By Jeff Ray

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Growing up in the south, okra joined the summer garden right alongside tomatoes, beans and squash.

To be honest I’ve never been a fan of okra when used in soups and the classic gumbo dishes.

When I started to pan fry it in just a little olive oil however, I became a big fan. When I get in conversations with people who want to start a garden I almost always recommend okra.

It is very easy to grow, does great in the Texas heat and isn’t super thirsty.

There are many varieties to choose from. I’ve settled on one called “Stewart Zeebest” because it doesn’t get too woody when I accidentally miss cutting it in time. Okra grows its seed pods quickly and they are same color as the stems, it is easy to let one get too long. I try to cut mine when the pods get about 3”-5” in length.

The conversation I had with Dr. Joe Masabni with Texas A&M AgriLife is going to change how I grow it next year.

Growing okra (CBS 11)

Dr. Joe has spent his career researching a wide variety of vegetables and much to say about Okra. First off, he says forgo any variety that isn’t spineless, the original okra (it was domesticated at least 3,000 years ago) had such a painful collection of spines you had to wear gloves to pick it.

Last year my okra got over 10 feet tall (Clemson Spineless). This year I trimmed my Zeebest back as it shot up in the late spring, that kept it around 6 feet.

Dr. Joe says the fix is simple; plant your okra about 6” apart. They’ll still produce plenty of okra for your family but only grow about 3 feet high on one stalk. That makes them so much easier to pick.

The other thing to I wanted to talk to him about were the ants. They have been all over my okra since the day I started growing it. The reason? They are feeding off the secretions of Aphids. The ants actually farm them on the plant, moving them around the plant to better pastures if their production starts to slow down. They also protect them from other ants and predators.

It is easy to fix that in an organic way. Get some bleach-free dish soap (I use Dawn) and mix just a little with water.

Spray it very heavy on ALL of the plant (and under the leaves) about twice a week and the aphids will go away.

The ants will leave as well as some other stem sucker insects. After a couple of weeks, you’ll notice your okra getting bigger, greener leaves (if you are watering enough). The only down side is that you’ll have to do this thru the growing season. You can use a pesticide but I kept my garden organic so I don’t mind the extra work.

The fall planting season is right around the corner. Going to talk about that next week.

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