Making Okra Pickles!

What can I say? I hate okra. It’s slimy, and the flavor is simply not my favorite. Unfortunately, it grows really well in the summer heat, and so it ends up going into the garden. The food pantries take it, it can garner a few cents at the farmers market, and of course I have friends that will take it, and I’m happy to give it all away, that is, of course, after I make my personal batch of okra pickles. Nothing beats okra pickles; the hollow pockets inside the pods fill with delectable brine and the little immature seeds act almost like capers. My wife isn’t a fan, nor is my son, but my daughter – the one who would drown in kombucha – will eat them right along with me.

Before I get into the actual pickling process, a word or two about these seeds. I like to save my seeds, or acquire them from local sources. If a seed has been selected from a plant that has produced well and survived in my local climate, it is much more likely to do the same when it grows again in the same climate, than a seed that was saved from a plant in a very different climate. As I was new to the area, I asked around among some local farmers and found some okra seed that a guy from church had been growing for a number of years. He gave me some, and I was off. They’re a very long pod but remain tender up to eight inches, sometimes more.

Okra is also exceptionally easy from which to save seed. There’s no fleshy vegetation on the seeds so they don’t need any washing, and the pods ripen right on the plant, just make sure you pick them when they start to crack. I’m pretty diligent about not letting seed spill out into the garden, but I still have trouble with volunteers popping up all over the garden in the spring. If you do plan on saving seed, only grow one variety (unless you plan on caging or hand pollinating), but don’t worry about cotton or hibiscus (the flowers look very similar). The three are in the same family, but that’s as far as it goes.

As far as pickling goes, I use pods that will fit in pint jars after lopping off the stem. Quart jars will work, but that’s a lot of okra pickles and we don’t need to take up that much fridge space all at once. For four pints I’ll use 2.5 cups of apple cider vinegar and an equal amount of water, with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt. While that’s boiling, I’ll throw my spices in the jars. As you can see from the video, I like to use an eclectic variety and no two jars are the same. Then I pressure cook them for 10 minutes.

Give it a try sometime. They’re delicious and if you’re growing okra, you know you have extras to experiment with. Also, if you want some seeds, let me know.

Starting to Save Seed

Seeds, seeds, seeds! I love seeds; I think it has to do with all the possibilities that a tiny dot the size of a pin head can hold (think brassicaes: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc.). Or maybe I love them for all of their different shapes and sizes – beans with their beautiful patterning and cool, smooth skin. Even Cucurbitaceae – squash – with their bland, brown, traditional tear drop shape have their differences from variety to variety that are simply awe inspiring when carefully examined. There’s also some bit of a thrill that comes with saving your own seed from year to year: you get to know the plants, know the heritage of the seed, and it is one more step to self-sufficiency. But before you can just go saving seeds for next year, there are some things to consider.

Often times when we look at a seed catalog, or seed envelope, we will notice some verbiage that may or may not make sense. Typically this verbiage pertains to the seed and the plant that will develop from it.

Open Pollinated: Open pollination means that when a female flower is pollinated by a male flower of the same variety (delicata squash x delicata squash), the seed produced thereafter will resemble the parent plant(s) (delicata squash). When the pollination occurs between male and female parts of the same plant or even the same flower (tomatoes, beans), this is called self-fertilization. Plants that have individual flowers that are self-fertilizing are inherently open pollinated. Some varieties of plants will produce flowers that are specifically male or female. If you notice a squash vine, the first flowers to come out are typically male and later on down the vine, the female flowers start to come out. These are still considered to be open pollinated.

Heirloom: Seeds of an heirloom variety are also inherently open pollinated. The term heirloom simply implies that the seed-line has been kept true for a number of years. Heirloom varieties tend to be less friendly to the industrial commercial market, but can come in many different color, size, taste, and other variations making them ideal for farmer’s markets. (Essentially, heirloom is a subset within open pollinated.)

Hybrids: A hybrid is a seed that comes from two different varieties of parents (delicata squash x sweet dumpling squash): it has been cross-pollinated. Often times hybrids are produced to create faster growing plants, larger yields, or to create a plant that might be less susceptible to certain diseases. A hybrid is the first generation of a new lineage and is considered “F1” (the 1 is typically a subscript) in nomenclature and all plants in the F1 generation will look and produce the same. However, if you save seeds from a hybridization – accidentally or on purpose – the following generation (F2) will have a large number of physical differences, if the seed from the F1 is even viable.

Saving seeds helps us save money, and it gives us further insight into our individual plants. In a sense, by selecting plants that are growing well in our gardens, we’re doing our own genetic modification by selecting plants that are amiable to our soil, temperature, water and light conditions. The problem with saving seed is that it needs to be precise. The easiest way to be precise is only grow one variety of each type of vegetable. There are many books out there that deal with seed saving methods (my favorite is Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed), and can give you statistics on cross-pollination. For example, corn pollen is very light and can travel by wind up to two miles! It is also important to save seed from a number of different plants as inbreeding depression – a lack of genetic diversity – can occur. Some plants are more susceptible to this than others.

seeds
Squash on top, beans on the bottom.

