What is Okra?
Okra, often referred to as gumbo, is a fall and summer plant with edible pods, leaves, seeds, stems, and buds. While this plant matures pretty fast, when to harvest Okra is still a big concern among its growers. Okra is a rich source of minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.
It is commonly grown in the Middle East, United States, South America, the Caribbean, and some parts of Africa.
When to Harvest Okra?
It takes between 50 to 65 days for an Okra plant to mature. While its flowers blossom for a day, Okra pods are ready for harvest about three to four days after flowering. The plants can yield for up to twelve weeks bearing seed pods until frost.
A few days (three to four) after the okra flowers have faded, begin harvesting. The seed pods should be two to three inches long and tender. Pick the pods at least every other day because they swiftly change from sensitive to rough as they enlarge. Gently handle the Okra. The pods can easily get damaged.
Pluck the old seed pods to prevent them from blocking the growth of fresh pods. Pruning more aged limbs beneath the harvested pods will increase production. Okra pods enlarge when left to grow past the edible stage. Once its seeds have fully matured, the pods begin to dry and turn brown; that’s when to harvest Okra seeds.
Since Okra plants have thorns/spines, it is advisable to wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting Okra pods.
Similar to most plants, how to plant Okra is relatively easy. This plant grows well in soils with between 6.5 and 7.0 pH levels. If your garden has a lower pH level, add more compost or Okra fertilizer to increase the pH level to neutral or 7.0. Also, you can add bone meal or limestone to boost the soil’s pH level.
Plant Okra in the fall or beginning of summer. The ground should be at least 149° Fahrenheit (65° Celsius). Warm to avoid frost or rotting of the seed. If you live in cool regions, start by planting the Okra seeds indoors for four to six weeks before transplanting them to an open garden.
How deep to plant Okra seeds depends on how you start your seeds. Usually, if you directly sow Okra seeds in your garden, put the seeds 1 inch ( 2.5 centimeters) deep into the soil. Otherwise, use 0.5 inches (1.27 centimeters) holes for indoor planting.
How to Grow Okra
Okra is a simple plant to grow and cultivate. Since they can grow up to 6 feet (2 meters) tall, you will require a bigger garden space. Before planting Okra, soak the seeds in water for roughly 12 to 24 hours; this helps to soften its hard shell for proper moisture absorption and faster germination.
Sow Okra seeds approximately an inch deep into the soil; how far apart to plant Okra seeds depends on personal preference. While some leave a 1-foot (0.3 meters) gap between bases, others prefer 20 to 24 inches (50.8 x 60.9 centimeters) spacing. If you are transplanting Okra seedlings, be sure to leave a 2 feet (0.6 meters) spacing to give them sufficient room to grow.
Below are a few steps to guide you on how to grow Okra:
- Determine how to sow your Okra seeds – It’s easier if you live in a region with hot summer and mild winter. In this case, plant the Okra seeds in your garden directly. However, if you live in a cold area, you may have to start your seeds indoors in a peat pot before transplanting them to your garden patch.
- Pick the sunniest part of your garden – Okra grows well under intense sunlight. If you try to plant it in a shaded area, it won’t live long or bear much fruit. It should be grown somewhere that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily.
- Check your soil’s pH – Ensure your garden’s soil pH is anywhere between 6.5 and 7.0. Use fertilizer, bone meal, or limestone to increase the pH level in your garden.
- Use Okra fertilizer to enrich your soil – Okra thrives in extremely fertile soil rich in nutrients. Using organic fertilizer or compost manure helps improve your soil nutrient level. Use a garden rake to evenly spread the compost or fertilizer 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) above the soil after tilling.
- Plant your seedlings or sow the seeds – When the weather gets warm, plant your seeds about one inch or two into the ground. If you are transplanting seedlings, dig big enough holes that can accommodate the root balls and carefully put soil around the base of your Okra seedling, leaving a 1-foot (0.91 meters) gap between each seedling.
The Correct Okra Plant Spacing
Okra plants grow well when given a good start; improper planting procedures may cause your Okra plant to fail. As aforementioned, 12 inches (30 centimeters) is the perfect spacing between Okra plants. Sometimes, you can sow hybrid Okra species at 23.6 x 17.7 inches (60 x 45 centimeters) or 29.5 x 11.8 inches (75 x 30 centimeters) spacing.
When is Okra in Season?
Although this plant is available throughout the year, Okra is in season during summer and early fall. It thrives well in warm and hot weather. Okra plants produce large flowers in good weather approximately 60 days after planting. Okra pods will be ready for harvest 3 to 4 days later.
How Many Okra Seeds Per Hole?
Sow two or three Okra seeds per hole or peat pot when planting. Once they start germinating, cut off the weaker seedling. Use fresh soaked seeds for proper germination.
Okra Fertilizer Advice
Before planting Okra, it’s advisable to use 2 to 3 pounds (1 to 1.5 kilograms) of Okra fertilizer, such as 15-5-10 or 10-10-10 for every 100 feet (9.3 meters) of your garden space. You need to spread the fertilizer evenly using a garden rake; mix it properly to cover 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 centimeters) of the topsoil.
