The Garden Patch: Okra, onions and other pungent relatives

Here’s a couple or more commonly used garden plants that we all enjoy and most of us grow some or all of them. We’re talking onions, okra and onion relatives (I think I have some of those) – but let’s get to it …

Okra

121613-garden-okraOkra is a tall-growing, warm weather vegetable that is easy to grow in your Kansas garden and mine. Okra is sometimes called gumbo (especially in the South) and the edible part of the plant is the young, tender pods that develop following flowering (but we knew that already, didn’t we?). The plant will continue to bloom and produce pods up the stalk as the season progresses.

Varieties. Clemson Spineless and Dwarf Green are standard varieties. Emerald produces a smooth, non-ribbed pod. Annie Oakley is a new hybrid variety that branches more profusely and Burgandy is a red-podded variety.

When to plant. Okra requires warm weather and early to mid-May is a desired planting time. Soil temperatures should be 60 degrees F and all danger of frost should be past. Okra may be transplanted or direct seeded.

Spacing. Plant seeds an inch deep and thin plants to 10 to 12 inches in the row with rows no closer than three feet apart.

Okra will grow well in a wide variety of soil types and requires only minimal levels of fertilizer. It does fairly well in hot, dry seasons with periodic thorough watering. Later in the season when the plant is tall it can be cut off about 12 inches from the ground. Use pruners or a saw as okra stalks are very tough. The plant will send up new stems for pod production into the late summer or fall season.

Harvesting. Cut the pods from the plant when they are no longer than your finger to insure that they will be tender and not woody. Harvesting every other day may be necessary. Okra pods can be stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for a week or so – or they can be frozen for later use.

Common concerns. Few reported.

Onions

121613-garden-onionsOnions are used primarily as a flavoring agent although they are rich in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. Onions are grown from sets, plants or seed. Sets are small onion bulbs that are planted in the spring to produce green onions – scallions – or bulbs later in the season. Most onion sets for sale in garden centers are usually poorly identified by variety. Plants or transplants are sold in bundles or growing in pots or trays and usually are identified by variety. Choose healthy, fresh plants with good green color. Onions can be grown from seed but seed produces onions latest in the season, and the small, weak onion plant is difficult to seed and cultivate early in the season.

Varieties. Onions can be yellow, white or red. Yellow varieties include Yellow Globe and Early Globe (pungent flavor but good keepers), or improved mild flavored types such as Fiesta, Texas 2015 Y, Grano and Granex. Mildest flavored onions are the Bermuda types – Yellow or White Bermuda – while the largest bulbs are produced by Spanish types – Yellow of White Spanish. Benny’s Red and Red Burgundy are popular red varieties

When to plant. Onions grow well in cool or warm weather. They should be planted early so that as much growth as possible occurs before hot, dry weather. Plant sets in mid-March or plants or seed in early April.

Spacing. Onions may be grown in rows as close as 15 inches with plants spaced 2 to 4 inches in the row depending on the size of the bulb. Plant sets 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep and plant transplants about the same depth.

Care. Onions have a shallow, inefficient root system and need regular watering and fertilizing for best results. Onions compete poorly with weeds and other crops. Weed control is essential to reduce competition. Watering may be reduced near the harvest period but regular timely watering until the tops begin to fall over is needed. Large, vigorous plants are essential for large bulbs with high yields..

Harvesting. Onions are ready for harvest when the tops begin to weaken and naturally fall over. This is a signal that the bulbs are as big as they’re going to get. Pull or dig the onions and store in a warm, dry, shaded location for two to four weeks until the tops and necks are completely dry. After the tops are dry, cut them, trim the roots and store in a cool, dry location. Onions need cool storage but they SHOULD NOT be stored in a tight, sealed plastic bag. An open mesh bad is best for storage. Mild flavored onions keep for only a month or so. Stronger flavored or more pungent onions keep three to four months.

Common concerns. Thrips, bulb and neck rots and smut.

Onion Relatives

Shallots are smaller than onions and are grown by planting a division or clove. They can be dug in midsummer for storage or used as green onions in the spring.

Garlic is a strong flavored onion relative that is also grown by planting a division or clove in late summer. After over wintering, the bulbs are ready for harvesting in early July when the tops begin to turn yellow.

Multiplier onions are also divided at the base. They are normally used for green onions in the spring because the bulb development is poor and the flavor is strong.

Chives are grown for the green foliage in the spring, summer and fall. They are usually grown in clumps.

Leeks require a long cool season for best results. They are usually planted in early spring and dug in late September to mid-October.

There you have it folks! No excuses for bad okra or lousy onions! We’re just ending fall and I’m ready for spring planting already! Since we visited last, a great friend brought me a load of dry, aged equine extract to dig into my garden, which I did immediately. Equine extract? That’s MY scientific terminology for horse manure. Hope you and yours are doing well! Till next week!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.


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