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How to Grow Okra

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Okra (Hibiscus esculentus) is a unique, annual vegetable from the same family as the hollyhock. It is usually the color of fresh corn husks, has the shape of a spike and the texture of a grooved cucumber. When sliced, it may remind you of a tiny star fruit. In this short video, you’ll see how easy it is to add to your garden planting.

Although technically a fruit because its seeds are inside the plant, okra is usually referred to as a vegetable that is also called “lady fingers” in reference to their shape, and comes in more than one variety. It is a favorite in the American South and areas of Africa and the Mediterranean, where it is usually cooked.

As an ancient crop, okra was also used medicinally. The leaves were used for pain relief and urinary problems. Today, it is still used by holistic practitioners to treat lung inflammation and sore throats and to add bulk to stools as a laxative. It may also be effective for acid reflux, cataracts and atherosclerosis.1

Okra is a warm weather crop, easily grown in your garden and can be harvested every several days. The vegetables are easy to use in your meals and the plants look great in your garden as they flower throughout the summer months.

History of the Mighty Okra

Okra goes by a number of other names including bamia, gumbo and ochre.2 The name likely derives from one of the Niger-Congo groups of languages, which became Anglicized in the late 18th century. 

It’s believed okra originated near Ethiopia and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians. Cultivation spread the plants throughout North Africa and the Middle East, where the seed pods were eaten cooked and the seeds were toasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute.3

Okra was brought to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s, either by slaves from West Africa or by French colonists to Louisiana. However the debut in the Western Hemisphere was earlier in the 1600s in Brazil through Africa.4 In the U.S., okra is commonly used in Cajun, Southern and Creole cooking.

Make Your Choice from Several Varieties of Okra

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange lists 36 different varieties of okra you may grow from seed at home. Although most are a deep green color, some varieties are lightly streaked red to full deep red, like the Asian Jing Orange Okra, whose stems are also bright red and the leaves have red veins.5

A typical plant grows to 4 feet in height, but some varieties grow over 7 feet tall. The Clemson Spineless variety accounts for the greatest number of commercial and residential plantings of okra in California.6 The term spineless refers to a relative lack of spines on the pods and branches.

The Star of David is an open-pollinated okra heirloom plant growing 7 feet tall or higher with purplish leaves and chubby pods. Several hybrid plants include the Annie Oakley, Green Vest and 1285. Red colored okra include Red Velvet, Burgundy and Bowling Red.

If you’re looking for an oversized vegetable, try the Perkins Mammoth long pod maturing in 60 days and growing to a height of 6 to 10 feet. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends the following varieties:7

  • Annie Oakley — This hybrid plant takes 52 days to mature and has spineless pods. It grows to about 5 feet tall.
  • Park’s Candelabra Branching — This plant is a base-branching okra variety, which makes harvesting a bit easier.
  • Louisiana Green Velvet — This hybrid plant is good for larger garden areas. It is vigorous and grows to be 6 feet tall. It is also smooth and spineless.

Take Care of Your Okra Garden

The okra plant prefers dry soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.0. Plants do well in fertile soil with added compost. Whether or not a nitrogen-based fertilizer is needed will depend on the amount of nitrogen already in your garden soil. Too much nitrogen may result in more leaves than vegetables.8

Prepare the area with well-draining soil in full sun. Although they are not wide plants, they do grow tall so be sure to space out the rows 3 to 4 feet apart to allow for plenty of sunshine to get to the lower leaves.9 The okra plant is a warm-weather plant so consider starting indoors three to four weeks before the last spring frost, in peat pots under full light.

Since the growing season is generally 50 to 60 days for okra, you can also start them directly in your garden after the last frost, or under a cold frame three to four weeks before the last frost. Without the cold frame, you must have stable warm weather, and the soil must be warmed to 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.10

Plant the seeds three-fourths to 1 inch deep.11 Seeds may be slow to germinate, but you can speed the process by soaking the seeds overnight in water, or abrading them lightly with sandpaper to break the hard seed coat before planting.12

If you are transplanting okra seedlings, be sure to space them 2 feet apart to provide ample room for growth, and the rows 3 to 4 feet apart. If you’re sowing seeds outdoors, thin the seedlings to allow for similar spacing.

Once the plants have sprouted, remove weeds and mulch heavily to prevent weed growth. At this time you might also side dress the plants with aged manure or rich compost.

