How many okra fans are out there? Count me in…My favorite side dish? Fried okra. So it would make sense that I would want to try to grow it. I failed miserably my first year, though. I probably got about two pods out of it. Also I planted it kind of late in the year -around August, which wasn’t a good idea either. They didn’t come from elevated beds, either. So let’s look at how this could be a game-changer!
My better half is not as big a fan of okra…well, he likes it pickled. That way is good, too. Anyway, long story short, when we go to visit his dad we stop at this local feed store (Ladd’s Farm Supply in Cartersville) that specializes in farm goods and crop seeds (I think most of them are pure heirloom, too) Not pre-packaged, either, you take a scoop to select the amount you want and its weighed on a scale, I mean that old fashioned. Love that. Some of them were dwarf okra seeds. We got a nice fat envelope of them.
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Okra is a kind of vegetable that people either love or hate; it’s very popular where I come from, and a mainstay of gumbo, it is also known as “lady’s fingers” and belongs to the hibiscus flower family. Before developing fruit in the form of pods it produces white blossoms with a star-like cluster appearance, just like the Hawaiian flower that bears its name. With regard to the distaste some people have, a lot of it comes from the “slime” that develops on the inside. But if you learn to harvest it at the right time and preserve your harvest well, you can eliminate that problem.
I planted our okra seeds about 8″ roughly, apart from each other. Okra does not grow to a humungous size, but it does get pretty tall, sometimes as much as 6 feet. Since I’m planting dwarf seeds, they may reach a full height of 3 feet so I’m not too worried about them crowding each other.
Regardless of which kind you choose, the plants should be about a foot apart from each other, but after sowing the seeds, you’ll want to thin out the seedlings (more on that shortly.) They can be planted over crops that spread out more and don’t get very tall like some bean plants and squash.
Since okra is a summer loving plant, you’ll want to make sure the first frost has passed, as they should not be outside during a time when evenings drop below 60 degrees F. In my neck of the woods, any time in April is fine. Around this time of year would be fine, too. A few nights were probably in the 50s, but overall, it didn’t have any effect.
Depending on your zone and region starting seeds indoors may be the smart way to go, using something like peat pots, and when you’re assured of evenings no longer being cool they can be transplanted outside.
A fun fact: Florida grows the largest proportion of okra, no surprise there since, as I mentioned earlier, it loves the sun and abhors the chill.
Be sure you plant them in a spot where they will have plenty of sun – at least six hours – daily. I started planting them about a week or so after planting our tomatoes and peppers – right between them in the middle. First thing to do is soak your seeds, I soaked about 20-30 of them in a dish of water to make germination easier. I used a long handled pair of tweezers to make it easier to pick them up as they are quite small, and planted about two seeds per hole as there’s always a chance one will fail – have an heir and a spare.
By the way, I’ve heard that you shouldn’t plant okra with nightshade veggies, that it makes them more susceptible to fungus, but I’m sure there are people who have not had this problem. Putting them around shorter plants like beans may be considered.
Speaking of spares, we have a few more plants. A neighbor across the street had an excess and some to give away, so I took them off his hands, graciously. We will be planting these in the front yard pretty soon in our other bed that’s still under construction.
Growth and Harvest
As the seedlings grow, thin them out so only the strong ones that will produce are remaining. (This is why I said earlier you can plant them a short distance together, like 8″. )
This is what our okra plants looked like the most recently. I took this picture on 5/19. On average they take about 50-60 days to mature. The plants themselves are very sturdy, so you may not need a trellis to help them climb. Other plants nearby could support them if there is enough space underneath.
Okra is the one crop that bigger is not better. A good okra pod is about 3-4″ in length. If it gets too big, they get tough and inedible so you don’t want to let your okra pods grow too much. Also, if you trim the pods regularly, it will produce more. So keep an eye out for them. They grow vertically and upwards. The stems are tough and also kind of spiny, so you may want to use a small knife (and wear gloves) when you trim off the pods.
As far as crops go, okra is not as versatile as peppers, and it’s not always easy to tell if you’ve got a “good” pod, but you should definitely include it anyway if growing conditions around you are right.So if you love pickled okra or gumbo, you don’t want to miss out on adding this popular summer crop to your arsenal. best of luck and feel free to share