If you are looking for something new and different to grow in your garden, consider okra. Scientifically named Abelmoschus esculentus, okra is easy to grow, and there are many benefits to growing it.
Not only are there great dishes you can make, but eating okra benefits us in many ways due to the nutrients it contains.
Here is all you need to know when it comes to cultivating okra in your organic garden.
What is Okra (Lady Fingers)?
Okra is a plant that flowers and is similar to hibiscus. In fact, the plants are related to one another, as they are to cotton and hollyhocks.
It is grown as an annual vegetable, which means you will need to plant it again each year. The plant will not come back once it has died.
It does best in warm climates, so it is often found in the south; however, the seeds can be started indoors in Northern climates and transferred outside when it gets warmer.
The part of the plant that is harvested is the seed pods, which are long, green (or red), seed pods commonly known as “Lady Fingers” because that is what they resemble.
There are many varieties of okra; some growing into enormous plants with long pods. The Cow Horn, for example, is an heirloom variety that produces remarkable pods up to 14 inches long.
It is the largest variety, in terms of pod size, that I’ve ever seen. Clemson Spineless and Louisiana Green Velvet follow.
Depending on where you live, you will need to figure out when to start your seeds.
When growing okra from seed, if you live in a place where the last frost doesn’t happen until late spring or early summer, you will want to begin the seeds 2-3 weeks before the last frost inside your home.
- Plant outside when the temperature consistently stays above 55 degrees
- Plant them in full sun
- They will do their top growing in soil with a PH between 6.5 and 7.0
- Add organic fertilizer to your soil (without the nutrients in the soil, the plants might not give you a lot to harvest).
When planting, seeds should be about 4 inches apart and ½ inch deep. If you started them inside, the small plants should be about a foot apart with rows 3 feet apart.
Planting from seeds directly in the ground is the best way to plant okra, though it can also be grown from transplants.
Once your okra is planted, you will want to take good care of it. The following list depicts how to care for okra plants.
- Give your plants lots of water (at least an inch per week)
- Water in the morning, so they can dry out before the night
- Avoid getting water on the leaves
- Thin your seedlings when they get to be 3 inches tall (thin them 1 foot apart in rows that are 3 feet apart)
- Place mulch around the plants to get rid of weeds, or make sure to weed often
- Add compost a few times throughout their growth
3. Pest Control
As with any garden, it is important to keep vigilant of any pests that can damage your plants and ruin all that hard work.
Look for aphids, corn earworms, cabbage worms, and stink bugs mostly. Either pick the bugs off and squish them or spray them with an organic spray.
4. Okra Companion Plants
Companion planting okra with other plants such as peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, sunflowers, and melons will help to repel cabbage worms, aphids, and other pests, as well as improve its growth.
The great news about okra is when you harvest one pod, another one will grow in its place.
It usually gives an abundant harvest if the plant is well taken care of, so you can keep getting okra all summer long. How to know when okra is ready to pick? After 8 weeks from planting, you are likely ready to begin harvest. Don’t let them start to get hard before picking.
Cut the seed pods just above the caps, where the stems meet the rest of the plant. Pods should be about 2-3 long, about every other day, and before they get too big.
You will know when the growing season is over when the plants stop producing pods.
Okra Plant Benefits
Though it has a unique taste with a slimy feel, okra benefits the body in many ways.
- Nutrient-rich. It is a vegetable that contains potassium, beneficial vitamins, and other nutrients that are good for your body. It can be an ingredient in delicious dishes such as soups, fried okra, and gumbo.
- Improves digestion & more. The okra plant benefits the body in multiple ways. It can help make digestion easier, improve the look and feel of your skin, and help your vision.
- Antioxidant-rich. It contains antioxidants that can also help to boost up your immune system and keep you from getting sick.
- Good for diabetes. The drinking of okra water to lessen diabetes symptoms is a popular remedy in many cultures.
What Does an Okra Plant Look Like?
The image below represents the picture of an okra plant.
Where to Buy Okra Seeds?
What to Do With Okra?
Abelmoschus esculentus is best to use within the first few days after being harvested. Of course, this is when it is freshest and will taste the best.
Besides putting it in some great dishes such as gumbo and fried okra, you can also pickle it, so that you can save it and use it at a later time or eat it just like pickles.
You can also save it by freezing it until you are ready to use your harvest. The best way to freeze it is to blanch for 3 minutes and immediately place it in an ice bath. Just chop it into small pieces, and freeze until firm.
You can store them in a made-for-freezing bag.
How to Cook Okra?
Boil in salt water for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender and have it alone or with butter. It can also be cooked with meat or added in soups.
Some persons cut it up when adding to meat or soup dishes. I prefer it whole.
Now that you know more about how to cultivate okra and the benefits of it, all you will need to do is get the seeds and get started planting.
The seeds are sold online and in most local farm stores.
Okra growing is so rewarding, and they are worth the wait. Not only is it a delicious vegetable, but it is also a beneficial one with many vitamins and nutrients your body needs.
Enjoy your growing season more with okras!