Of any crop we’ve had difficulties with through the years, probably the most frustrating has been okra. Now that’s not to say okra has been a complete failure for us. Not at all. It’s just that rarely, if ever, have we been able to supply enough of it to satisfy customers at either of our markets.

Thing is, for the past thirteen summers we’ve grown only heirloom okra. It’s beautiful stuff — the pods are smooth and spineless and we pick them small, before they’ve had a chance to become fibrous and tough. The problem lies with quantity. Compared to the number of lineal feet we grow, the harvests have been disproportionately low. Add to that our farm’s infestation of root knot nematodes (even in areas that have never been tilled) and the end result has almost always been rather dismal.

Despite the guarantee of a disappointing outcome, we stubbornly planted the same variety over and over and over, thirteen years in a row. Obviously, we’re slow learners. It took customer Bonnie to finally get the message through our thick skulls that something needed to change. After arriving too late for okra one summer day last year, she was subjected yet again to our timeworn excuse about how little the heirloom produced for us.

Bonnie let us finish our spiel, then exclaimed, “Look, I don’t care what kind of okra you have to grow, I just want OKRA!”

For once, we listened. We swallowed our heirloom okra pride and searched through seed catalogs for what looked to be a good hybrid. Ultimately, we decided on a variety called Millionaire.

Seed variety names can sometimes seem to come out of thin air, like the Gypsy broccoli we grew last year, or King Richard leeks. Others are spot-on descriptive — Snow Crown cauliflower comes to mind, and Sungold tomatoes. Flavorburst yellow bell pepper tells you exactly what to expect of it, and Tasty Bite melons need no explanation at all.

Of all the variety names, however, Millionaire okra might be the most appropriate one we’ve run across. See, it’s expensive. I mean, really, it’s one of the more expensive seeds we’ve bought in a long time. Thus far, though, it appears it might be worth it.

Already it surprised us with its uniform, 100% germination.

We aren’t accustomed to such a beautiful sight from okra. The heirloom we used to struggle with popped through the soil blocks in fits and starts (if at all), leaving some plants well on their way to becoming almost too tall to set out by the time others had just put on their first true leaves.

The Millionaires caught us so off guard, we were a little panicked about getting them planted in their permanent rows in time. Ideally, we like to have the rows pre-amended for three weeks with the super-duper-secret concoction we’ve discovered to combat the effects of root knot, but the Millionaires couldn’t wait that long. Two beds were planted after the rows had been amended only two weeks prior,

and a third and fourth went into the ground a few days later.

There are more young Millionaires awaiting us in the greenhouse. Before we realized how well the first planting would germinate, Farmer John decided we needed a second round — half as many as the first, to be used as a backup planting. After all the years wrestling with the heirloom okra, we’d assumed we would have to make up for attrition. It was a logical assumption at the time. After all, we’d never before met a Millionaire.

Although these plants have so far impressed us beyond anything we’d imagined, we won’t know for certain whether we made the right decision until they grow and bear fruit. As the saying goes, the proof is in the gumbo. Recently we found out from another farmer friend that he’s been growing this variety for quite some time, and has been real happy with it. That’s what we’re hoping for. It’d be such a change of pace for us to have plenty of okra on our market tables.

Still, the million dollar question remains: Will switching to Millionaire okra make Farmer John and I millionaires as well?

I’m kind of doubting it, personally, but maybe you think otherwise. If so, would you care to make a little wager on it? Say…a million bucks?

* * *

We’ll have to wait a while for the okra — but in the meantime, we think you’re going to like what we’re bringing to the farm stand Wednesday! (Mary will be joining us as an additional cashier so we can get the lines moving more quickly — our apologies for the long wait last week.) Here’s what we’ll have:

Early Girl and Bella Rosa tomatoes! Plus two kinds of Asian cucumbers; new potatoes (both Yukon Golds and Red LaSoda); three varieties of squash (zucchini, Zephyr and yellow); Green Butter Head lettuce; Red Butter Head lettuce; Summer Crisp lettuce; Red Leaf lettuce; Romaine; sweet Yellow Granax and Red Creole bulk onions; fresh elephant garlic; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; fennel; bunches of basil; and hopefully local peaches (the people who own the trees aren’t sure they’ll be ripe in time…I won’t know until tomorrow, so we’ll have to just keep our fingers crossed!)

**PLEASE NOTE: People are bringing their small children to the school at the Asian American Center in the mornings, and it is essential that you drive SLOWLY and carefully. Some customers are getting in way too big a rush trying to get to a parking space. The Center allows us to set up our market there out of sheer kindness. It does not belong to us. Please remember to watch for pedestrians, obey the Entrance/Exit signs, and tread lightly and respectfully on their property. (There’s also parking along Bell Street, 1/2 block south of the Asian Center on the same side of Jollyville Road. A nice sidewalk leads you right to our market.)

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)