Okra, The Good Ole Deep South Vegetable
The southern staple, okra, is also called lady’s fingers or gumbo.
It is in the same family as hibiscus and cotton…with flowers that are a beautiful hibiscus-like shape and color.
Even though this southern warm-weather loving plant may have originated in Africa or Asia, gardeners north of the Mason-Dixon line, experiencing average temperature increases, are becoming more and more interested in growing it in their backyard plots. Okra can basically grow in any climate where corn grows successfully.
How Can We Eat It?
Okra pods are eaten raw, cooked, pickled, or as a salad addition. There are okra recipes preparing it as fried, oven-roasted, and either a stew or gumbo ingredient. The leaves can be used in a salad and the seeds can be roasted and ground to create a caffeine-free coffee substitute.
Believe it or not, okra has also been found suitable for use as a biofuel!
Is Okra Really All That Healthy?
These low-calorie, fiber-rich spears are high in vitamins A, B, C and K, calcium, folic acid, magnesium, and a host of other goodies.
Research suggests that okra helps to manage blood sugar in various forms of diabetes. Using roasted okra seeds have been used in Turkey for a long time as a diabetes treatment.
There are unproven beliefs that okra can lower stress, lower cholesterol, and fight fatigue, contributing to a more active everyday life. You can exercise more with less fatigue. Thereby increasing cardiovascular activity and maintain a healthy heart.
Okra In The Backyard Garden
Growing okra plants is easy…once they are established but, the trick is to keep them surviving until that they are growing well.
My two favorite varieties are:
- Baby Bubba Hybrid – 3 to 4 feet tall, 2-3 inch pods, 53 days to maturity. I grew this one last year.
- Clemson Spineless Okra – 3 to 4 feet tall, 2-3 inch pods, 56 days to maturity. I am growing this one now.
Other varieties include:
Ladies and gentlemen! It’s time for the main event – how to grow okra!
Many gardening enthusiasts plant these seeds directly into the ground after soaking them in water overnight.
Okra likes to be in the sun as much as possible…in well-drained soil…with an inch to inch-and-a-half of water per week.
I had my soil tested this year, enhancing my soil based on the recommendations so, I use a 50/50 mixture of dirt and potting soil, along with a few tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer when I plant seeds or seedlings.
Plant seeds directly every 4 to 6 inches in the row and, after the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall, thin out the weak ones so that the strong plants are spaced a minimum of 12 inches apart. Cover with about 1/2 inch of the 50/50 dirt/potting soil/fertilizer mixture and wet down the planting area thoroughly.
Plant seedlings…after the germination, transplanting, hardening sequence…at least a foot apart in the row. Use the same 50/50 dirt/potting soil/fertilizer mixture to fill in around the biodegradable containers after placing them in a hole about twice their size and water each plant well.
NOTE: Be gentle. Okra roots are very sensitive and easily damaged.
Now, pray to the rain gods. Hopefully, they’ll hear you and you won’t have to get out the garden hose to complement Mother Nature.
After the plants are 4 to 6 inches high, consider using soaker hoses and mulching around them. Watering the okra with a soaker hose helps the leaves stay drier. Thus, the plants are healthier. And, the mulching will control the weeds and keep the soil cool and moist longer.
Even though okra can handle occasional dry periods, it is essential that they have moisture during the flowering and pod development stages.
Side dress with 10-10-10 fertilizer every couple of weeks, then switch to a high potassium fertilizer such as 0-0-60 during the flowering phase.
In the beginning, okra will grow at a snail’s pace. But, as the summer heats up, their growth will speed up.
Do I Prune Them?
I want to remove, flowers, pods and leaves that are dead or diseased. I will also remove monstrously large pods that are beyond edible. And, I will use either sharp scissors or garden shears like these Gonicc 8″ Pruning Shears.
Other than that, just let them grow and be free in the garden.
Time To Eat Okra
A few days after flowering, the pods will grow.
When the pods are about 3 inches long, they are ready to pick. Okra pods grow very fast. Tiny pods today will be ready to pick tomorrow…or the next day at the latest. If you wait much longer, they will be too big, tough, woody, and stringy…and, only good for flower arrangements.
If I find pods that are too big to eat, I cut them off and throw them out of the garden area. The plant does NOT need to concentrate on growing monstrously large pods and bigger…I want them to spend their energies on producing new, tender young pods.
Okra can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week and still maintain freshness.
Pests and Diseases
Cool weather can bring several diseases to stressed okra plants…among them are verticillium and fusarium wilts. If the plant shows signs of these diseases, it is time to get out a fungicide made to counteract them.
A few plants that repel okra-loving pests:
- Ants – Artemisias, Catnip…,
- Aphids – Catnip, Chives…,
- Corn earworms – Thyme, Geraniums…,
- Flea beetles – Catnip, Peppermint, Rue…,
- Japanese beetles – Catnip, Four O’clocks (will attract and then poison them), Wild Rose…,
- Root knot nematodes – Chrysanthemums, dahlias, French Marigold…,
Here is some more information on companion plants that repel garden pests.
I use companion planting as much as possible. It’s healthier for my family and for the plants. I only use pesticides as a very last resort! For an interesting companion planting method that is well over 700 years old, check out The Three Sisters.
NOTE: I discourage the return of okra pests each year, by rotating my crops and not growing okra in the same spot every year. Would you like more information on my crop rotation technique?
Since I am having Okra pudding for dessert, should I assume that I am being rewarded for a job well done?
Well…there aren’t a whole lot of Okra jokes out there, you know?
Where do you stand on okra? Are you with it? Or, are you against it? Tell me in the comments section or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim, the Life Long Gardener