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Okra Spacing Then and Now

Posted 5/27/2014 11:57am by Judy Lessler.

Farm Notes: Okra Chronicles. At Harland's Creek Farm we plant okra in raised beds that are 39 inches wide and 53 inches on center, which means that there are 53 inches between the middle of one bed and the other. The aisle between the beds is about 14 inches wide, ergo the 53 inches on center measurement. We put in two lines in each bed and thin the plants within a line to 12 inches apart.            

In his 1863 garden book which describes the cultivation of over a thousand cultivars Fearing Burr's recommends "at least three feet between the rows and nearly two feet from plant to plant in the rows." Using this spacing, if you drew a rectangle with four plants at its corners, its area would be 6 square feet. One-hundred and fifty years later, the Southeastern Vegetable Crop Handbook recommends a spacing of 4 feet between row and 18 inches within rows with the result that the rectangle drawn with one plant at each of its four corners also has an area of 6 square feet. Seeing something like that makes me wonder if people have just been copying each other for the last 150 years.            

The seed company I buy from recommends a much closer spacing with rectangles of 2 to 3 square feet. Detailed information from the Okra Handbook ( Dhankhar and Singh, 2009) indicates that a wide variety of spacing can be used and that one might choose a method based on ease of picking as well as yield. I was glad to learn this because we leave a fallow bed between the closely planted beds to allow us to pick the plants. This results in lots of space for plants that boarder the fallow bed and closer spacing for those that do not.            

Burr comments that okra can be raised in "any common garden soil" which I found to be a wildly unspecific recommendation and somewhat annoying because I wanted to know what farmers were doing 150 years ago. But I went back and read his preface more carefully found that he specifically had prepared the book to help the public choose varieties "rather than as a treatise on cultivation" and that he did so because there were already many sources of the information on cultivation and propagation. Burr was right, and I soon forgave him because I did indeed find many sources on cultivation and propagation.            

Stay tuned for more that I learned.  

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