Our garden is filled with what we like to eat – artichoke, radishes, rhubarb, tomatoes, sweet & hot peppers, zucchini, peas, okras, sweet potatoes, greens (spinach, lettuce, chard), and herbs. Some of those items can be pretty pricy or of questionable quality in the stores. Last year’s goal was to see if anything would grow; this year, we’re learning from last year’s mistakes as well as determining limitations and options. Next year, I hope to have the whole system operating like clockwork and be able to eradicate shopping for certain items.
It’s a constant learning process – which challenges my creativity, intelligence, and problem-solving skills. It’s awesome! There’s always something new to learn, solve, discover… Those skills were recently put in play with our okras.
Okras are tropical plants that produce the most delicious pods (some people will say that is a matter of personal taste) that may be prepared in a variety of ways. I grew up eating them as a child and sought high and low for the seeds here in Austria. The common garden centers had no idea what I was talking about. Finally a year later, I found them at an organic garden center about 2 hours drive outside of Vienna.
The little package of seeds (probably about 30 seeds) was super expensive but worth it; especially since I intend to harvest my own seeds from a crop. Upon purchase, the gardener held onto the package, constantly reiterating that they were tropical crops (Austria’s weather is unpredictable), needed a minimum of 8 hours of sun, and wouldn’t survive a frost. I assured him that I was aware of their needs and I wouldn’t be back in the fall complaining that the seeds did not produce. He surveyed me with a look of uncertainty. Poor guy – I felt compelled to explain that I had a south-facing garden with wind-protection that achieved temps of over 100°F in the summer. Hearing that, he finally smiled and released the seeds into my care.
Arriving home with my treasure, I planted them and placed them in their little glass house. They shot up in no time and produced their first real leaves on schedule. Congratulating myself and thankful for the unseasonably warm spring, they were then planted into their spot in the highbed, mulched, and protected from slugs. Everything was growing well and I started anticipating the harvest.
Two weeks later, we were hit with cool days but they didn’t lose their leaves or turn in color and everything else (also warm crops) were doing very well, so I didn’t worry. I watched as the tomato plants grew thick, strong, and tall. The peppers took their time but also established, so I had no worries about the okra. My concerns were saved for the zucchini which I realized was set in a difficult spot. It’s amazing how big plants grow and how competitive they are. I’ve had to trim the tomatoes to keep them from blocking out the others.
Eventually the weather warmed up again and we got lots of rain. Again, with the temperature consistency, I was confused as to why everything else was stretching toward the sky, producing blossoms, and then fruit but the okra were struggling.
One night, I pulled out a blanket against the cool nights. A few days later, I noticed the curling of the tomato leaves and finally it occurred to me that we weren’t sleeping with the windows open anymore. It hit me like a brick – the poor things were cold!
It explained SOOOO much but what to do? That’s when the problem-solving and creativity kicked in. Gardeners use glass cloches to warm plants in the spring and dark ones to blanch others (ie. rhubarb, etc). Trying to find a cloche might be an unfruitful search at the regular centers – so I made one.
The idea is not my own – I’m sure I must have seen it somewhere before – on a blog, a Youtube video, or some gardening website. It’s so simple, easy, effective, and best of all – free!
A few recyled, one litre, plastic bottles were all I needed. Snip off the bottoms, remove the tops and labels, place them over the plants, secure, and finished! It took all of 5 mins to give my poor okras a warm blanket for the chilly nights. The plastic cloches will remain on until the plants outgrow them. They let the sun in during the day, increase the humidity, and provide cold protection during the night – creating a micro-climate perfect for the plants.
They’ve been in place since Thursday and already the little plants have started putting out new leaves. They seem happy now and that makes me very happy!