Now we are getting to a Southern favorite…. growing Okra. Many people do not care much for okra, because of the sliminess of the okra pods. Well, those folks do not know what they are missing!
Okra (sometimes referred to as “Gumbo” or “Ladies Fingers”) has long been a favorite vegetable of mine, and my garden would not be complete without it. My favorite cultivars of okra are:
‘Clemson Spineless’, ‘Cajun Delight’, and ‘Emerald’
There are many other cultivars of okra for vegetable gardeners in the northern, cooler areas, like ‘North & South‘.
Compact ‘Baby Bubba’ is great for container gardening.
There are even some wine colored okra called ‘Burgundy‘, if you are interested in something unique and different.
It is a wise choice in soups and stews, but okra is also delicious just lightly breaded and fried.
How to Plant Okra
Direct-seed ½” deep after danger of frost is past and soil temperature is at least 60° F. Seeds will germinate in 1-2 weeks.
Plant transplants 1-2’ apart in rows 2’ apart in fertile, loamy, neutral or slightly alkaline soil after the ground has been above 60° F for at least two weeks.
Okra does best if the soil dries between waterings; it can tolerate short periods of drought but will not thrive in wet conditions. Transplants are sun-sensitive; keep the roots moist until the plants are established.
Care of Okra
Okra is a member of the mallow family; related to hibiscus and hollyhock. It has large pale yellow flowers, that attract pollinators.
The plant has big, broad leaves that provide nice shade to the soil below, so mulch is not usually needed. Although, I still do mulch around the okra plants, just not as thickly as other garden plants.
Low-growing, shade-tolerant herbs such as summer savory can be grown between the rows of okra. This really helps to save space in the garden.
You may want to wear gloves when handling okra plants as they can irritate the skin.
How to Harvest Okra
Pods can be ready to pick fairly quickly after flowering, so be sure to check them frequently.
Okra is mature in about 55-60 days.
They can quickly become tough, so harvest frequently from the plant when the pods reach 3-5” long, depending on the variety. Use sharp garden shears and cut the pods away from the plant; about ¼” or so below the okra pod base.
Do not try to pull the pods off as most times you could damage the plant branch. Harvesting the pods frequently will induce more production from your plants. For more information on harvesting okra, please read How To Pick Okra.
Keep those pods harvested, and your okra plants will keep producing the whole summer!
Store unwashed pods in the refrigerator for use within a few days. Pressure-can, blanch, or freeze okra for longer storage. Store away from fruits and vegetables that give off ethylene gas.
Dried okra pods can be used in dried flower arrangements or even wreaths. Okra is related to cotton; its long stem fibers can be used to make paper and rope. Oil extracted from the seeds is often used in cooking in Mediterranean countries.
Pests and Diseases of Okra
Green stinkbugs, Japanese beetles, and leaf miners may feed on the leaves but generally are not a serious problem. Severely curled pods and pods with warty bumps indicate earlier feeding by stinkbugs or leaf-footed bugs.
When okra plants are very young and low to the ground, be on the lookout for garden slugs, as they will feed on the tender leaves of the plant at night. A gang of slugs can decimate a whole crop of okra in one or two nights.
Uses For Okra
There are many ways you can prepare okra. The pods are very high in calcium and fiber. As I mentioned earlier you can put okra in soups and stews. Okra can also be fried, sauteed, boiled, dried, pickled or steamed.
The most popular use for okra is put into gumbo. As you can see, the okra is a very versatile vegetable to have in the vegetable garden.