Harvesting and Storing Okra

The first harvest from your planting should be ready about 60 days after planting, depending upon the variety you plant. Since the okra becomes hard and woody if left on the plant too long, you’ll want to harvest when they are 2 to 3 inches long. This may be nearly every other day. The vegetables appear on the plant approximately four days after the flower.

Cut the stem of the okra just above the cap with a knife. Some varieties have been bred to snap off the plant when they’re ready to harvest. If the stem is too hard to cut, the pod is likely too old and should be thrown out.13

Remember to use gloves and wear long sleeves when you’re harvesting or caring for your okra plants. Most varieties are covered with tiny spines that irritate the skin, unless you have planted a spineless variety. Interestingly, this irritation does not happen internally when you eat them.

As you are harvesting every couple of days, you’ll want to store the okra until you have enough for a meal. You can place the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer for several months and use them during the winter.14 Canned okra can also be used for frying later in the winter (although I don’t recommend frying your foods). The process is similar to canning other vegetables.15

Watch for Pests Through the Growing Season

It’s important to rotate your crop every four years as old varieties tend to have deep root systems. In years when your area has a high grasshopper count, the insects may eat the lower leaves of the plants.16

Other pests and diseases affecting okra plants are aphids, corn earworms, stink bugs and fusarium wilt. Aphids are little green bugs appearing on the top or bottom of the leaves. They are soft-bodied and can survive in almost any temperature zone and multiply quickly, so it’s important to get them under control.17

Look for misshapen, stunted or yellowing leaves and check for the underside as this is where aphids love to hide. If the leaves or stems have a sticky substance it’s also a sign aphids have been drinking plant sap. Try spraying the leaves with cold water from the hose as sometimes all they need is a cold blast to dislodge them from the plant.

You can also try a mix of dishwashing soap and water to kill the insects. Reapply soapy water every two to three days for two weeks in order to completely get rid of the insects. With a large invasion you may try dusting the plants with flour as it constipates the pests and kills them.18

Corn earworms can be deterred by spraying the plants with mineral oil as soon as the silks form; repeat after rainy spells.19 Fusarium wilt is found commonly throughout the U.S. and is a soil-borne pathogen.20 The fungus enters through the root system and interferes with water distribution in the plant.

Symptoms of the disease usually appear in the latter part of the growing season and are first noted at the lower part of the plant. Unfortunately, the pathogen can survive for years in the soil and is often spread by insects and garden equipment.

When possible, plant resistant varieties. Take out the infected growth from the garden and sterilize your pruning shears.21 Use of high nitrogen fertilizers may increase the susceptibility, so a slow-release organic fertilizer is your better choice.

If the disease persists, you may have to remove the affected part of the garden and heat the soil by leaving a clear plastic tarp on the surface for four to six weeks during the hottest part of the year. This reduces many of the pests inhabiting the soil, including nematodes, fungi, insects and weed seeds.22

Powerful Health Benefits Packed in a Small Pod

Okra pods are rich in vitamins and minerals, including quercetin, catechin and epicatechin.23 They are also known to be high in vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. Many health benefits come from superior fiber content helping to regulate digestion and maintain blood sugar levels.

Okra extracts have been used to reduce oxidative stress and insulin resistance in research on pregnant rats induced with gestational diabetes.24 Scientists found the extract exerted potential antihyperglycemic and hypolipidemic effects and also was associated with reduced damage to pancreatic tissue.

In another study,25 researchers found okra may improve glucose homeostasis and reduce B-cell damage in diabetes. A 2018 study26 asserts okra could improve metabolic complications, and if it has a beneficial effect on the pancreas in rats, benefits may translate to humans, as well.

One vital compound found in okra is glutathione. Foods27 containing glutathione fall into two categories: those containing the glutathione molecule and those promoting glutathione production and/or “upload” the activity of glutathione enzymes in your body.

However, the okra must remain uncooked as cooking glutathione foods diminishes the content. Storage methods can affect levels as well. One study shows dietary glutathione intake can lower your risk of oral and pharyngeal cancer.28

An animal study29 observed that it protects against diabetic nephropathy (damage to kidneys due to diabetes) and neuropathy (damage to nerves and eventual renal failure).30

Okra contains a number of valuable nutrients, including fiber. Several of the most prominent must be obtained through food, and if you don’t get enough of them, a deficiency can seriously compromise your health. Five of the most beneficial include:31

Potassium — A mineral as well as an electrolyte, as it conducts electrical impulses through your body, potassium helps normalize your muscle contractions, heart rhythm, blood pressure, digestion, pH balance and more. Since your body doesn’t produce it, you must get an optimal amount from food, while making sure you balance it with your sodium intake.

