Clemson Spineless Okra
Vigorous 3-5' plants produce plentiful, green, spineless pods, which are best harvested when tender at 3" long.
Alkebu-lan Marcus has been carrying the torch for Mill Creek Urban Farm in West Philly for a few years now - working naturally with the earth, providing fresh food for the neighbors, and engaging the community around food and farming. A super important crop at his market is this Clemson Spineless Okra, which he grows in rows in a long bed across the farm.
This variety was an All-American Selection in 1939 and has been the most popular okra in production since. David Shields, known as the "Flavor Saver", is the chair of Slow Food’s Ark of Taste Committee for the American South. He writes: "In 1988 agronomists estimated that 99% of the commercial produce crop of okra in the United States was the smooth skinned, green variety that Clemson released in 1937. If okra is the southern-most vegetable, then Clemson’s Spineless Okra is the most important most iconic regional vegetable of the twentieth century." It originates from a very diverse landrace okra population grown by Thomas Davis in Lancaster, South Carolina. One line was selected by Clemson University first for its spinelessness, and selected towards the traits of the previous most popular okra, Perkin’s long pod, until its traits stabilized.
Originally, okra is likely from West Africa, though some claim Ethiopia or South Asia as the origin. Many report that enslaved Africans hid okra seeds in their hair on the forced journey across the Atlantic. Certainly, this crop is a taste of home for people of the African Diaspora, and consequently, a taste of home for people of the Southern US in general.
Days to maturity: 50-65
Seeds per pack: 50-60
Germination rate: 93% on 12/13/2021
Planting / harvesting notes
Sow seeds of this heat-loving plant indoors 2-3 weeks before transplanting, which should happen several weeks after the last frost, or when soil temperatures stay above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Soak seeds overnight for quicker germination, and plant 3/4" deep. Space 18" in rows 12-18" apart. Beds should be at least 3' apart as plants tend to bush out widely. Okra likes fertile, well-drained soil with added compost.
Seed keeping notes
Okra is insect pollinated. Isolate different okra varieties by at least 1/8th of a mile (or up to 1/2 mile if you are truly concerned about seed purity) to avoid unwanted cross pollination. Allow pods to grow large and turn brown and woody (your neighbors may look at you funny). When you can hear the seeds rattle, harvest the pod and allow it to dry further on trays in the sun in a dry place. Remove seeds and use breath, wind, or fans to remove bits of chaff.