As a child, I hated everything about okra. The taste and texture were just not for me. I hated how gooey and sticky it was, and to me, that did not seem like what a vegetable should be. Once I grew up and began to see foods prepared outside of that syrupy boiled concoction, or the weirdly crunchy yet soggy fried okra, I realized that okra is an absolute delight. After tasting stewed okra with vibrant and spicy tomatoes, and not fishing it out of my chicken and sausage gumbo, I fell in love.
When I started gardening, I KNEW it had to go in my garden. I would hear things like, “Okra grows so easy here in Texas because it loves the heat!” I grew up picking it out of my papa’s summer garden, so I was vaguely familiar with the process. I mean, you put the seed in some soil and water it. How hard could it be?
In 2021, I purchased a few varieties of seeds, and as soon as mid-March rolled around, I got the seeds in the ground… err… some 5-gallon buckets. Since I was still new to gardening, I hadn’t bought the raised beds I needed to grow as much food as I wanted to grow. Still, I diligently watered those little seeds; a few days later, they sprouted! Every seed I planted had germinated, and the little leaves poked their heads above the soil. I could already taste the gumbo I was going to make. I went to bed that night excited about the little garden beginning to burst with life.
When I woke up the next morning and walked through the garden, checking on seedlings and transplants, I was devastated to discover something had eaten every one of my okra sprouts. I was at a loss as to what could have done that, but since it was so early in the season, I knew I had plenty of time to try again. So, I planted more seeds, watered them diligently, and repeated the process of excitement and gumbo-craving. Again, something ate the sprouts. This time, it occurred during daylight hours, so I was able to see what had caused the devastation. A single bunny, mother to a new litter, had come through, hungry and needing nourishment to take care of her babies. I decided that it would be a futile effort to continue trying to grow okra while she was caring for her young, so I did not replant at that time.
We moved a few months after the mama bunny decimated many of my seedlings, not just the okra, and I couldn’t replant for fall. As moving does, it took up a lot of my time and energy, which left me little to nothing left for a garden. So through the winter months, I waited, and I planned. I knew what I was going to plant, and where I would plant it. I just needed to wait out the winter.
Where we purchased our house used to be farmland, and my papa worked the farmland when he was a kid. During the summers he picked okra and cotton all day long. I felt the growing urge to get those okra seeds planted so I could feel connected to him.
2022 Okra (Photo taken June 21,2022) As you can see, it did not grow much beyond this point, and all the leaves fell off.
Okra - 2022 garden. (Photo taken September 2, 2022)
Last Christmas, my husband got me my first raised beds for this house – the Vego Garden 17” tall 10-in-1 kit. He got me two of them, which was enough to replace every bucket and container I had my okra and peppers growing in. In earlier discussions, we talked about how I was going to build the garden. I told him I wanted the Vego Garden raised beds so that when we sold this house and eventually got a little bit of land, I could disassemble them and take them with me. He has always been so great at gift-giving, and the day after Christmas, I was outside assembling them. I was beyond elated to plan the spring and summer garden. This year, Mid-March rolled around, and again, I put the seeds in the soil. But this time, the seeds went into the raised beds. This is the most beautiful okra I have grown so far, and it might even be healthier than Papa’s. The blooms are starting to come on now, and I harvested my first pod recently. I know this is going to be a good okra year, and it is thanks to having the right space to plant in. The raised beds gave the okra the space they need to spread their roots and grow to their potential.
----Photos from Christina Fernandez