How to grow okra?

okra plant

Okra also known as gumbo, is mostly grown in the southern United States but other states also grow and enjoy its taste. Okra is a warm weather annual and is related to hibiscus, hollyhock, and cotton. Okra is used in shellfish, corn, onion and tomato dishes. When cooked, okra’s liquid commonly is gumbo’s thickening agent.

Growing okra

Prior to planting, soaking okra seeds in water for 12 hours does help soften its hard seed coat and speeds up germination. Plant okra in the spring or early summer once the threat of frost has passed. To prevent the seeds from rotting, the soil should have warmed to at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Gardeners in cooler regions may want to start okra seeds indoors in pots four to six weeks before the regions final frost date.

Okra thrives in the full, hot sun. Okra can grow from 3 to 6 feet tall. Sow the seeds one inch deep in rows that are three feet apart. The seeds generally germinate in 2-10 days. Okra will grow in many soil types. Once the plants start to grow, thin them so they are spaced 12 to 18 inches apart.Regular watering is needed and is particularly critical during flowering and pod development. Okra is susceptible to wilt, root knot nematode and Southern stem blight. Okra does attract various beetles and worms. Watch regularly for infestations and treat appropriately.

Harvesting okra

Okra reaches maturity in 50 to 65 days. The plants can produce for ten to 12 weeks. It grows and bears seed pods until frost, which quickly turns them black and kills them.

Start harvesting a few days after the okra blooms fade. At that point, the seed pods should be soft and two to three inches long. Pick the pods at least every other day, as they quickly turn from tender to tough the bigger they grow. Handle okra gently. The pods bruise easily.

Remove old seed pods so they do not inhibit new pods from developing. For maximum yield, prune older limbs beneath the already harvested pods.

All okra varieties have spines, so wear gloves when picking the pods. The spineless varieties have fewer spines on the pods themselves, but spines on other parts of the plant make wearing gloves and long sleeves a good idea.

Storing and using okra

Do not wash okra. Wet pods become slimy and mold quickly. Refrigerate dry okra in perforated plastic bags. Use within a few days before the pods’ ridges and tips start to turn dark.

Because of the long growing season and hearty production, four or five plants usually produce enough okra for most families. More plants may be needed, though, to can or freeze okra for use during the winter.

While old seed pods cannot be eaten, they are perfect for dried flower arrangements.

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