9 secrets to growing okra in your garden
Not everyone may like okra, but they have their own fanatical audience. Okra cultivation is annual and bears fruit during the summer. The okra plant has large leaves like palms and beautiful yellow flowers that have a purple color in the center. Although herbal, the okra blossoms are an impressive sight, as its flowers resemble those of the hibiscus with which, after all, they belong to the same family. Okra is an excellent raw vegetable for oily foods cooked in the pot and in the oven. In addition, they have great nutritional value, as they contain protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, while also having a low calorie content. With proper care, the cultivation of okra gives excellent results in the garden, however for the more adventurous it can be grown in a pot. Let’s see, in detail, how to grow okra and what care is needed to enjoy delicious and tender okra from our garden.
Okra Varieties to Try
Most okra varieties grown today are considered “spineless”. This refers to the actual okra pods being free of the spines and irritating fuzz that covers okra plants.
Clemson Spineless: Probably the most popular okra varieties grown in gardens all over the country. It is fast growing and gives heavy yields. This is a spineless variety.
Annie Oakley II: A hybrid variety that is fast growing and compact- growing about 4.5 feet tall. The spineless pods mature more quickly than many open pollinated varieties.
Burgundy: This open pollinated variety grows red pods on a red stemmed plant. It’s beautiful in and out of the garden- and very tender and mild.
Jung Orange: Another red okra- Jung Orange gives tons of large pods- about 6-8 inches long. They are tender and delicious. Plants grow quite large with lots of pods.
In warm climates with long growing seasons, most okra varieties can reach 6-8 feet tall!
When to Plant Okra
Okra needs warm weather to thrive, so this is one crop you don’t want to be impatient with!
If you are planting your okra seeds directly into the soil, wait about 3-4 weeks after your last frost date before sowing.
Preparing Your Okra Bed
Okra is a very forgiving plant. It can grow quite well in poor soil, but will grow much better if you dig in some rich organic matter.
Like most garden vegetables, be sure your garden bed has good drainage. Okra won’t like sitting in wet soil.
Planting in the same bed as you grow peas is also a great option. The peas will be finishing up just as the okra is ready to go into the ground and the nitrogen fixing from the pea plants will help your okra grow even better.
The most important thing to remember when preparing your okra bed is location. Okra needs full sun- so choose your location wisely.
Growing Okra From Seed to Harvest
Okra is an easy crop to grow from seed- it germinates readily and grows fairly quickly.
I prefer to start my seeds indoors so that I can control the conditions and get a better germination rate.
How to Care for Your Okra
Okra is a very forgiving plant and doesn’t have many care needs. Keep the beds as weed free as possible, especially when the plants are young. Okra is very drought resistant and prefers hot, dry conditions over wet and cool conditions. Water only when needed- during extended dry spells or if the plants are wilting in the afternoon heat. Mulch can help conserve moisture and keep the weeds away.
Pests and Disease Affecting Okra
As I mentioned, okra is a simple and forgiving plant. Which means for the most part you won’t have to deal with any pests or disease.
Cool weather is the biggest enemy and can stress the plants, making them more susceptible to problems. Here are a couple problems you could have growing okra:
- Fusarium wilt
- Stink bugs
- Root Knot Nematodes
- Corn earworms
Crop rotation and organic measures are easy fixes to most common problems.
Companion Plants for Okra
Companion planting can be an effective way to reduce pests and disease in your plants- as well as help you use your garden space more effectively.
Here are some companion plants that do well with okra:
- Lettuce: Growing lettuce at the base of okra plants can benefit both crops. Lettuce helps crowd out weeds while the okra plants provide shade.
- Peas fix nitrogen in the soil and the okra can take over the same space once the peas have finished for the season
- Sunflowers are a trap crop for some pests, planting them at the perimeter of the garden helps to keep the pests away from your prize crops.
When to Harvest Okra
Okra is a fast growing crop that is suitable for short growing seasons or multiple crops per year in longer seasons.
You should start to see flowers within about 6 weeks and the pods will emerge soon after.
The pods should be small and tender- about 3-4 inches long for most varieties.
Pick the pods at least every 2 days to keep the plant producing.
How to Harvest Okra
Unlike many crops, okra needs some special care when it comes to harvesting. Okra plants are covered in tiny, hair-like spines that can cause irritation and itching in some people. Even spineless varieties have spines on their stems.
To harvest okra, wear gloves and a long sleeve shirt if the spines cause a reaction for you. Even if you don’t react to these spines, you will still need a sharp knife, scissors, or pruning shears to cut the pods off the plant.
Preservation and Storage of Okra
Now that you have harvested your okra, then what? Chances are you will have a huge harvest and need to know how to store, use, and preserve all this okra!
How to Store Okra
Okra should be used within a couple days of harvest. Store the pods in plastic bags in the refrigerator until it’s ready to use. Don’t wash the okra first, as moisture can cause molding. Pods will turn black if they are past their prime in the fridge.
How to Preserve Okra
If you need to preserve okra for longer storage, you have a couple options.
Dehydrate it. Dehydrating okra is my favorite way to preserve the crop. Use these directions to dehydrate okra.
Can it. Okra can be canned using a pressure canner for pickled and canned using a water bath canner. Here’s how to pressure can okra and how to pickle okra.
Images via: Pinterest