Okra is a very popular gardening crop, especially in the Southern part of the US. Okra is also known as “gumbo,” “Ladies Fingers” and “Quimbombo,” among many other names. Okra is native to North Africa where wild okra can still be found growing in the rich soil along the banks of the Nile.
Okra is a warm weather vegetable crop that is often added to soups and stews. It can be boiled, steamed, fried or pickled. Pickled okra is a very popular recipe in the Southern part of the US.
The okra plants can reach a height of up to six feet. Newer hybrid varieties are available that are not quite as tall, making it easier to harvest the pods. Okra need space between plants to allow sunlight to penetrate to the stalk where the pods form.
Okra plants have pods that are usually light green in color. There are varieties, however, that produce pods that are red. Seeds are available from your local gardening store or online for planting. You may want to start plants indoors to get a head start on spring planting. Start seeds inside in pots at least six inches in diameter or in growing trays about two months before the last killing frost of spring. Transplant outdoors when the plants are about five inches tall and the outside temperature is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Okra can be grown in rows 18″ wide and 24″ apart. Seeds can be planted directly in the soil outside after the last killing frost of spring and the soil temperature is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant seeds one-half inch deep and six inches apart. When plants are about five inches tall, thin to allow 15″- 20″ between plants.
Okra plants need lots of water to grow. Water plants regularly, keeping the soil moist but not wet. Water your plants in the morning before the sun gets high in the sky. A three inch layer of straw mulch can be added around the plants to preserve moisture and, at the same time, inhibit weed growth.
Choose an area of your garden that will get full sunlight for most of the day. Okra prefer soil that is rich in organic nutrients. Start by adding a three inch layer of compost or dried manure to the soil. Till the soil to a depth of about 12″.
Okra will be ready to harvest in about 55 days. Harvest okra when the seed pods are two to six inches long. Harvest by simply cutting the pods from the stalk with a sharp knife. The younger pods are more tender than older larger ones and are preferred. As the pods age, the tend to become tougher and more fibrous.
Okra pods are low in calories and high in dietary fiber. They are a good source of Vitamins A, C, E and K. Okra also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.
Okra is a favorite gardening crop in many parts of the world. The plants are easy to grow and require little care. Okra plants are prolific producers. If you have pods left over, they can be frozen and stored in the freezer for about six months. Try your hand at growing okra. This popular vegetable may easily become one of your gardening favorites.