help me save this okra variety
Thank you for your interest in the Winnetka Wonder Dwarf Okra Rescue Initiative (or WiWoDORI as I like to call it). Here’s the deal. I provide the seeds and instructions entirely on my nickel. You promise to plant them, enjoy the okra, save some of the seeds from your harvest, and pass them on to others. Very simple. Maybe you can even start a family tradition. If you're interested email me at fiercegarden ATSIGN gmail DOT com.
History – What We Think We Know
A family in the Natchez area has handed down seeds for this okra variety since 1860. Seeds were passed to Eunice Montgomery, also of Natchez. Around 1983, Eunice gave some seeds to her friend Dorothy Smith of Rockdale, Texas. When Dorothy had to cut back on her gardening, she donated seeds to the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) in Decorah, Iowa. SSE verified this variety as non-GM0 and open pollinated (heirloom), then catalogued the seed as ‘Okra 56’. I obtained a few seeds from SSE in 2013. The seeds you have came from my garden in Dallas, Tx. A friend who is a garden/food writer (and who happens to be from Natchez) is doing more research on the seed’s Natchez Connection. I’ll pass along any new developments. One more thing… I am calling this okra variety, “Winnetka Wonder” (after my neighborhood) because the SSE designation of “Okra 56” sounds too much like some sort of Post Apocalyptic Mystery Chow. Personally, I don’t want something called ‘Okra 56’ in my gumbo. Renaming a variety in this manner is perfectly acceptable. Seed sellers do it all the time. I hope you pass the name along too.
How to Grow Winnetka Wonder Okra
Winnetka Wonder, like other okra, is one of the few garden crops I’ve found that thrives in the 95 degree plus dog days of a Texas Summer (the black-eyed pea is the other). In fact, the more pods you pick, the more pods the stalks will produce. By the end of August, okra will be knocking on your back door. SSE describes this variety as ‘Dwarf Okra’, and says it grows to a height of 2 – 2.5 feet. In my garden, plants grew to 4 feet easy.
First and foremost, you’ll need a spot that gets plenty of sun – the hotter the better. If you are planting in rows, conventional spacing is 18 inches between rows with plants spaced 18 – 24 inches apart. If you use a Square Foot or ‘Grow Bio-Intensive’ techniques, seeds are planted on 18-inch centers. Make a hole about an inch deep with your finger and put a seed in it. Cover with some dirt, pat down, and water. That’s about it. Experts say you should start out with pretty rich soil if you are growing okra. Could be, I guess. I’ve found that okra is not too picky about the soil or water. I’ve never had an insect problem with okra, though I suspect out in the badlands, grasshoppers might do it some damage.
**How to Get Your Winnetka Wonder Okra Seeds to Germinate**
Non-hybrid okra seeds can have notoriously low germination rates. Scarifying each seed you plant will up the number of seeds that will eventually sprout. A good method is to use toenail clippers to chip away a bit of the hard black seedcoat in order to expose the lighter colored endosperm. Careful. Damaging the endosperm will ruin the seed. The scar needs to be made opposite the seed’s hilum (the seeds’ little belly button). Click here to see how to scar you Winnetka Wonder Okra seed.
**How to Harvest Winnetka Wonder Okra**
Okra pods harvested when they are 3 to 4 inches long taste best and are the most tender. This is the best size for pickles. We’ve noticed that, unlike other varieties we’ve grown, Winnetka Wonder pods can be tender at 6 to 10 inches. Use clippers or a knife to cut the pods from the stalks as this will prevent damage to the plant. The ‘itch factor’ is the worst part about harvesting okra . Tiny little “spines” will get on your hands, legs and arms, and drive you berserk. It’s best to wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves when you harvest your okra crop.
**How to Save Okra Seeds**
Don’t forget our deal – I’ve sent the seeds now you promise to keep Winnetka Wonder going by saving and giving away some seeds from your garden. Saving okra seeds is really easy. All you need do is let a couple of pods keep growing on the stalk until they turn brown, and are brittle and woody. These seed harvest pods can get very long – maybe 10 to 12 inches in length. Pick the pod and shake it. If you hear the seeds rattle inside, you’re good to go. If you don’t hear a rattle, the pod is too wet on the inside, and is no good for seeds. Throw it over the fence. Split the pod along its length with a sharp knife. Pull apart and the seeds will fall right out. There will be several sections of seeds in a pod, so just keep splitting the sections open until you’ve got them all. Spread the seeds out on a paper plate, and let them sit for a couple of weeks – just to make sure they are completely dry. That’s about it. Thank you again for taking part in the WiWoDORI. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.