Saturday, July 8, 2017

Growing and harvesting okra

Early July garden with okra and zinnias in the background, chard in the foreground
Saturday, July 8, 2017

Growing okra in the garden is a Southern tradition.  Okra is easy to grown and looks pretty cool, too.  The flowers are reminiscent of hibiscus flowers.  It is a tropical perennial but grown as an annual in zones further north.  They love the heat and are doing great in our Zone 7 garden this year.  

There is much debate about the origins of okra.  Ethiopia, West Africa and Southeast Asia all claim ownership its origin.  Wherever it originated, it came through Egypt to Ethiopia to Arabia and on to the Mediterranean region as far back as the 1100's.  It came to the Americas in the 1600's, landing in North America in the early 1700's.  

Okra is a good source of manganese, magnesium, fiber and vitamins C, K, thiamin, B6 and folate.  okra nutritional info

 This year, I am growing 2 varieties of okra, Red Burgundy and Candle Fire.  I started harvesting from both this past week.  Guess they are like tomatoes, can expect fruits around the 4th of July.  They will produce until frost.  I am getting several off each plant.  You don't need many plants with this long of a season!
Okra flower

Like all veggies, harvesting them keeps them producing more for you.  For okra, you want to harvest them when tender.  They get hard and fibrous quickly so if in doubt, pick them.  I read to harvest them between 2-4" in length.  For the green podded variety, this may be correct.  On the red pods, I have harvesting pods that are 6" long and they are nice and tender.  Typically, you can pick 4-6 days after the flower dies and the pod emerges.  Use a knife to cut the stem of the pod.  Some okra plants have spines.  If yours does, wear gloves when handling them; the spines can cause irritation.
Dwarf okra plant in foreground

They are even tasty eating right off the plant raw.  To preserve them, I am chopping them into slices and putting into freezer bags.

Okra is a key ingredient in gumbo.  It can be used as a thickener in any recipe.

For growing, I started mine from seed then transplanted after all danger of frost had passed, giving 2 feet between plants.  They can also be started directly in the garden or in a pot.  Plants are available at many big box stores or nurseries.  I fertilized with a natural fertilizer and also added Azomite for minerals 10 days after planting.  I fertilized again last month.  I will fertilize monthly while they are producing.  You can buy natural fertilizer or make your own from just a few ingredients.  I either make my own or use Espoma Garden-Tone, Tomato-Tone or Plant-Tone.  Make your own fertilizer, it's all natural and inexpensive

Okra needs about an inch of water each week.  If you are not getting rain, be sure to do a deep watering each week.  If growing dwarf varieties in a pot without a water reservoir, you will likely need to water twice a week.  With a reservoir, weekly will likely be sufficient.  Summer garden tips

Baby red okras
So far, there have been no real pests although aphids, stink bugs and corn earworms are known to like them and they can succumb to fusarium wilt.  I have planted the dwarf varieties and they are about 2-3' tall.  The regular types can grow to 6.5' tall.  

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