Okra, also known as lady finger, is a popular part of Southern cuisine. Although it appears as a vegetable, it is in fact a fruit. With a mild, almost grassy flavor and a crunchy texture when cooked – it is a delight to eat.
It is also packed with nutritional content. With a rich amount of magnesium, fiber, folate, antioxidants, as well as vitamin C, K1 and A; okra can add a lot of value to your diet. Pregnant women can especially benefit from consuming okra as it has positive effects on heart health and blood sugar levels.
It is actually quite easy to grow okra at home. And it adds beautification throughout the growing season, thanks to the plants’ blooming flowers. The best time to plant it is in the spring. For any gardener, it would be very useful to understand the growing process and requirements for this plant as well as when to harvest okra.
Okra Growing Stages
Okra needs a warm growing season. So in hotter regions, it is best to start okra planting in the garden. The ideal time would be 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost. The soil should have an adequately warm temperature of about 65 to 75 F. It also requires a full sun, and well-drained, acidic soil (pH 5.8 to 7.0) with rich organic matter.
The basic okra growing conditions are full sun, loamy or sandy, slightly acidic to neutral soil, and it grows best in the summer.
Being informed about okra growing stages will help you produce a good yield. You can start by planting transplants or from seeds. It is important to use a fully mature and dry seed for successful germination.
Make a 1 inch hole in the soil, and place the seed inside. Next cover it with soil and water it. Within 3 to 7 days, the seeds will begin to germinate. In a few more days, roots will develop and you will also see small leaves.
In the seedling phase, you will observe your small plant with sprouting seeds and leaves. You need to regularly water it and protect it from animals and strong winds as it would still be quite weak.
Soon, your okra plant will mature and develop a strong stem and hard, green leaves. At this stage, make sure the plant has sufficient sunlight, fertilizer and water. Now your plant will bloom yellow flowers. At this point, more fertilizer and water is a requirement.
All throughout its growth, make sure that you don’t drown your okra in water. It is important to remember that overwatering plants causes root rot, which will ultimately kill your plant. Make sure that you water your okra just enough and make sure that the soil does not retain all the water.
Finally, okra pods will appear. The flowers will turn into green okra pods ranging from 4 to 8 inches in length.
When to Harvest Okra
When the pods have matured, you will be ready to harvest them. Generally, 50 to 65 days after planting, your okra would be mature and ripe.
But how would you know when the pod is ripe and when to harvest okra? You need to check for ripeness around 5-6 days after flowers have appeared. You should look out for bright green pods that should be firm yet tender to touch. This indicates a ripe okra. If the color is dull green, the okra has become over-ripe and won’t be as good in quality.
Another important tip is that if the pods are too tough to snap easily, or if there’s difficulty cutting them with a knife- they’ve over-matured. If the branch connecting the pod to the main stem is hard, that pod will not have much use. You can just toss it out.
You should harvest the okra when the pods are 2 to 4 inches long. If you let them grow too large, they won’t be very suitable for use and taste might be compromised too. You must keep a regular check on them as they can ripen quite fast and you need to harvest at the right stage.
It’s okay if you have to harvest the pods every day. Just make sure that you harvest them at just the right time, not too early and not to soon.
You should also remember to keep harvesting when its’ time so that the plant keeps producing. If all the seeds have matured, the pods will also see a halt in their production.
Growing Okra in Containers
If you do not have adequate space in the garden, want more accessibility, and can provide the required conditions- growing okra in containers is very easy.
Any material for the pot would work fine when you’re growing okra in a container. But it should be at least 3 gallons. Even better would be a 5 gallon pot with a depth of 10 to 12 inches, and the same diameter.
These measurements are sufficient to grow one well-sized okra plant. With an even bigger container, you can grow more plants. Here’s a useful tip: choose a black pot. Black color absorbs more heat and you know okra loves warmth to thrive.
You may grow any variety of okra in a pot or container but the dwarf variety is mostly recommended for this method. You can choose a fast maturing variety if summers are short where you live.
It is best to sow seeds directly in the container rather than choosing transplants. You should sow the seeds 1 inch deep and water them. Make sure the container is placed in a warm, well-lit spot. A minimum of 5-6 hours of sunlight is a key requirement for successfully growing okra in containers.
Just remember the basics of planting and growing okra because the skills are transferable to other forms of okra growing. As long as you’ve got the basics down, you are good to go.
What to do with Okra after Picking
There’s a lot you can do with fresh okra to immediately enjoy it after harvest. A culinary favorite, okra tastes great when stir-fried, stewed, or sautéed. Or you could pickle it for some for more fun! You should cut off the stem ends and its tips before you cook it. While cooking, you can combine it with tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn and eggplants as they all complement this fruit.
Some people may not find the texture of okra agreeable due to the gooey substance inside it. If you are one who hates the slime, here’s a cooking tip that might help you. Try soaking the okra in vinegar an hour before cooking it. Just make sure you pat it real dry ater soaking and before soaking. Also, minimal frying works as less musilage (the slimy thing) will be released.
And you can even store it for later use. To store okra the right way, use uncut and uncooked pods. It is best to wrap them in a paper bag or towel and then pack it in a plastic bag. Now you may refrigerate the okra for 2-3 days. If you want to store it for even longer, you can pack the whole pods in airtight containers or freezer bags- and then freeze them. If you see the okras’ tips and ridges darkening- it means its deteriorating. When you see this, use it immediately.
Pickled okra sandwiches, or stewed okra and tomatoes? That’s mouthwatering enough. Yet there are so many more delicious recipes you can try with okra. And it is also super healthy! Why not take your gardening activities up a notch and indulge in some fresh okra growing at home? We’ve covered the basics; you know what the plant needs, signs to look out for and expect, as well as when to harvest okra. It’s time for some lady fingers!