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growinggreen
GROWING GREEN: Okra: Beauty and taste in one small package

If you ask gardeners what inspires them when selecting plants, they’ll offer many explanations, such as colour, smell, texture, taste.
In my case, it was Campbell’s chicken gumbo soup. I envisioned growing okra and making my own gumbo.
Each year, I look for okra at my local nursery and grab a cell pack as soon as I see it. It’s a tropical and does best in a warm, sheltered area using rich loamy soil. If you use pots they should be at least 10-inch diameter and if planted directly in the garden, keep them 21 to 24 inches apart.
My potted plants have never grown tall, but the ones at last year’s RBG vegetable garden were easily four to five feet tall, so plan in advance for this.
Pinching out growing points will cause the plant to bush out.
Now here’s the important bit: pods are ready for harvesting when they are young and tender and the seeds are soft. Check the variety to see the recommended size to start harvesting. Pick regularly to ensure a succession of pods over the growing season.
I’ve been sloppy about when I harvest and my gumbo could stand more practice, but I can console myself that I’m also growing okra for its phenomenal bloom.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) belongs to the Malvaceae family and is in the same family as hibiscus. Its bloom is a beautiful yellow with a burgundy throat.
You can find varieties that produce red or burgundy stems and pods, spineless varieties and even one that is reported as a Campbell Soup Co. variety from the 1950s.
I’m willing to grow okra for its bloom, but with a bit more trial and error I hope to achieve my best gumbo yet!
Growing Green is a regular feature prepared by the  Mount Hamilton Horticultural Society (gardenontario.org/site.php/mhhs). This week’s column was written by Marg Verbeek, treasurer of the society.

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