Try Growing Okra for an Easy Bumper Harvest
Growing okra is straightforward, but cooking and eating it can be tricky. It’s an enormously prolific plant with pods that must be picked and used at precisely the right time. Just 3-4 plants will keep your whole family stuffed. So, don’t plant it unless you have a nice stack of recipes ready and waiting. Fried okra is a time-honored staple of Southern cuisine. But many other cultures including Japan and India add their own twist to this nutritious pod. Experimentation is your friend!
This tends to be a veggie that people say they either love or hate. However, a lot of folks just haven’t had really fresh okra that’s properly prepared and end up being amazed at how good it can taste. Most species of okra will start producing in about 60 days from seed planting. This means you won’t have to wait long to find out if this is a veggie you like.
Growing okra is simple because it’s not picky. This plant will tolerate almost any garden soil. The pH can be anywhere between 6.0 and 8.0 for good results. That means it doesn’t matter whether you have acidic or alkaline soil – although it may prefer slightly acidic conditions. As long as you get enough heat during the summer months and the soil contains adequate moisture, your chances of producing a decent crop are high. Well drained soil with plenty of organic material is recommended for best results. Don’t use additional fertilizer since excess nitrogen will cause okra to produce more leafy material and far fewer pods.
Planting & Care
The key to successful okra seed germination is waiting until the soil has warmed up thoroughly. To promote faster germination, soak the seeds in water overnight before planting. Sow seeds directly in your garden bed at least a couple of weeks after any danger of spring frost has passed. You may want to grow and harvest your early spring crops (like snow peas) first and put off growing okra until late May in warmer zones.
Plant okra seeds about 1 inch deep and spaced at least 4 to 6 inches apart. Thin the plants out later to between 15 and 24 inches apart. Rows should be about 3 feet apart (don’t plant multiple rows unless you plan to give a lot of your harvest away!) Depending on the species, these plants can grow anywhere from 3-6 feet tall. Keep this height in mind when considering okra placement in your garden so you don’t shade out other plants.
Okra is a warm zone plant that needs full sun. Optimal growing temperatures are between 72 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Quality pod production only occurs during very warm or hot months.
Although okra can be grown in some northern states in the U.S., the growing season will be limited. Okra can be damaged by prolonged temperatures below 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Frost will kill the plants.
No pruning is necessary; but you can clip old, non-productive offshoots to prevent the plant from becoming too dense. Okra develops a strong woody stem. Staking the plants is usually not required. You will only need to water your growing okra a couple of times a week during the driest months. Basically, you just sow the seeds and leave them alone until it’s time to harvest. This plant literally grows like a weed.
Harvest time is when you really have to pay attention when you are growing okra. The pods of newer hybrids need to grow about 4-5 inches and no more. Once they get much longer, the pods become too tough to eat. Many species are typically harvested when the immature pods are only 2-3 inches. Cow Horn okra pods are an exception. They can grow between 7 and 9 inches before getting tough.
Once the pods start forming, they can grow more than an inch per day. That means you must pick some almost every day during the harvest period. Because the stems are woody, the pod should be clipped off with pruning shears. This limits damage to the rest of the plant from yanking and twisting. Use fresh okra within 48 hours if possible (don’t wash it until right before you cook it or it will go moldy). You can blanch and freeze okra or pickle it for later consumption.
Image courtesy of CC license by Flickr user Banjos9090