In short, if you want to save seed, get a good book, stick with one variety of each species, and go for the open-pollinated  annual varieties. A good text like Seed to Seed will give you regional planting information as well as information regarding seed storage statistics, and methods to prevent cross-pollination (corn is wind pollinated and can travel up to half a mile). If you don’t care about saving seeds, plant whatever suits your fancy.

Potawatomi Lima Beans

Another repost, specifically on the background and phenotypic characteristics of the Potawatomi Lima Bean we have been growing over the past decade. We also link to this page from our “For Sale or Trade” page. (Essentially this is the listing.) These items are available for sale or trade, and we love crypto.

Potawatomi Line Up
A selection of the color and shapes seen in Potawatomi beans.

Potawatomi Lima beans hail from the Potawatomi Indians of Southern Michigan. After numerous years of selective preservation of these seeds, the Potawatomis had a lima bean that could grow in colder climates and shorter seasons. These are a pole variety and easily cover 8-foot teepees before looking elsewhere to climb. The seeds can be eaten as a shelling bean, or allowed to dry on the plant and used as a dry bean.

These specific limas did well in Vermont where we were able to collect both dried and green beans. In Georgia we are able to get two dried bean crops off one plant per season. Pods will shatter while still on the plant if left to mature too long. The seeds from shattered pods that land early in the summer will often end up producing a crop of shelling beans by the fall.

Very prolific plants, these cream, maroon and black seeds all came from pods of four or more seeds. Over the last decade or so we have been selecting for plants with four or more seeds per pod and while the numbers are still low, the number of 4+ pods have been steadily increasing.

Climbing vines up to 8 feet
Many three seeded pods, some four
15 grams ~25 seeds, $2.50 plus shipping and handling, just drop us a line.

Read up on how we came to select this variety.

Choosing A Bean

Another repost from the old blog. While it speaks specifically about our selection of a lima bean, these are things to consider whenever selecting any plant variety. Local seeds have been selected from plants that do well in local climates, and can often be acquired through trade or cash transactions.

There is something oddly soothing about seeds. You’ll know the feeling if you’ve ever dug your hands into a garbage can size box of loose seeds at the local nursery or if you’ve managed to be able to keep and harvest your own seeds. (If you’ve never been able to do so, I suggest going to the bulk section of the grocery store and shoving your hands in the unpopped popcorn bin. Just don’t let anyone see you…). I can’t place if it’s the actual texture and feel of hundreds of cool seeds gently caressing your skin, or if it’s the growth and food potential packed into all those seeds, but something about hundreds of tiny seeds is just awe inspiring.

And beans are further spectacular for all their intricate patterns and designs. I can’t be sure, but I’m willing to bet that like a snowflake, no two non-single color beans are patterned the exact same way. They may have a general pattern, but when you actually study each beans seed coat, the differences are amazing.

Potawatomi Line Up
Just like snowflakes, but so much cooler!

The main staple bean we have chosen to grow is a Potawatomi Lima bean. It’s of the pole variety, easily climbing an eight foot pole, while continuing to look for somewhere higher to grow. Originally, the Potawatomi Limas came from the Potawatomi Indians in Southern Michigan. Our choosing the Potawatomi Lima wasn’t random but a calculated choice with multiple factors:

  1. Their location of origin was key. While we are in Georgia now, we were living in Vermont when we purchased these seeds. If you’re familiar with Vermont, you’ll know that the summer is fleeting and the weather is cool and damp. Without a greenhouse, there are some definite constraints when it comes time for growing. So a Lima – which otherwise has a very hard time growing in New England – needed to be cold weather friendly, and it seemed like Southern Michigan was a good bet.
  2. Pole variety! We really wanted a pole bean as it would get off the ground and clear some space up for other crops – like potatoes. We were on 1/5th of an acre at the time.
  3. These limas provide two types of food. The beans could be eaten green as shelled beans or dried and used as a dry bean.
  4. It is a lima bean! By growing a lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus), it meant that we could grow a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) for green beans, and we wouldn’t have to worry about cross pollination.

In Vermont these beans worked out great. We did not have huge pulls of beans, but we had plenty to keep us happy and they made a great supplement to our CSA. It was also evident that while they don’t like the cold, they weren’t’ as fragile as some other beans we have grown when it came to cold nights.

Pot tails
Soaked, sprouted and ready to cook.

The Potawatomi Limas have done just as well, if not better, in Georgia. We are able to get them in the ground early and we end up having two crops of dried beans. (We only save seed from the first crop.) We are also able to get a good number of green beans for shelling. And of course, because of the dry lima pods ability to pop open and shoot seeds everywhere, we always find random volunteers germinating some place we didn’t plant them. More often than not we let them grow, but even when we have to kill them, they make an excellent cover crop/green fertilizer.

Overall, we are very impressed with this variety. Over the last ten years, we’ve been saving seeds from pods with four beans. In the beginning, we had mostly two and three beans per pod with the occasional four-bean-pod. We still don’t have a plant with only four-bean-pods (that won’t be for another 20 years down the road, maybe…), but their prevalence is much higher and the number of two-bean-pods is significantly lower. We have tried a variety of beans in the garden, and while I never thought I’d fall in love with a lima bean, so it has become. Do you have a favorite vegetable variety you go back to every year?