Okra

Quick Grower’s Guide

Sowing Depth ½ to ¾”
Plant Spacing 12″ apart, 2 rows in 36″ wide beds
Germination Soil Temp. 80° – 95º F (26.7° – 35° C)
Day’s to Germination 5 to 14
Sow Indoors Three to five weeks before last frost
Sow Outdoors After last frost; soil temp > 70º F (21.1º C)
Growing Soil Temps 70º – 90º F (21.1º – 32.2º C)
Soil pH 6 – 8
Light Requirement Full Sun
Seed Longevity 2 years, refrigerated

General Information:

Okra (Also known as gumbo in the south), is a tall, long growing warm-season annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. Okra is a vital crop in my garden. My family simply will not tolerate a okra crop failure. We eat it all year primarily smothered with onions and tomatoes, deep fried or used in a variety of Cajun gumbo recipes. For the past 30 years I have only grown longhorn okra. I have been saving my seed since my grandmother gave me my first brown pod as a child. I always start my okra in pots in the green house in late winter, otherwise I must wait until the soil warms to 80° and hand pollinate the first blooms. I pollinate the first bloom of each plant to prevent bees form crossing my bloom with other varieties growing in the area. I start my okra this way because I save the first pod on every plant for next years seed.  Okra has one of the longest growing seasons of any vegetable in the garden other than onion family members. Okra will produce from mid spring to first fall frost.  I presoak my okra seed in 1 pint of warm water containing 1 tablespoon of household bleach to pre-soften the seed for 24 hours before planting. This procedure will increase the germination rate in cooler soil.

Soil Preparation:

Okra Blossom

Okra Blossom

For best results incorporate moderate amounts of compost or well rotted manure deeply dug into the soil.  Beware of fresh manure as it may contain seeds, and high concentrations of urine and salts.  Okra are deep rooted plant that benefit from moderate soil moisture, especially during the period prior to the onset of it’s first bloom..   Without adequate moisture the roots  cannot deliver the require nutrients to support there massive size and production. Rake to break up and remove debris from the soil. Work the soil only when it is dry enough not to stick to garden tools.  Form a 36″ wide bed the length of your choice. Using a garden hoe form a 8″ deep trench in the center of the 36″ wide bed. Do not allow the trench to extend beyond the end of the beds. The seed or seedling will be planted in the deep trench. This method may seem a little strange at first but is beneficial.

Fertilization:

Perform a complete soil analysis to determine fertilization needs.  Soil sample kits including sample bag and instructions can be  obtained from your local county  Agricultural extension service office free of charge. However, the fee  for the actual soil analysis is usually about $15.00.

Okra  normally need  side dressing several time during their long growing season. Side dress with 13-13-13 at the rate of ½ cup per 25 row feet in the trench between rows described above. Side dress at the rate of ½ cup per 25 row feet starting at first bloom and every 6 week thereafter.

Planting and Growing:

okra_corn

Okra and Corn Companion Planting

I use a special method of planting Okra and corn to prevent the large tall plant from being toppled over from excess rain or heavy winds. I always plant two 36″ wide bed rows of corn between two 36″ wide bed rows of okra. I do this because my okra get 18′ tall and about 6′ wide after branching starts. The Corn is harvested and in my freezer about the time the okra harvest first starts. This allow me plenty of room to work and harvest the okra.

Okra Seedlings

Okra Seedlings

Transplant okra seedlings in the bottom of the 8″ deep trench in the middle of the row described above. Or direct sow seed ½” to ¾” deep about  6″ apart in bottom of 8″ deep trench described above. As the seedling mature start filling in the trench until the bed is flat. Continue pulling soil from both side of the single row in the 36″ wide bed until a 4″ trench is formed on both sides of the okra row. Do not allow the side trenched to extend beyond the end of the 36″ wide bed. This trench will be used to hold water later. At this point cover the entire 36″ wide bed including the trenches on both side of the row with leaves or straw mulch. The mulch will retain moisture, attract worms, and reduce the growth of weeds in the beds. Any weeds that do germinate are easily removed by hand or light cultivation. Once the okra starts to mature the shade produced will prevent the growth of most weeds. When it is time to water your plants simply apply a moderate amount of water into the trenches.  Do not apply water to quickly as you may wash out  soil holding the water. The water will slowly soak deeply onto the root zone.  Using this method your plants will always have adequate moisture to perform well.

Care during the growing season:

Once okra starts producing it become very labor intensive very quickly. Okra must be harvested every one or two days. Side dress the rows at first sign of blooms. Apply 13-13-13 at the rate of ½ cup per 25 row feet every 6 weeks.. Side dressing should be alternated from one side of the row to the other the next time it is side dressed. This method keeps the roots spreading and reaching farther away from the base of the plant. This make a stronger root system.

Seed saving:

If you want to save your own seed simply allow the first pod of several plants to fully mature. Allow the pod to stay on the plant until it is completely brown. Harvest the pod and store in a cool dry environment. when the seeds rattle in the pod you can separate them from the pod. Store the seeds in a envelope in the refrigerator until planting time the following year.

Pests and Diseases:

Pests

Ants, Aphids, Japanese Beetles, Corn Earworms, Flea Beetles, and Stinkbugs

Pest

Description

Aphids:

Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.

White flies:

White FlyWhite flies usually present problems toward the end of the season and are difficult to kill. Pesticides are not specifically labeled for okra due to the texture of the pods.

 Ants:

Ants can be very destructive to okra pods. Ants want the moisture and sugar content of okra. To control ants spray the bottom of the main stems with Malathion  mixed 1 tablespoon per gallon of water with 1 tablespoon of dish washing liquid added. Do not spray the pods.

Diseases

Disease

Description

Powdery mildew:

This problem is usually caused by high humidity or overhead watering too late in the day easily controlled with a fungicide.

The severity of insect attack is much greater in late summer. It is suggested that the control program start early (emerging seedlings) and continued on a regular basis.  Consult your local county extension  service office for diagnosis and recommended treatment.

Harvesting:

Harvesting  okra normally required wearing protective clothing like a long sleeve shirt and possibly cotton gloves. The leaves of okra causes severe allergic reaction to people with sensitive skin.
Okra harvested early in the morning will have a higher sugar content and be more tender. Okra pods should not be allowed to grow beyond 4″ or 5″. Pod larger than this will be tough and stringy. Harvest okra using a pair of sharp pruning shears. Cut the pod stem close to the main stem. Also cut the leaf stem below the pod at the same time. Drop the leaf on the soil to help prevent the growth of weeds or add to your compost pile. Do not cut off the new branches as they form.  (Removing the leaf stems will minimize heavy infestations of white flies.) The branching limbs will produce more pods than the main stem of the plant. When harvesting is completed for the day clean the shears with a 10% bleach solution to prevent spreading disease.

Storage:

Okra is best when prepared fresh but can be easily washed, dried, and  cut up and frozen in zip lock freezer bags. Okra stalks and leaves make great compost if shredded.

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