Okra is a warm-weather crop and it’s becoming increasingly popular in many gardens. Gardeners have shown that not only does it produce great vegetables, but it also has beautiful flowers throughout the growing season. As you continue further into this post, you’ll discover more about how to grow okra, harvest, and store them. Continuing to the end, you’ll also learn about its great benefits.
They have a strong resemblance to the hibiscus flower. After all, okra is a member of the hibiscus family.
Okra is stacked with benefits that make them worth growing and adding to our meals. They’re also called “ladies’ fingers” and are often added to soups and salads. If you wish to get creative, okras can be grilled, roasted, and sauteed to make presentable and delicious dishes.
If you live in a climate where there is scorching hot sun during the summer months, then you’ll have no problem learning to grow okra from the seeds. When other crops grapple with the heat, okras will salute the sun. The soil you’ll be using needs to be properly drained, fertile, and with a pH that’s at least 6.5 to 7.0. Before planting your seed or seedling, mix compost or manure into the soil 2 weeks prior.
How to Grow Okra from the Seeds or Seedling
- You can use the seeds to start but seedlings will save you a whole 3 weeks of the growing process. It is okay to sow the seeds immediately after removing them from the packet, but their shells are hard. Soaking them in water before planting will improve the seeds’ germination rate. You can add them to a glass of tepid water overnight or for a few hours.
- Till the soil in your garden before adding the seeds. Okra is determined and can grow in good or poor soil. Add some more compost halfway through the season for a greater boost.
- For gardeners living in a much colder climate with shorter seasons, start growing the seeds indoors one month before the last spring frost date in your zone. You’ll be able to transplant them outside when temperature ranges are at 60˚ F during the day and night.
- Create rows in your garden that are approximately 18 inches apart. The more space each sprout has, the easier it will be for roots to develop. Okra with a strong root system can properly absorb adequate nutrients from the soil.
- Sow the okra seeds ½ inch deep into the soil 3 to 4 weeks before the final spring frost date. You can use a cold frame if the weather is still a bit chilly in your location until the soil becomes warm. Soil temperatures should remain between 65˚ to 75˚.
- Clear all weeds in your garden when the plants are young. This can become quite tiresome so layering mulch 4 to 8 inches thick will limit weed growth.
- Okra grows to a height of an estimated 6ft. So, it would be great to use a trellis or cage for added support.
- As soon as the seeds or seedlings have grown 3 to 4 inches tall, you’ll need to thin them 2 to 3 feet apart. If you’re not sure how to do so, identify the seedlings that are weak and use a gardening shear to cut them at the base.
- Okra needs a lot of water so having a water source close to your garden is a plus. That way you can give them a good soaking once a week. Using a watering can allow the droplets to be light on the plant. However, do not overwater okra as the roots may rot. You can tell by the lower end of the seedling becoming dark.
- Remove the shoots from the plant because they hardly bear fruit. The main stem has some little spines that may cause itchiness so wear clothing that covers your skin. Preferably pants that cover the ankles and long-sleeved shirts. Gloves will also protect your hands.
- In some warm regions, gardeners cut the okra plant to approximately 2 feet when they produce less in the summer. It will then grow and produce more okra.
It is relatively easy to grow okra for beginners but the key is to monitor the harvest. You will need to pick them before the pods become too hard to be enjoyed.
- It takes up to 60 days for okra to be at full maturity. 1 to 2 days after that time you may begin to harvest the pods because they are softer and easier to digest when eaten.
- Use a knife or pruning shear to cut the area just above the cap. If the stem is too hard to cut then perhaps the pod is too old and should be thrown away.
- Do not wait too long to harvest because the more okra you pick, the more flowers will appear. Okra grows from flowering to fruit within a few days.
- Squeezing the pods too hard can damage them. If the pods are too dry and still hanging from the plant, cut and add them to dry in a paper bag indoors. Soon the pods will shatter and you’ll have the seeds for use next summer.
After harvesting, okra gets a few freezer bags. The amount you need will be dependent on the amount of okra that you were able to harvest. Add the uncooked okras into the bags and store them in the freezer. See more, How To Freeze Okra?
Handling Pests and Diseases
- When Aphids attack the okra plant the symptoms that appear include yellow leaves, black mold, and in some cases the secreting of a sticky dew. This can be limited by practicing companion planting to invite beneficial insects. Okra can be companion planted with herbs including thyme, dill, and chamomile. You may also add orange peels at the base of the plant.
- Powdery mildew can be identified by some white spots on the leaves and even cause the flowers to become distorted. Clip the infected leaves and ensure the plants are in direct sunlight with good airflow. You may also spray the plants with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a quart of water.
- Stinkbugs can damage the okra plant leaving white blotches on the leaves. The pods will become distorted and the seeds may look shriveled. Ensure to handpick and destroy the eggs and spray with insecticide. Remove all weeds and till the soil during fall.
- The Fusarium wilt can appear on one side. The okra leaves at the base are the first to turn yellow and move upwards. The infected plants should be uprooted and destroyed. If the soil is acidic the pH should be raised to approximately 7.0. Rotating the crops is best and disinfect all tools before using them on other plants.
- Whiteflies are pests that affect okra. It appears infected by sticky honeydew with black mold on the plant. Some of these species are able to transmit viruses so proper treatment is required. Remove the leaves that contain silver or yellow color.
- A handheld vacuum can be used to remove the pests that linger in your garden. Use an insecticidal spray on the leaves but companion planting is an excellent solution. Beneficial insects and birds will protect the plant.
Benefits of Eating Okra
Okra has a lot of nutrients and is popularly used in gumbo. It has a slimy texture which many people find quite delicious while others may not. There’s an impressive number of benefits stacked in the little pods and here are 5 you should know about.
- Great for Weight Loss Diet
Okra is the food type that will satisfy your hunger, but it is low-calorie and will have you feeling full. So, no need to worry about snacking between meals.
- Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
High cholesterol is a major reason for heart disease and okra contains pectin that lowers cholesterol. This will in turn improve heart function. The mucilage that contains pectin wraps cholesterol during digestion causing the body to excrete stool instead of absorbing it into the body.
- Has Many Nutrients
Okra’s nutrient profile consists of vitamin A, B6, C, and K. It also contains fiber, magnesium, folate, and fat. Additionally, it has low calories and carbs. Protein is an impressive nutrient as it is not present in many vegetables and fruits.
- Contains Antioxidants
The major antioxidant in okra are polyphenols that include vitamin A, Isoquercetin, and flavonoids. Researchers have proven that the consumption of polyphenols lowers the risk of blood clots and oxidative damage.
- Helps Fertility and Pregnancy Health
Adding okra to your diet during pregnancy is great for both the mother and offspring. The levels of folate are excellent for a preconception diet to decrease the occurrence of congenital disabilities of the brain and spinal cord of the fetus.
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