I was surprised to learn, partly from comments on my earlier post about whipping up okra, that a lot of people engage in the practice. I wondered, though, if it really makes a difference. I added a small experiment to my okra gardening this year to see.
As I’ve commented before, gardening is a series of constant experiments. The results are never final, though, because there are always so many uncontrolled variables. This means that you can spend your whole life experimenting in your garden, but regardless of how sure you are of your results, some other gardener will be just as sure of the opposite results.
I’m sure my okra experiments are like that. So far I’ve got two conscious experiments going in my four rows of okra. The first began as a result of my discovery of the Grow Biointensive websites. Unlike almost every other source I’ve consulted, both living and virtual, these California-based gardeners start their okra in flats and transplant them into the garden.
To most okra growers, that’s sacrilege. Plant your okra directly in the garden after the soil has warmed, almost everyone advises.
I soaked my okra seeds in water overnight, as I normally do, before I planted three rows in the garden. I placed the leftover seeds into a flat as directed by the Grow Biointensive instructions. The seeds in the flat sprouted a bit earlier than the ones in the garden, probably because the box retains heat a little better, and because I watered the flat every day or so. The seeds in the garden were God-watered only.
One imperfection in my experiment is that the flat was planted the same time as the garden. If I had followed the instructions to the letter, I would have planned ahead and started the flat earlier.
But anyway, I transplanted the okra seedlings to create a fourth row beside my three direct-seeded ones. I had to keep carrying water to the seedlings for a couple of weeks to keep them alive while they established themselves, but I left the direct-seeded rows to depend on rain. After they were established, I turned over responsibility for watering all my okra to the Lord. He provided just the right amount of rain in the beginning, but He’s apparently been busy with other things the last few weeks.
The results so far have been that the direct-seeded plants are two or three feet taller than the transplants. They also seem to wilt faster in the 90-degree heat we’ve had for the last month.
My second experiment overlaps the first because my transplants are participating in both.
In this experiment, I cut leaves off one direct-seeded row and about half of the transplants. The other transplants and two rows of direct-seeded okra were not “whipped.”
The first plant to blossom was in the whipped direct-seeded row. That seems to argue that “whipping” triggers earlier blooms, but all the rows started blooming the next day. The smaller transplanted plants bloomed at the same time, whether whipped or not. I got edible okra from all four rows at about the same time, although the transplants are much less productive than the direct-seeded plants so far.
My preliminary results for both experiments, then, are as follows:
1. Direct seeding okra seems to be a better method than transplanting from flats. That conclusion needs more experimenting with earlier planting dates to take advantage of the head start that using flats would offer. Watering the transplants throughout the growing season may also change the results.
As they used to say in the car commercials, your mileage may vary.
2. Whipping okra (removing leaves from the plant) seems to have a minimal effect on the blooming and production of the plants. I am particularly confident of this conclusion because I noticed that all the plants seem to shed lower leaves at about the same rate, demonstrating that the overall effect of cutting off a few leaves is quickly lost to natural shedding. In other words, you don’t need to whip okra because it’s masochistic.