Syn Hibiscus esculentus
Introduction: This relative of cotton is often said to be native to Africa because of its popularity and the diversity of types grown there. However it may also have originated in southern Asia as it is widely used there too. It isn’t found as a wild plant anywhere.
Nutritional content: Okra contains vitamin A, folate, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and around 140 calories per pound. The seeds are rich in protein and edible oil.
Ease of growing: Okra is a fairly easy plant to grow if it has a warm climate. If it is too cool it will only grow slowly and won’t be very productive.
Climate: Okra is a true tropical plant and likes long warm days and warm nights. This is why it is most popular in the southeastern states. In my garden the days are warm enough, but the nights are too cool for it to be really happy.
pH 6.0 to 8.0
Okra is a vigorous and fairly greedy plant, so the soil should be rich in all nutrients. It should also be well-drained and have a fairly neutral pH (it doesn’t like acid soil).
Soil preparation: Add organic matter in the form of 2˝ of compost or aged manure. You might also add wood ashes to supply potassium and colloidal phosphate for phosphorus.
| About Okra |
Germ temp: 60 (70 – 95) 105°F
Germination time: 5 – 10 days
27 days / 59°F
17 days / 68°F
13 days / 77°F
7 days / 86°F * Optimum
6 days / 95°F
Seed viability: 4 – 5 years
Germination percentage: 50%+
Weeks to grow transplant: 5 – 7
Growing temp: 65 (70 – 85) 95°F
Plants per person: 3
Plants per sq ft: 1
Start: 2 – 3 weeks before last frost
Plant out: 4 weeks after last frost
Direct sow: 4 weeks after last frost
Days to harvest: 100 – 130 days
Height: 3 – 10 ft
Width: 12 – 36˝
Harvest period: 6 – 10 weeks
Yield per plant: 8 oz
Yield per sq ft: 8 oz
Where: Okra can get quite tall, so make sure it doesn’t shade other crops. Most varieties only get to 4 or 5 feet, though some can reach 10 feet or more. The flowers and leaves are quite attractive, so it doesn’t look out of place in the ornamental garden.
Because okra is planted so late, it can often go into the space previously occupied by an early crop, such as peas or fava beans.
When: This tropical plant thrives in heat and can’t stand any cold whatsoever. It shouldn’t be planted until all frost danger is past and the soil has warmed up to at least 60°F. If the growing season is short, you might use cloches or black plastic to warm the soil.
Sowing: Okra is easily raised from seed and grows quickly in good conditions. Some people soak the seed overnight before planting to speed germination in dry soil.
Starting inside: If your growing season is short you should start okra inside to save time. It doesn’t like root disturbance, so plant it in cell packs or soil blocks. Start the seed 2 – 3 weeks before the last frost date and plant out about a month later.
Direct sowing: In areas with a long growing seasons, okra is often direct sown. The soil should be warm before you plant (60°F minimum), as the seed will simply rot if planted in cold soil. Plant the seeds ½˝ deep in heavy (or cool) soil, or 1˝ deep in light (or warm) soil. Space the seeds 4 – 6˝ apart, to be thinned to the desired spacing later.
Beds: Space the plants 12 – 18˝ apart, depending upon the size of the variety.
Rows: Plan on spacing the plants 12 – 18˝ apart (depending on the size of the variety), in rows 2 – 6 ft apart. Two rows work well in an average garden bed.
Water: Okra must be kept well watered at all times if it to produce well. This is especially important in very hot weather.
Weeds: The young plants should be kept free of weeds. Older ones can look after themselves, especially if mulched.
Fertilization: Okra is a fairly hungry plant. If the soil isn’t very rich, give it a liquid feed of compost tea, or liquid kelp every 2 – 3 weeks. It especially likes nitrogen.
Mulch: Once the soil is warm apply 3˝ of mulch to keep the soil moist and keep down weeds.
Pruning: If the plants get too big, you can cut them down a bit. They will usually respond with vigorous new growth and start producing again.
Pests: In a warm climate okra may be attacked by aphids, leafminers, nematodes, stinkbugs and some caterpillars. Pests are less problematic when it is growing in cooler areas.
Diseases: Commonest diseases include southern blight, fusarium wilt and various molds and fungi.
When: The flowers should appear about 60 days after planting, but cold weather, or lack of moisture, may cause them to drop off without being pollinated. The pods are ready about 5 days after the flowers are successfully pollinated. They are at their best while they are soft and small (2 – 3˝ long) and snap easily. As they get bigger than this, they can start to get tough and are not so good.
Caution: Okra plants are covered in tiny spines and may cause skin irritation in some people.
How: The plants grow fast in warm weather and can produce a lot of pods. Pick the new pods conscientiously every day or two, as the more you pick, the more you get. If any pods mature on the plant, they may cause it to stop producing. Use them as soon as possible after harvest, as their flavor deteriorates quickly.
Seed: If the pods get over mature, you can always shell out the soft green seeds and use them like peas.
The dry seeds are rich in high quality protein and it has been suggested that they could be more valuable for their seeds than for the pods,
Storage: Fresh okra pods should be used within a day or two, as they deteriorate quickly. The simplest way to store them for any length of time is to freeze them.
The pods can also be dried for storage, though their flavor will be quite different from that of fresh plants (but still quite good).
Seed saving: Okra will self-pollinate if no other plants are growing nearby. However the flowers are very attractive to bees and if any other okra is growing nearby they will probably be cross-pollinated. For this reason you should only grow one variety at a time, or you must isolate the plants. The best way to do this is by bagging, which means covering the flower with a small muslin bag (you could also make bags from old panty hose) to prevent any pollinating insects getting to it.
The whole process from flower to fully ripe seed takes about 5 weeks and may cause the plants to stop producing new pods. Some people forget about further food production about 6 weeks before the first fall frost date and allow their plants to start producing ripe seed.
To ensure genetic variability you should save the seed from at least 5 of your best plants.
The dry pods can be even more irritating than the green pods, so wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting. Separate the seeds from the pods carefully and dry thoroughly before storage.
Unusual growing ideas:
Ornamental: Okra is attractive enough for the ornamental garden, and works well as an edible ornamental.
Some of the old varieties were as much as 12 feet in height, but modern varieties tend to be much more compact. There are quite a few varieties out there, but most of them are quite hard to find (Southern Exposure Seed exchange is a good place to look).
Clemson Spineless – The commonest variety.
Cowhorn Okra – Has long pods with great flavor.
Hill Country Heirloom Red – An attractive variety with red pods.
Louisiana Green Velvet – A vigorous plant with smooth pods.
Perkins Mammoth – Can get very big. Not easy to find.
Red Burgundy – Has red pods.
Star of David – Unusual flavor.
Okra is related to the mallows and has the same mucilaginous (slimy) quality that some people object to. You can minimize their sliminess by cooking them in a way that doesn’t involve water
Okra is most popular in the southeastern states, where a traditional dish is fried okra.
| Fried Okra |
1 lb okra pods
1 cup cornmeal
2 tbsp water
2 dashes hot sauce
Wash and trim the okra and cut into ½˝ slices. Beat the egg and water in
bowl, then add the okra, hot sauce and cornmeal. Roll around to coat all
pieces and then sauté in a pan slowly so the okra dries out in cooking. If
you want to make it more authentic it was traditionally deep fried.