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Fayette County, Ohio

Soil & Water Conservation District

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Milkweed for Monarchs

Milkweed for Monarchs

Fayette Soil & Water Conservation District (FSWCD) will once again be the local collection center for common milkweed seeds. Make sure that before you collect seed, you become familiar with common milkweed to avoid harvesting pods from similar plants such as hemp dogbane and swamp milkweed. Locate common milkweed stands for seed pod collection in areas such as pastures, meadows, along railroad tracks, along bike paths, agricultural field margins, vacant land, cultivated gardens, and parks. Establish ownership of the land and make sure to get landowner permission for monitoring and collecting the seed pods. Arrange for the owner to conserve the stand until the seed pods are ripe and ready to harvest. Also, make sure the seeds inside the pod are mature.

Seed pods from common milkweed should be collected when the pods are dry and gray or brown in color. If the center seam pops with gentle pressure, they can be harvested. Don’t collect pods that are already open, as they might be infested with insects. It is best to store pods in paper bags because in plastic bags moisture can collect and allow mold to develop. The collection period runs from September 1 to October 31.

The Fayette SWCD office is located in the Fayette County Agricultural Center, 1415 US 22 SW, Suite 500 Washington Court House.

ODNR organizes the collection of milkweed seeds sent around Ohio. The department also educates the public on creating monarch habitat. Since 2014, ODNR has planted milkweed and nectar plants across 58,000 acres of wildlife areas. Monarchs need milkweed to lay eggs on the plant.

Welcome to Fayette County, Ohio

The Joy of Okra–in the Garden and on the Table

Fresh okra pods

You may have discovered the health advantages of okra, or you simply enjoy it, or like me, just stumbled upon something that you want to give a try. Okra’s edible seed pods can be boiled, fried, canned, or used in creole recipes like gumbo. The range of warmth-loving okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is steadily making its way north, so it’s now possible for gardeners in our area to raise a successful crop. And by using seedlings, you can shave three weeks or more from its usual long season. As long as okra seedlings are handled gently, they can be slipped into the garden – or into large containers – just as the hot season begins.

My first experience with planting and harvesting okra came last summer as a fluke. My husband and I were way behind getting all our edibles planted in the garden. I found myself at a local greenhouse late in the season, almost too late, trying to salvage anything they had left for our garden. The owner of the greenhouse gave my sons a few okra plants. We took them home, planted them in the newly tilled ground and figured we would see what happened. The end results were quite amazing and delicious.

To help understand okra, we need to look at where the crop originated, and that is Africa. What would we expect a crop from Africa to need? If you guessed hot weather and sunshine, you are correct. Okra is a warm-weather crop that appreciates basking in full sunlight.

Always check the package when buying seeds as okra seeds need optimal conditions to germinate. If the packaging is close to its expiration date, chances are this fussy seed will not germinate. The seed coat is thick and hard, inhibiting germination unless the seeds are treated. Seeds can be scarified (scratched or scored) with a file to increase germination rates. But simply soaking your seeds in a wet paper towel for 24 hours before starting them should do the trick, and your okra should germinate within seven days.

The seedlings have fragile taproots so handle them carefully, holding them by their leaves so they aren’t damaged. Thoroughly water seedlings an hour before you transplant them. Gently remove them from the pot, separate the seedlings, and set them about 10-inches apart. Water the plants if rain is not expected, but wait a few days before mulching to give the soil a chance to absorb the sun’s warmth. Okra is appreciated for its ability to withstand drought as compared to other vegetables, but for optimum growth and production, you’ll need to water at least one inch per week. If you run into an extended dry period and can’t seem to water enough, okra will be the last to suffer.

Okra is a very adaptable plant when it comes to soil types and will grow in almost any soil. For best results, place seedlings in soil that is well-drained, rich in organic matter, and is slightly acidic with a pH between 5.8 and 7.0. When starting with seeds, plant them about one-half inch to one inch deep and spaced roughly 12 to 18 inches apart in rows.

If you are using seedlings, plant them about the same distance apart but ensure your rows have plenty of room to grow. Okra plants will mature in roughly 55 to 65 days and will continue to produce for 10 to 12 weeks. Plants grow to be very tall, reaching heights of three to four feet. The plants like to be well watered and will take up to an inch of water per week in our area. Okra takes two months to begin producing its wonderful edibles. Its stems grow very large – our largest was almost an inch wide at the base – to help support the massive growth.

Okra’s pods turn a bright dark green and can grow six to eight inches long. The harvest of this plant seems to be never-ending. It seemed like once I harvested the first okra pod, I’d blink and another four would take its place. After the first harvest, it is common to trim off some of the plant’s lower leaves to help expose the area to sunlight as well as to help speed production of future harvests. When harvesting the pods, wear gloves! Pods tend to have tiny barbs covering them and will irritate the skin. Try to avoid the temptation of ripping the pod off without shears. This way, you don’t rip up the branches and impede future growth.

Foodie tip: I found that the best tasting okra pods where around three or four inches long. There are many ways to use fresh okra, such as roasting, boiling, or using as a great compliment to your favorite creole dish. For me, canning is a great option so I can enjoy the fruits of my harvest long into the cold winter months while conjuring up the warmness of summer through food.

Learn more about growing okra from Penn State University at https://plantvillage.psu.edu/topics/okra/infos

An okra flower, soon to become a delicious, edible pod.

By Suzi Voytish, Master Gardener of Fayette County

The Joy of Okra–in the Garden and on the Table Fresh okra pods You may have discovered the health advantages of okra, or you simply enjoy it, or like me, just stumbled upon something that you