the Washington Post about sowing an okra hedge as a decorative and functional edge. It was exciting that Adrian listed Southern Exposure Seed Exchange as a source of heirloom okra seeds. Don’t worry if you don’t have room for a hedge. A small family only needs a few plants to be well supplied with fresh okra if it is harvested regularly.
For those looking toward more self-sufficiency, okra has hidden value: the seed pods contain up to 15% oil and in recent trials was only out yielded by sunflower seeds. During the Civil War ground okra seed was roasted and used as a non-caffeinated coffee substitute. All of that, plus gumbo, makes okra a vegetable well worth adding to your garden. The plants keep producing all summer, so you only need to sow once for harvests all season.
The soil has finally warmed up enough for direct sowing warm season crops like corn, beans and zucchini. But don't plant your whole crop at once. Take some hints from Barbara Damrosch on making succession plantings to have a steady supply of these popular crops all summer.
Optimizing your planting and harvest will take a few years of paying attention to first planting date, last planting date, how long harvests last, and also noting how you use the crop in the kitchen. You’ll soon have a plan that’s perfect for your family. Fortunately, you don't have to wait to get started with succession plantings. You can use info from your the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner, your local extension office or Master Gardener group on planting dates and expected yields. Southern Exposure has a guide to warm-season successions.
You can also look to traditional wisdom to get started. I sow my next sweet corn crop when the first is 2' or 3' tall through July. My grandmother always planted more cucumber, cantaloupe, zucchini and other summer squash plus 3 corn varieties with different maturity dates every month from the last frost date until 2 months before the first fall frost (May, June, July in Virginia). For lettuce you can sow more when the previous sowing has germinated. Sow more beans when the earlier plants have their second set of true leaves.
Quick Okra Lunch
c. okra, diced
1 green pepper, chopped
Optional: 1 small jalapeno or similar hot pepper, chopped (seeds removed)
2 small onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. olive oil
3 med. tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Place the okra, onions, pepper(s) and garlic into a hot skillet with the olive oil. Saute over medium heat until tender. Add the tomatoes and let simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 5 servings. You can add leftover meat, shrimp, or tofu just before serving to make a hearty lunch dish.
Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.
Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+varieties of Non-GMO, open pollinated and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her first book the "The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast" will be available in 2013
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