Okra is in the same family as cotton, hollyhocks and hibiscus. The stunning beauty of the hibiscus like flowers of okra gives this crop the added appeal in the garden as an ornamental. .
Okra pods are usually light green in color but you will find some varieties with different shades of green, creamy white and red. Mature pods of the different varieties can vary in size from a few inches to over a foot in length with plant heights that range from 3 feet (94 cm) to 10 feet (3 m.)
Okra is commonly used in soups and stews. It can also be steamed, boiled, baked, fried, grilled, or pickled.
You have to be quick to admire the stunning flowers of okra. Each flower will unfold, bloom and fad in less than a day, however due to the prolific nature of the okra plant in forming pods the dazzling flower display continues over a long season.
Star of David okra pods. These green, short, stocky pods are best eaten when 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) long, although they will grow much bigger they become very tough and really in-edible.
Burgundy okra. Burgundy okra pods are hard to pick out, from a distance, among the Burgundy foliage around it. They are best picked when 3-6 inches (7-15 cm) long.
Okra is native to hot climates with plenty of sun, they requires at least 8-10 hours of direct sunlight daily. Soil temperature needs to be at least 70 F (21 C), so wait until at least 1-2 weeks after the last average freeze in your area before sowing seed or transplanting seedling.
In warm climates it is possible to start early and harvest right through to the first fall frosts.
Okra grows best in well drained soil with lots of organic matter and a neutral to slightly alkaline soils, pH 6.5-7.5.
Soil temperatures and air temperatures differ greatest in the early spring. While air temperature might be in the range for planting or sowing seed it will take consistently warm temperature during the day and night for the soil temperature to follow suit.
Direct Sow or Seedling Transplant.
Make sure the soil is warm enough when direct seeding okra. Nick the okra seeds and soak overnight in water to encourage germination. Plant seeds 3/4 inch deep in moist, prepared soil.
Direct sowing is preferable although in cooler climates seedling transplants will help to lengthen the growing season.
The most important aspects of caring for okra are;
Direct sowing okra seeds - 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) apart in rows 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) apart
Thin or transplant seedlings to 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) apart in rows 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) apart
While Okra is drought tolerant plants are much more productive with consistent moisture throughout the growing season. Achieve this and suppress weeds with a good thick mulch.
2 week before sowing or transplanting apply 3-4 quarts per 100 sq feet (3.3-4.4 liters per 9.3 square meters) of All-Purpose 5-5-5 Organic Fertilizer. Side dress using the same rate every 6-8 weeks until 4 weeks before expected 1st fall frost.
Okra is very susceptible to damage from nematodes. To prevent a build-up of nematode populations okra should not follow other crops that are highly susceptible to nematodes such as squash and sweet-potatoes.
Corn earworm, Japanese beetle, Aphids, flea beetles, Blister beetles, Leaf-footed bugs, Stink bugs, European corn borer, Vegetable leafminer
Fusarium Wilt, Root Knot Nematode, Leaf Spot, Blossom and Fruit Blight, Seedling Disease, Virus, Cotton Root Rot, Charcoal Rot, and Southern Blight.
Okra matures very quickly and need to be harvested while it is still young and tender. During the peak of the growing season daily picking is advised as the pods quickly become overly ripe.
Okra plants, similar to tomatoes, if properly cared for will continue to grow and produce fruit until it is killed by frost.
Okra matures in 50-60 days depending on variety. Okra pods are usually ready to harvest 4-7 days after the flower opens.
To reduce damage to plants while harvesting use garden shears to remove pods. Cut the pods while they are young and tender, for most varieties that is approximately 2-4 inches long.
Okra is best eaten just after it is picked but it can be stored for several days. Wash and dry okra thoroughly before storing Okra at 45°-50° with a relative humidity of 90-95 percent, it will keep for 7-10 days under these conditions.
Okra does not freeze well but is excellent for canning.
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