A corn display at a local fair.Annette McCarthy
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Grow a cook's garden for fresh tastes on your table! Below we highlight okra, corn, and shallots.
Note: This information complements the article “From Seed to Saucepan” by Robin Sweetser from The 2010 Old Farmer’s Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide.
Nothing beats sweet corn fresh from the garden! A member of the grass family, corn is wind-pollinated, so plant it in blocks of at least four rows (not in one or two long, single rows) for the ears to develop properly.
Corn is also a heavy feeder. It requires soil that is enriched with lots of compost and high-nitrogen manure.
- Sow seeds 1 inch deep, 9 to 12 inches apart, in rows 24 to 30 inches apart—but only after soil temperatures are above 60°F; otherwise, the seeds may not germinate.
- Plant three different varieties (early, midseason, and late) to extend the season or stagger the planting of one variety.
- Five or six stalks can be grown in a half–whiskey barrel container.
- Plant a dozen or so bush beans around the base; they capture nitrogen in the air and bring it to the soil.
- Mulch only after the soil warms up fully (65°F).
- Harvest when the silk at the tip of the ear has dried and turned brown and the kernels are full and milky.
A key ingredient in Caribbean, Indian, South American, and West African cuisines, okra pairs well with eggplant, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. The mucilaginous cooked pods thicken stews and gumbo. Sauté them in oil to lessen the sliminess.
Okra likes full sun and hot, humid conditions, making it a perfect plant for southern gardeners.
- Start indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost. (Use peat pots; okra doesn’t like to have its roots disturbed.)
- Transplant when the soil has warmed up to 70°F.
- Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.
- Okra loves heat, so mulch topsoil with black plastic.
- Some plants can grow to be over 6 feet tall and need support.
This plant is quite ornamental; Louis XIV grew it in his garden at Versailles for its pretty, hibiscus-like flowers. Container gardeners should try short varieties, such as ‘Cajun Delight’ or ‘Blondy’, in pots of 5 gallons or more.
Shallots are a mild-flavored member of the onion family whose seeds or sets can be planted in early spring. There are red, yellow, and white varieties. City gardeners can also grow shallots in pots.
- Plant 3 to 5 inches apart in rows 18 to 24 inches apart.
- Harvest at any time during the growing season and use like scallions or let them mature.
- Each bulb will form a clump of about 10 cloves.
- Cure in a dry, dark place. Bulbs can be stored for up to 6 months.
- In warmer climes, try an autumn planting of sets as well.