Folate — One of several B vitamins, this one produces red blood cells, and makes and repairs your DNA. A deficiency can lead to anemia, depriving your cells of oxygen. One of its most crucial functions is for pregnant women as it’s involved with preventing birth defects.

Note: Although many people interchange them, do not confuse folate, which occurs naturally in foods, with folic acid, which is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 used as a supplement and an additive to processed foods.

Calcium — Stored in your bones, calcium works with vitamin D to ensure you avoid brittle, prone-to-break bones. To keep calcium from settling in areas it shouldn’t be and directing it to where it’s needed, calcium also needs vitamin K2.

Vitamin K — A fat-soluble vitamin, it plays a critical role in protecting your heart, building your bones, optimizing your insulin levels and helping your blood to clot properly. Vitamin K can help prevent heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple types of cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Vitamin C — This powerful antioxidant lessens both the duration and severity of a cold and is necessary to produce collagen, the most abundant protein in mammals, which keeps your skin and tissues firm but flexible. A vitamin C deficiency weakens your immune system.

How to Use and Prepare Okra at Home

Okra produces a sticky, viscous fluid called mucilage under low heat. Boiling and applying the transparent mucilage to your hair as a conditioner may help fight dandruff and give an added shine. Five serving alternatives, with a few twists, are inspired by the Smithsonian magazine:32

  • Fried okra — This is the traditional Southern way of serving okra, involving corn meal and so-called “vegetable oils,” but it’s not the healthiest. If you choose to eat fried okra, be sure to use a healthy cooking oil such as coconut oil instead, perhaps with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese added, and cook it at a lower temperature.
  • Gumbo — One option of using okra in gumbo is to use is for thickening33 for taste and with the obligatory “holy trinity” of bell pepper, onion and celery. This is a Southern staple. In fact, the African name “gombo” is where the recipe was derived. It’s often mixed with meat, tomatoes and bay leaves.
  • Pickled okra34 Using the sweet and spicy variety of okra, this is another way to serve the vegetable, often with dried chilies, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, hot peppers, vinegar, fresh dill, salt and rice wine vinegar.
  • Grilled or oven-roasted okra35 — This recipe can be as simple as dousing clean, quartered okra pods with olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper on a baking sheet, then cooking for 15 minutes.
  • Stewed okra — This is a great way to add the nutrients but with stronger-flavored flavors, such as beef broth, lamb, balsamic vinegar, cloves, tomato paste, garlic, mint leaves and spices, like in the case of banya, an Egyptian meat and okra stew.

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Group challenges ruling requiring doctors to give referrals for services that clash with beliefs

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Ontario doctors challenging a court ruling that found physicians must give referrals for medical services that clash with their moral or religious beliefs say there is no proof that removing that requirement would hamper patients seeking treatment.

A group of five doctors and three professional organizations is appealing a divisional court decision that upheld a policy issued by the province’s medical regulator, arguing the lower court made several errors.

The group, which includes the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies and Canadian Physicians for Life, is asking Ontario’s highest court to strike down the policy. The case is set to be heard in Toronto on Monday and Tuesday.

Last year, the divisional court found that while the policy — which requires doctors who have a moral or religious objection to treatments such as assisted dying, contraception or abortions to refer patients to another doctor who can provide the service — does limit doctors’ religious freedom, the breach is justified.

The court said the benefits to the public outweigh the cost to doctors, who could delegate the referral to staff or choose to practise a specialty where such issues are less likely to arise.

In court documents filed ahead of Monday’s hearing, the group said the ruling was unreasonable because it gave more weight to an assumed problem with access to health care than to a real infringement of doctors’ rights.

“The (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario) elected to provide no objective, quantifiable evidence that mandatory referrals actually result in enhanced access to care,” it said.

There was also “no objective evidence of actual harm either before the policies or in any other jurisdiction in Canada,” it said.

Some doctors will leave Ontario, group says

It further argued the court erred in finding that any violation of doctors’ rights stemmed from their decision to practise in an area where moral conflicts could emerge, saying that presumed physicians could easily switch jobs.

