In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2004
Regional Report

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Okra pods become decorative if you let them dry on the plant.

Procrastination is Not Always Bad

Sometimes lagging a bit behind on gardening tasks is okay. Allowing some things to mature on the vine, so to speak, leads to interesting discoveries. I was growing a 50-foot row of okra in a market garden a few summers ago and various other tasks jumped to the forefront. (Funny how that happens.) Okra is a summertime veggie that thrives in the heat. It seems to grow leaps and bounds overnight when temperatures are high. The edible pods must be harvested every couple of days when they are just 2 or 3 inches long and at their most tender. When they start reaching 4 or more inches in length, they become tough and too woody to eat.

Harvesting lots of okra frequently during a Sonoran desert summer isn't the most delightful gardening chore. It requires long gloves, long sleeves and pants to avoid contact with the rough, but barely visible, spiny hairs that can really irritate unprotected skin. So, I admit that towards the end of one long growing season, I found plenty of excuses to ignore the okra crop, choosing instead to pick sunflowers or poke beneath leaves in search of gourds or squash.

A Surprising Reward
As I looked the other way, the mature okra started to dry on the plant. As I continued to look the other way, the pods turned hard and developed a beautiful, striated texture and a soft buff coloration.

Now I intentionally leave some of the pods alone and use them as intriguing additions to dried arrangements. The trick is to allow pods to dry on the plant as much as possible, but not remain so long that they open up to discharge their seeds. Leave as long a dried stem as possible attached to provide more flexibility in how you use them. Okra is so prolific that you could continue to harvest most plants and leave one or two to develop their lovely pods.


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