Still looking for that summer-grown vegetable that can tolerate our heat and humidity as well as be tasty? Take another look at okra.
Okra is a Southern staple in the home garden and at the dinner table and can be grown throughout our area. It is considered a warm season vegetable and is a member of the Mallow family, which includes plants such as cotton and hibiscus. This vegetable is both easy and fun to grow and can be used in many different culinary dishes and for dried flower arrangements.
Okra prefers well-drained, sandy soils that are high in organic matter, but it can be grown in a wide variety of soils. Okra can tolerate a pH range from 5.8 to 6.8. Okra does best when planted in a full sun area. Align the rows in an east/west direction to capture maximum sunlight. Only plant when soils have warmed up to at least 65 degrees F at a 4-inch depth. At this time of the year, we have certainly reached optimum growing conditions.
Okra can be established by sowing seeds directly into the garden. To enhance germination, soak okra seeds in water for several hours or overnight before sowing. Space rows 3-feet apart; sow seeds 1-inch deep and 4- to 6-inches apart within the row. When seedlings are several inches tall, thin the row so the remaining plants are spaced 1.5- to 2-feet apart.
Without a soil test, a general fertilizer recommendation is to apply 2 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet and make two side-dressings of 3 ounces of 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row, beginning when plants are 6- to 8-inches tall and again two to three weeks later. Additional side-dressing may be needed if heavy rains occur. Do not over-use nitrogen, since it can cause excessive vegetative growth with poor yield.
Okra will do fairly well under dry conditions. However, if you water the plants every 7 to 10 days, the yield will be higher. Sandy soils will need water more often than clay soils.
Okra plants will produce large flowers about 2 months after planting. The okra pods will be ready to pick 3 to 4 days later.
From seed to harvest is about 60 to 70 days, when pods are 2- to 3-inches long. At this stage the pods are still tender. Larger okra pods will become too tough and fibrous. Round-podded okra varieties remain tender at larger pod sizes and are good to use for slicing and freezing.
Okra grows very fast; therefore, it must be harvested every few days. Do not allow pods to mature on the plant because this will slow production and cause tough, fibrous pods.
The optimum conditions for storing okra are a moist environment and temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees F. Okra can be stored in the refrigerator for about five days.
Some varieties to consider are Burgundy, Cajun Delight, Clemson Spineless, Annie Oakley, Emerald, Green Best, Lee, Louisiana Green, and, an heirloom variety, Stewart’s Zeebest.
Okra seed is easily saved for next season by leaving some of the last pods on the plant until they get very large. Remove them and allow them to dry. The seeds will shell easily from the pods.