It’s Tiffe from the ‘Stead and we are currently 28 days away from the first day of Spring (March 20, 2022), 12 days from the *estimated* last Spring frost (March 4, 2022) -- per the Farmer's Almanac, and 40 days from me planting the garden (April 1, 2022)! But who's counting anyway?
To pass the time, as well as to scratch my research itch (IYKYK), I am kicking off a new month long series: Know What You Grow! The series will live on the blog, but will have a mini version running on IG -- think trading cards, so be sure to follow both so you don't miss any of the fun! I envision 'Know What You Grow' to be like mini exposes, or grab and go pamphlets on some of my favorite crops and growing practices. They will include a brief history, important/interesting facts, where you can find it in my garden (i.e. which varieties I am growing or how I am using the practice), and last but not least, why the hell I am even talking about in the first place (what this crop/practice means to me]. IG will have the same info but in a much shorter, IG formula friendly format.
Okay! Enough of the logistics, let's skip to the good part! If you watched my Seed Starting 101 on IG live last month if should be of no surprise that we are kicking off this series with an ode, to Okra.
(Not my photo)
Overall , okra is not new to the 'Stead -- it was something I decided to grow in the garden for the purpose of learning to like eating it. Growing up my only exposure to okra was super slimy gumbo (interesting fact, the french word for okra is 'gombo') and never fully cooked fried okra from Church's Chicken.
After experiencing my first homegrown okra -- a few Clemson Spineless plants in 2019, some light scolding from friends (I lived in Arkansas at the time and EVERYONE ate okra), a sure fire hangover cure (pickled okra...get into it ), and having my life completely changed by Netflix's documentary High On the Hog hosted by Stephen Satterfield, and book (adapted by Netflix) of the same name by Jessica B. Harris, I made an intentional and conscious decision to GROW ALL THE OKRA!!!!!
This isn't a love letter to "High on the Hog" (I'll totally write one though!) so I won't do a deep dive into the book/documentary, but the exploration of African American history through food and how it completely changed the culinary fabric of the United States made me want to know more about African Diaspora crops and make space for them on my 'Stead.
A Brief History
While hard pinning down a first appearance date, Okra originated in the East African country of Ethiopia as early as the 12th Century. Okra was introduced to the Southern United States and Carribbean by enslaved West Africans who braided the seeds into their hair before being stolen from their homeland. Okra is a major staple in African cuisine throughout the continent. Likewise, okra holds a special place in Southern United States cuisine. Okra is a popular backyard garden crop because of its vast health benefits, general beauty (related to Hibiscus), and it's hella easy to grow, PLUS provides a hefty harvest. This year I'm growing these varieties:
Alabama Red (or Hill County Red)
Clemson Spineless not pictured
Gold Coast not pictured
Lousiana 16 Inch Long
and Okinawa Pink (I lived in Okinawa 2012-2015, LOVE the island)
I'm primarily growing my okra in a raised bed, but some will go in large pots or grow bags because of spacing needs. Okra is a sun and heat loving crop so full sun and consistent warm weather (above 65 degrees F) is your best bet for a successful harvest. Okra can be started early, indoors from seed (what I'm doing), transplanted from store bought starts, or direct sown in the soil. Admittedly, I started my okra a little on the early side (January 29th), but plan to have them in the ground no later than mid-March/early April -- per the 10 Day forecast of course.
Companion or beneficial plants to okra are: watermelon (to act as ground cover), shade loving crops (the tall stalks can provide shade to lower profile crops), and strong smelling herbs (so....all of them) to help ward off bugs and pests. In the past, I grew my okra in it's own raised bed, but this year I am growing some of okra as the tall crop in one of my Three Sisters plots (in-depth blog/love letter coming soon).
After High on the Hog, I set an intention to grow okra in my garden for as long as I am gardening. Growing okra is my way of paying homage to my ancestors (direct and diaspora), while also keeping our agricultural and culinary traditions alive. This decision on okra influenced my further research into/obsession over African/African American heritage seeds/crops, I am so excited for this growing season because my garden is going to be so Black and full of culture! My ancestors' spirits will work, rest, and enjoy the garden with me amongst crops that bring them good memories of days of past. Decades, centuries, and millennia of wisdom, land knowledge, and absolute bad ass-ery will guide my work as I steward the land.
"Decades, centuries, and MILLENNIA of wisdom, earth knowledge, and absolute bad ass-ery will guide my work as I steward the land" - Tiffany Dobson
Tell me, are you growing okra this summer season? What are some of your favorite recipes or dishes with okra? Did you learn something new today? Follow me on Instagram @SteadintheCity to join in on the conversation and stay-up-to-date on all things 'Stead!
Ciao & Cheers!!