All-American Vegetables

Bill Sidnam, who lives in Orange County, tends an extensive vegetable plot.

Athletes are not the only ones whose outstanding performances are awarded special recognition every year: Even certain plants get their due. All-America Selections is a nonprofit horticultural organization that has been testing and evaluating new vegetable and flower varieties since 1933. Each year, it names a select few vegetables and flowers All-America Selections Winners.

In the vegetable category for 1986, there are two winners. One is a marvelous new white sweet corn called 'How Sweet It Is.' A century ago, white sweet corn was considered the only type of fresh corn fit for human consumption. In recent years, it has made a comeback with fanciers who claim that it is more tender and flavorful than its yellow counterpart. 'How Sweet It Is' is a breakthrough in corn development, as it contains two to three times more sugar than other white corn varieties. It also retains its sweetness longer after reaching the harvest stage.

The other 1986 AAS vegetable is an okra variety named 'Blondy,' due to the creamy lime color of its pods. Okra is both an ornamental and an edible plant. A member of the hibiscus family, it has pale-yellow flowers with centers of vivid maroon that rival the orchid in beauty. With the increasing popularity of Creole cuisine, okra, a Southern staple, is a good bet for cooks. And it is low in calories, high in fiber and contains considerable quantities of potassium and vitamins B-1, B-2 and C.

'Blondy' is an ideal okra for the milder areas of Southern California because it requires less heat than other varieties. It also has a compact plant habit and will fit in smaller gardens.

Corn and okra are both warm-season crops, and now is the time to plant them. Seeds may be available in local nurseries, or they can be ordered through seed catalogues. The W. Atlee Burpee Co. (300 Park Ave., Warminster, Pa. 18991) carries 'How Sweet It Is' seeds, and 'Blondy' can be ordered from the Twilley Seed Co. (P.O. Box 65, Trevose, Pa. 19047). For both vegetables, select a sunny area of your garden, and spade and enrich the soil with generous helpings of organic materials such as compost, peat moss or well-aged manure. Add a general-purpose vegetable fertilizer. Water thoroughly, and let the soil settle for two days.

For planting depth, spacing and thinning, follow the instructions on the seed packets. Both corn and okra are thirsty and require once-a-week watering. 'How Sweet It Is'--or any corn--should be planted in blocks of at least four rows, side by side, to ensure proper pollination. Corn is wind-pollinated, so never plant a single row only; doing so can lead to ears of corn without full sets of kernels. To make sure 'How Sweet It Is' retains its sweetness, do not grow it near other varieties of corn.

A word of caution about okra. The plants are covered with short spines that cause allergic reactions in some people. It is a good idea to wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting it. Never pick it while the plants are wet, because the spines stand out from the plant when moist.

'How Sweet It Is' corn usually produces two ears per stalk. A 10-foot row of 'Blondy' okra yields about three pounds of pods per week.

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