“A consequence of these policies is that a number of physicians will be required to either retrain (notwithstanding severe personal consequences and no guarantee of finding work) or else leave Ontario altogether,” the group said.

“Can a policy which takes physicians out of Ontario rationally relate to the promotion of equitable access to health care?”

The college, meanwhile, said in court documents that practising medicine is a privilege, not a right, and argued the policy aims to balance the moral beliefs of individual physicians while ensuring access to care, particularly for vulnerable patients.

“The appellants’ claim that any patient capable of contacting their physician is capable of finding a second treating physician is directly contrary to the evidence,” the regulator said.

“It ignores that vulnerable or frail patients may still be living at home, relying on family members for assistance…who may not support the patient’s choice. It ignores that care options may be more limited in remote or rural areas. It ignores that some patients with mental, emotional or linguistic challenges may be unable to advocate for themselves,” it said.

“And it ignores the very real feelings of judgment, shame and stigma that patients experience when their physicians fail to provide the individualized care a patient seeks.”

By comparison, it argued, the burden imposed on doctors through the policy is an administrative one, since the referral can be handled by other staff members.

“The appellants put forward no evidence of a sincere religious objection to working with administrative staff who might connect patients with non-objecting providers, or to working in a practice group which can triage patients,” the college said.

“More importantly, they put forward no evidence of the actual burden — financial, logistical or otherwise — of making such administrative changes.”

What’s more, it said, “the relative power and privilege of physicians as compared to the vulnerable patients they refuse to assist” should be considered.

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5 ways to read more books this year

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How much time a day do you spend reading texts and alerts and notifications and emails and headline skims and flyby tickers and blog feeds and Twitter spews and Instagram comments? A lot? Me too. And that is truly garbage reading. Because what do you remember from it the next month or next year of your life?

We have to read more books. After all, books are still the greatest form of deep compressed knowledge on the planet.

Reading not only allows you to escape into an other world, studies show reading fiction can improve ones ability to empathize with others.
Reading not only allows you to escape into an other world, studies show reading fiction can improve ones ability to empathize with others.  (Dreamstime)

So how do you get more into your life?

Well, for the past two years I have shared three ways to read more books: centralize your books in your home, make a public commitment to read more and reapply the 10,000 steps rule. So, today I come back to you with five more! Because we all should read a little bit more. Let’s break it down:

5. Live inside a world of books. This involves a mindset change. Like most people, I have a bookshelf “over there.” That’s where the books live. Then, one day last year, my wife dumped a pile of about 10 picture books in the middle of our coffee table. What happened? Our kids started flipping through them all the time. So now we leave them there and just rotate the books. Path-of-least-resistance principle! Just like how Google leaves kale chips on the counter for employees while hiding the cookies in the cookie jars. We’ve put the TV in the basement, installed a bookshelf near our front door, slipped books into car seat pouches and, of course, placed one within reach of every toilet. (Want an epic toilet book? Try this.) Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges says: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”

4. Find a few trusted, curated lists. The publishing industry puts out around 1,000 new books a day. Do you have time to sift through all those? No, nobody does, so we use proxies like Amazon reviews. But should we get our reading lists from retailers? If you’re like me, and you love the “staff picks” wall in independent bookstores, there’s nothing as nice as getting one person’s favourite books. Finding a few trusted, curated lists can be as simple as opening an account at Goodreads or Reco or subscribing to Ryan Holiday’s email list, but with a bit of digging you can likely find the one that totally aligns with your tastes. Maybe you’ll like Bill Gates’s reading list or Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club or Ariel Bissett’s YouTube channel. I also run an online book club where I send out my recommendations once a month (sign up here), and host a podcast called 3 Books where I interview inspiring individuals and uncover their three most formative books in order to find the 1,000 most formative books in the world.

Read more:

Spring Preview: 20 books I can’t wait to read in 2019

Worried about that big to-read pile? Don’t! Matt Haig tells us why

Konmari or tsundoku? The unbearable lightness of getting rid of books

3. Change your mindset about quitting. It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.” An article that can help enable this mindset is “The Tail End,” by Tim Urban, which paints a striking picture of how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. Once you fully digest that number, you’ll want to hack the vines away to reveal the oases ahead. I quit three or four books for every book I read to the end because I don’t see the point in reading a book you dislike. I do the “first five pages test” before I buy any book (checking for tone, pace and language) and then let myself off the hook if I need to stop halfway through.

