Growing and Enjoying Okra
Okra, also known by its fans as Lady Finger, is a kitchen garden essential for us Texans and is served all over the world. This tasty and beautiful plant will grow around three to five feet tall and will furnish gorgeous hibiscus like flowers and delicious seed pods all summer long. This guide includes descriptions of the types of okra that perform best in North Texas climate, how to organically grow okra, and how to harvest okra pods at the right time.
Okra has historically been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Originally adored by the Egyptians, it’s now used in many dishes like the renowned gumbos and stews. Most of the health benefits of okra are due to its mineral, vitamin, and organic contents. Okra has a high vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate content. It is also known for harnessing a high-quality fiber. These contents help with digestion, stabilize blood sugar, strengthen immunity and eyesight, and improve skincare.
Varieties of Okra
There are many types of okra but the most popular varieties we sell at Marshall Grain are Clemson Spineless, Emerald, and Louisiana Long Pod.
Clemson Spineless okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) yields dark green edible pods that can be used as a pickled vegetable or an ingredient in culinary dishes. This type of okra allows gardeners to touch it without any resulting irritation, because its leaves and stems are spine-free.
Emerald okra ( Abelmoschus esculentus) was developed by Campbell Soup Company in the 1950’s. It produces dark green, round, and smooth velvety pods that stay tender. When cut into cross sections, they resemble perfect round little wagon wheels. This okra is also spine free.
Louisiana Long Pod. This type of okra is a large, branching plant that produces huge yields of truly giant pods. The pods can get up to 16 inches long!
When to Plant Okra
Like most of our warm season vegetables, for the greatest yields, plant your okra in the spring season two to three weeks after all danger of frost has passed. For best spring planting results, plant between March 31 and April 28. Okra can also be grown in the fall.. For fall planting, plant before the first fall frost. The best dates are July 15 – August 15. Marshall Grain’s Vegetable Planting Calendar can help you determine the best growing dates.
The key ingredient in growing okra is SUN. Okra needs full sun. If this plant doesn’t get maximum light exposure while growing you will have poor quality okra. Okra grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. You can plant two to three seeds in one hole. Dig a hole about a half inch deep for each plant. Measure about 6 inches away from the first hole and plant another two to three seeds. Repeat this for as many okra plants as you want to grow. If you are planting okra in a raised bed, the okra plants should be about 12 to 18 inches apart, and the raised bed needs to be at least 12 inches deep. Okra grows a long taproot that needs sufficient depth to grow.
Tip: When starting your okra from seed, first soak it over night in a dilution of Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed. Seaweed is a natural root stimulator and will speed up seed germination.
Root Development Vs. Top Growth
It is important when planting okra that you not only focus on top growth but also on root development. Without root development the plant will be too weak for our Texas summers. Plants need roots that are firmly established to be able to grow strong and give top growth a good foundation.
Tip: When transplanting, always move plants from wet soil to wet soil to prevent transplant shock. We recommend that you use our Marshall Grain Organic Planting Recipe, which blends soft rock phosphate and earthworm castings into your planting hole, followed by watering in with a solution of Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed. This combination of organic root stimulating ingredients will help jump start your plants.
Care and Maintenance
Okra will do fairly well under dry conditions. Water the plants every 7 to 10 days for the maximum yield. Sandy soils will need water more often than clay soils. To keep your plants from wilting quickly, place around 3 inches of mulch on all sides of the plants once they get established. This will keep the soil moist and keep the weeds down. Fertilize about every three weeks with one of our recommended vegetable plant foods, such as Fox Farm’s Tomato & Vegetable food or Espoma Tomato-Tone.
Cultivate around the okra plants to remove weeds and grass. To avoid damaging the okra roots, pull weeds close to the plants by hand. After the first harvest, apply 1 cup of garden fertilizer for each 10 feet of row.
Scatter the fertilizer evenly between the rows. Mix it lightly with the soil. Water the plants after fertilizing.
Pests and Diseases
Okra plays host to a few common pests, including Tomato Hornworms, Aphids, Flea Beetles and Green Stinkbugs. Tomato Hornworms are 1 1/2-inch-long caterpillars that feed on several different plants. Flea Beetles are small, flealike beetles and are shiny bronze, green or black. Aphids are small insects that are either yellow, green, blue, black, brown or pink. Green Stinkbugs have five-sided, shield-shaped bodies. Aphids and Stinkbugs suck the sap from okra, while Tomato Hornworms eat the fruit and leaves and Flea Beetles chew small holes in the leaves. Most can be treated with Neem oil (Use care not to spray the bees!), Thuricide (Bacillus thuringiensis, or simply “Bt”) is a good option if you have Tomato Hornworms or other caterpillar problems. You can also use a more general purpose organic insecticide such as Triple Action, which combines Neem oil and Pyrethrin.
The first harvest will produce large flowers about two months after planting. The okra pods will be ready to pick three to four days later. Harvest the okra when they are 3 to 4 inches long. If the okra gets too big, it will be rough and stringy. Harvest okra every one to two days. Okra can be stored for three to five days in the refrigerator. To store okra, put the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer to enjoy in your winter recipes.
Here are links to some amazing okra recipes.
Okra and Tomatoes
Southern Fried Okra Recipe
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