Tag Archives: vegetable

Drought-Tolerant Okra Offers Colorful Pods in the Garden

Yellow okra flower, similar to hibiscus

When I was at Rooting DC last February, I received six seeds of “African red okra” from a person who was talking about preserving seed diversity. Intrigued, I planted them later in the season just to see how they would grow. Four of the six seeds germinated resulting in two plants in the front garden in full sun and dry conditions and two in the back garden. The two in the back lived with the tomatoes in morning shade and afternoon sun and did not lack for water since the diva tomatoes get all the water they need.

All summer long I have been watching the okra grow in my Virginia garden. When people think of okra plants, they think “vegetable.” True, the immature pods are harvested for many types of dishes and are highly nutritious. Other parts are edible: the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked (like spinach) or used as a thickener in a stew. The seeds, if roasted and ground, can be used as a coffee substitute and if they are pressed, they can yield oil for cooking.

mature pod splits open to reveal seeds

I never intended to eat the pods, I just wanted to see how the plant would fare as a garden plant, a summer annual. Now in September, I think they have reached their full glory. These plants are about 4 feet tall with sparse foliage but plenty of pods and flowers. Because okra is a member of the hibiscus family, the small, yellow flowers look like hibiscus flowers but are not as flat. The thick pods are red and green, with five broad sides that taper into a point. The pod points upwards, much like a hat. Some pods have already matured enough to split open, revealing many dark black seeds (which mature to a soft gray later on). These I cut and put in a paper bag to prevent okra babies in my garden next year. The mature pods can be dried and used in floral arrangements such as wreaths. The young pods, if sliced in half, can be used to make flower designs by pressing the cut half into an ink pad and pressing down on paper.

Although not deer resistant, these plants have proven to be pest-resistant. I have read that okra plants are the most heat and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world and they certainly were drought-tolerant in my garden. They are known to grow in poor soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture. Technically okra is a perennial but in our zone 7 area, the plants will die from the cold this winter.

I like their strong vertical shape but because the foliage is sparse, they would work best if many were grown together yet with enough space to see the pods. There is actually quite a lot of diversity with okra with regards to the pods: they can be spiny, smooth, thin, thick, short, or long and have many more ridges than five. Pods can be green or green and red or burgundy red. However there is little diversity with the flowers, basically yellow or white. There are some varieties with gorgeous burgundy red pods that would be very interesting to try in the garden, especially in a mass up against a house, as a backdrop to other plants. Instead of growing okra for cooking, try growing okra as an ornamental garden plant and let the pods mature into unusual colors and shapes. The yellow flowers are a bonus!

young, immature pods are best for cooking

Pak Choi Blooming Signals End to Spring

pak choi flowersWell I guess spring is over; the pak choi is blooming (or bolting as we gardeners say). I barely got to eat any, we have had so much rain here in Virginia.  I grow pak choi every spring. It is easy to start by direct sowing seed early in March but it bolts so quickly that harvesting in April and May must be a priority.  The stems and leaves taste good raw in salads or cooked, such as stir-fry. The flowers are a pretty yellow with four petals. Pak choi is a member of the cabbage or “Cruciferae” family, which is Latin for cross-bearing so all flowers in the family have the cross-shaped four petals and most are yellow colored. This one, Brassica rapa, is similar to bok choi, a type of Chinese cabbage, but smaller and milder to me.

Gardening is a lot like a play. There are several acts, each with its own set of actors entering the stage to give their performance and exiting to allow others the limelight. I am busy now helping other characters get ready for their scene that I let pak choi flower (eating now would be too bitter). In a month, during Act II, I will pull them out, save the seed, and replace with a mid-summer night’s dream.pak choi

You Can Grow That: Spinach

spinachYou  can grow spinach! Spinach has to be one of the easiest greens to start from seed. Here in Virginia, I sow spinach in the cool spring months and again in the fall. We are in Zone 7 so our winters are so mild enough to over winter fall planted spinach with garden fabric in order to harvest leaves throughout the winter. Now in March, I sow seeds in the ground and in containers on the deck (for last minute dinner salad harvesting). I plant the seeds about a half inch deep and water. Later, I thin them to prevent overcrowded mature plants. Every couple of weeks, I sow again, in different places, for a continuous harvest. It is best to grow different types, from savoy (wrinkled) to smooth leaves, to heat resistant cultivars, and in different places in the garden to avoid slugs.

We use spinach in everything from salads to sandwiches, stews, egg dishes, soups, and pasta. For salads, we prefer the savoy and semi-savoy type, the wrinkled leaves, because the leaves hold up well in salads and the salad dressing clings to the leaves. For smoothies, quiches, and egg dishes, we use the smooth leaves, which I roll up like a cigar and cut with small scissors to create ribbons.

Although I may harvest the entire, mature plant when I need a lot of spinach for company; usually I cut the outer leaves as I need them. I always look for insects and then submerge the leaves in a large bowl of cold water (thinking I am drowning anything hidden in the leaves). After draining in a colander, I spin the leaves in the salad spinner (hopefully flinging any survivors to their death against the spinner’s plastic walls). Fortunately, I rarely see bugs.

Like all greens, spinach needs nitrogen for its leaves. In early spring, I amend the garden beds with compost or alfalfa meal (a store-bought, nitrogen-rich amendment) but lately, it seems that all bags of potting soil come with fertilizer so the container spinach does not seem to need the extra boost.

By June, my spinach throw up their flower stalks in the air and call it a day. Rebelling against summer’s warmth, their leaves become too bitter to eat.  Now taking up precious real estate, spinach gets relegated to the compost pile and my attention turns to heat loving veggies while the remainder of my spinach seeds lie dormant in the house, waiting for fall.

You Can Grow That is a collaborative effort by gardeners around the world to encourage others to grow something. Visit http://www.youcangrowthat.com/blogs/ to read more posts.Youcangrowthat