2. Go red in bed. Yes, I’m talking about lighting up your bedroom like a bordello. Just go to MEC for a red-light camping headlight and strap it to your forehead like you’re in the jungles looking for the Predator. My wife, Leslie, generally falls asleep before I do and that’s when I strap my red reading light on my forehead and get my reading on. Why red? Michael Breus, PhD and author of The Power of When says “the theory is that red light aids melatonin production.” Melatonin is the hormone that regulates wakefulness. And bright lights have the opposite effect by decreasing our quality of sleep according to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia.

1. Make your phone disgusting. The most popular articles I wrote for the Star last year were about cellphone addiction. It’s hurting us all. So what’s the solution? Make it disgusting. Put your phone in black and white. Move all the apps off the main screen so it’s blank when you open it. Leave your cracked screen cracked. Move your charger to the basement so it’s an extra step in your low resilience nighttime and morning moments. Enable Night Mode to automatically block calls and texts after 7 p.m. Slowly, slowly, slowly pry that cellphone out of your fingers.

So are you raring to go?

Or do you need some rock-solid science to give you a final push? Well, how about a 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology that shows reading triggers our mirror neurons and opens up the parts of our brain responsible for developing empathy, compassion and understanding. This will make you a better leader, teacher, parent and sibling. Or another study from Science Magazine in 2013 that shows reading literary fiction helps improve empathy and social functioning. And, finally, a 2013 study at Emory University which shows MRIs taken the morning after test subjects were asked to read sections of a novel showed an increase in connectivity in the left temporal cortex. What’s that? The area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. The MRIs were done the next day. Just imagine the long-term benefits of cracking open a book every day.

Most of us want to read more books. And we can. Use these five ways to get started down the path. Let’s have a happy reading year together.

Neil Pasricha is the #1 bestselling author of six books including The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation. His research and writing focus on living intentionally. Join 35,000 other people to get his bi-weekly articles at www.neil.blog/newsletter

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Mother of 3-year-old killed by flu shares story, advocates for vaccine

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When Caylee Donovan took her three-year-old daughter Gracie to the hospital, worried her fever had lasted for five days, she was sent home.

“They just said keep her hydrated, keep trying to feed her and wait for the fever to break,” she said. “Basically they just ignored us.”

Weeks later, Gracie died.

It’s been 10 years since Donovan lost her daughter, but she wants to make her family’s story public so she can advocate for flu vaccines.

Gracie Donovan was just three years old when she died as a result of the flu virus. (Caylee Donovan)

Gracie was diagnosed with influenza after her mother took her back to the doctor repeatedly trying to get help. She was sent to the hospital in Nanaimo, where her family was living at the time, so she could be assessed by pediatricians.

One doctor told Donovan her child didn’t have the flu. She was just an angry child. But Donovan said it was because of the fever that she was acting unusually.

When another doctor decided to treat Gracie for the flu, she was relieved. But a couple of days later, Gracie’s condition worsened, and she was taken to a hospital in Victoria. It’s there that Donovan first learned her daughter might not make it.

“She was put on a ventilator that night and remained on it for 18 days,” Donovan said. “She fought it. They had 14 different medications in her little body.”

An abscess formed on Gracie’s lung, and between that and the other symptoms she was suffering from, she succumbed to the virus.

“It was hard on us, the family,” Donovan said.

“But she’s no longer suffering, and, now, I use her story and our family’s experience to advocate for having the flu vaccination.”

‘Things get misconstrued on the Internet’

Donovan wants other parents and people to understand the impact not vaccinating themselves or their children can have. Though her family had been vaccinated for influenza in years prior, they had not yet had the flu shot in 2009 when Gracie fell ill.

“Our family never really got sick. We were kind of that family that said this will never happen to us.”

She notices people asking for advice on Facebook and other social media forums and said her biggest piece of advice for others is to get their information about influenza and the flu shot from medical professionals, as opposed to the Internet.

“A lot of things get misconstrued on the Internet,” she said.

“It takes one person to say ‘there’s mercury in a vaccination.’ Society, these days, believes those stories and they take it to heart, and, then, they make decisions for their family that might not be in the best interests of their family.”

She hopes that by sharing her daughter’s story, people will take the virus more seriously.

“I would just like to see people educate themselves legitimately going to their health professionals, going to people who know the truth and can help you make the right decision for you. It may be to get a vaccine and it may be to not get the vaccine.”

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