Here at the Farm, we market our produce in several ways. Our main outlet is via our CSA, which stands for "community supported agriculture" and is similar to a co-op or buying club. Members buy into our harvest at specified times during the season and we provide them with a weekly share of whatever we harvested that week. That means that we pick on the day before shares are picked up. Monday and Friday are our main picking days and on those days not much else gets done until the pickin' is over.
This time of year the 3 main crops we are harvesting are okra, eggplant and tomatoes. If you have never picked okra you can't begin to imagine just how itchy it will make those who are sensitive to it. I read on a website recently that "if picking okra doesn't make you itch, you are either already dead or you need to call 911". Not everyone is bothered by okra, but if you are, it is like instant poison ivy, with an acid burn chaser. If you are sensitive and you get it on your hands, even just a little, almost instantaneously you feel your skin begin to tingle and then the itching begins. Simply washing your hands or which ever body part is affected will do little or no good, unless you are right by the water or you basically don't move until somebody washes you off. Once you have the okra on you, you are doomed to suffer until the effects wear off. This is because the leaves of this plant are covered with tiny spines which will rub off on you when you come in contact with the plant and get under your skin, kind of like a vegetable fiberglass.
I am envious of those who are not sensitive to this plant, because it makes me itch just thinking about it. And okra is a long season vegetable here in our climate and will attain heights of 8 feet or more if conditions are right, thus becoming an itchy forest toward the end of the season.
The good news is that there are types of okra that are called "spineless" and so cut down on the itching tremendously. Of course, we plant that type. A word of advice, though. You will note that I said "cuts down on", not "eliminates" the itching, so if you are sensitive to okra or new to preparing this veggie, wear thin latex gloves when you wash and prepare it. Even though the pods themselves are not really all that itchy, at some point during picking, the pods will come in contact with the leaves and there will be some of the spines on the pods until you wash them off.
There is also a great humor factor with picking okra, because you won't see more creative getups at Halloween than the outfits some people will assemble to pick okra in. Safari hats covered with mosquito netting, tube socks with the toes cut off and worn like dealer's cuffs, long pants and long sleeves when the temperatures are in the high 90's are among some of the innovative ways I have heard folks using as preventative measures when heading to the okra patch. I have seen grown men picking okra whil wearing ladies elbow length cotton gloves (the kind worn with formal gowns...and they have to be cotton because not all glove materials will protect you). You can even buy special mesh shirts in some gardening catalogs that can be worn to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects or for picking okra. I won't say exactly which ones I have personally tried, but next time you see someone in the garden wearing some outlandish costume, just figure they are picking okra.
So, now that you have read all about the horrors of picking okra, you are probably shaking you head and wondering why in the world anyone would want to eat something like that. The answer is because it delicious, nutritious, versatile and eaten in nearly every warm corner of the world. If you are not an okra aficionado, you have probably heard that okra is slimy. Take that term with a grain of salt and read the following excerpt taken from the website address given:
(Go check out this page for more information about okra, including nutrition info, recipes, etc.)
"The super fiber found in okra helps to stabilize blood sugar as it curbs the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract. Okra not only binds cholesterol but bile acid carrying toxins dumped into it by the filtering liver. But it doesn't stop there... The okra fiber, absorbing water and ensuring bulk in stools, helps prevent and improve constipation. Fiber in general is helpful for this but okra is one of the best, along with ground flax seed and psyllium. Unlike harsh wheat bran, which can irritate or injure the intestinal tract, okra's mucilage soothes, and okra facilitates elimination more comfortably by its slippery characteristic many people abhor. Making it great for those with IBS.
This incredibly valuable vegetable not only binds excess cholesterol and toxins (in bile acids) which cause numerous health problems if not evacuated, but then assures easy passage out of the body of same. Unlike some prescription and over-the-counter drugs for this, the veggie is completely healthy, non-toxic, non-habit forming (except for the many who greatly enjoy eating it), has no adverse side effects, is full of nutrients, and is economical.
So, that is enough about okra for today. It is time to head out for the market. Later.