Begin fertilization when your Okra plants reach between 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) tall; repeat after two or three weeks. Additional side dressing might be necessary if heavy rains occur. Be careful not to use excess nitrogen; it may cause overgrowth with poor yield.
Okra Germination Time
The Okra seeds need proper treatment before planting for them to germinate successfully. Generally, it takes seven to twelve days for an Okra seed to germinate. The seeds do not need light to shoot from the ground; however, the new seedlings require sufficient sunlight to grow well after germination.
While your soil should be moist to facilitate proper germination, overly moist soils can cause the Okra seeds to rot before germination takes place.
Okra seeds have a thick and hard shell that can prevent germination unless treated and planted in optimal conditions. Some seed producers lance their seeds with acid to boost their germination rate. Under optimal conditions, your Okra seeds should start germinating within seven days.
You can directly plant Okra seeds in the garden if the ground is warm enough and the soil pH is favorable for germination. When you start seedlings indoors, place them close to a sunny window or under a grow light after germination.
It’s essential to keep the indoor temperature above 65° Fahrenheit (18°Celsius) during the night. Fertilize and water the seeds to prevent drying.
What Does an Okra Plant Look Like?
The Okra is a green flowering plant with edible seed pods cultivated in tropical and warm climates. You can also call it the “lady’s finger.” It is biologically categorized as a fruit, even though it is a vegetable.
The Okra plant has huge hairy leaves with tiny bristles on its pods. These bristles irritate when in contact with the skin. Its slimy texture can be divisive; it contains a natural mucilage used to thicken soup, stews, or gumbos. While some find this exasperating, others think its distinctive texture makes it ideal for roasting or frying.
Additionally, it has a moderate, grassy flavor and an outer fuzz resembling a peach. You can prepare Okra by boiling, frying, roasting, or canning. Below are some species of the Okra plant:
This species has several 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) pods harvested at 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) on 3 to 5 feet (0.91 to 1.5 meters) tall plants. Burgundy species are decorative plants with deep crimson stems, leaf ribs, branches, and fruits.
This one has delicious 6.5 to 9 inches (16 to 20 centimeters) pods on 4 feet (1.2 meters) plants.
This species produces small plants at 3 feet (0.91 meters) tall with 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of spineless pods. It is suitable for the northern regions.
Louisiana Green Velvet
This is a robust green Okra species with soft pods. It thrives well in all regions.
It is the shortest of the Okra variants at 2.5 feet (0.7 meters) tall with delicious 8 inches (20 centimeters) pods. Its pods grow up to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) thick in diameter.
How Tall Does Okra Grow?
Although different species of Okra plants grow to different heights, the average size of an Okra plant is between 3 to 6 feet ( 1 to 2 meters) tall. When planting Okra, choose a garden location with enough sunlight; at least 6 hours of daylight for Okra growth.
Info on Storing Okra Post–Harvest
It’s no doubt that fresh Okra doesn’t have an extended shelf life; both large and small pods can turn mushy and soft in just two or three days. This means you need to have proper storage for your Okra after harvest. Here are four available options for storing Okra post-harvest:
Keep your Okra in the refrigerator if you intend to consume it the same week you harvested it. Wash fresh Okra only when you want to cook it.
As a result of the sensitive pods absorbing water, mold may develop while stored. Instead, wrap the dried, entire Okra in a paper towel and put it in a plastic bag with holes punched in it to allow air to flow.
Use the full head of Okra within the first week after purchase by storing it in the refrigerator’s vegetable crisper drawer. Wash it in cold water right before cooking.
To prepare Okra for freezing, wash it in a strainer to eliminate any pesticide residue or dirt. Then, spread the sliced or whole Okra on a baking sheet forming a single layer, and cover with baking paper to pre-freeze it.
After freezing the baking sheet for two hours, remove it and put the Okra in freezer bags for later use. Consider steaming the Okra before freezing it for the best results.
To do this, immerse it in a sizable pot of boiling water for three minutes, then place it in an ice bath for an additional three minutes. Doing this may prevent freezer burn and maintain the Okra’s natural green color.
You can brine your freshly harvested okra pods with water, vinegar, salt, and your preferred flavor mix to pickle them.
Cut your Okra pods into smaller pieces using a sharp knife before you start the pickling process. Some people prefer using whole Okra pods, while others prefer chopped pods. You can store your pickled Okra in the refrigerator for up to two months in an airtight container.
If you preserve your Okra in Mason jars or cans, you can eat it all year long without preparation. Like when you freeze it, steam your Okra before preserving it.
Use it if you have a pressure canner and understand how to operate it safely. If not, try the water bath canning technique. Put your Okra and water in sterile, airtight, sealed jars and immerse them in a big saucepan of boiling water for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
After allowing them to cool gradually, put them in a cabinet or refrigerator. Properly canned Okra can survive up to a year.
That’s a Wrap
Okra is a vegetable plant that yields throughout the summer; when you pluck a pod, another one grows in its place. For Okra plants to thrive well, ensure it gets sufficient sunlight and your garden soil has the correct pH level.
Before planting your Okra seeds, soak them in water overnight to soften its shell. Sow two or three Okra seeds per hole and maintain good spacing between plants. Once they begin to flower, be ready to harvest your Okra while the pods are still soft and 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) long. If you intend to store them for later use, do not wash them since they’ll mold quickly.