Okra (Hibiscus esculentus) is a vegetable that grows 3 to 6 feet tall with ivory, yellow and red blooms that produce edible pods. The edible pods are harvested and used in stews and soups, such as gumbo. Okra is grown in the middle of April to ensure the soil is over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, since plants do not germinate well in cold soils. Once plants reach maturity two months after planting, they are harvested every other day until the first fall frost, and pruning is done after harvesting to encourage next year’s crop.
* Okra seeds
* Paper towels
* Sowing gel
* Black plastic mulch
* 10-20-10 fertilizer
* Pruning shears
* Garden gloves
* Long-sleeve shirt
* Plastic bags
STEP 1: Soak okra seeds in a moist paper towel or in a bowl of water for 24 hours to soften the seed’s outer covering. When soaking seeds in water, mix with a special sowing gel. Both methods are used to ensure faster seed germination.
STEP 2: Select an area of the garden that contains full sun and rich, well-drained soil to plant the okra seeds.
STEP 3: Prepare the garden bed by using a tiller to loosen soil to a depth of 12 inches, and then mix in black plastic mulch to warm the soil and control weeds, level with a rake.
STEP 4: Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart in rows. Firm the soil over the seed with a rake. Rake gently in the direction of the row and not across it to prevent uneven rows.
STEP 5: Spray fungicide after planting to prevent leaf blight. Fertilize once a month with 10-20-10 fertilizer, and water once a week at a rate of 1 inch.
STEP 6: Examine okra pods, 60 days after planting, to determine if they are tender enough for harvesting. To do this, try snapping off the pod’s tip. If the tip easily snaps, then it is tender and ready to harvest. If the tip is difficult to snap, then it’s too tough and should be discarded.
STEP 7: Harvest pods by making a diagonal cut through the top of the stem with pruning sheers to ensure a clean cut. Okra matures rapidly, especially in hot weather, so harvesting should be done every other day until the first fall frost. Always wear gloves and long sleeves while harvesting since okra pods contain short hairs or spines, which can irritate the skin.
STEP 8: Store harvested pods in plastic bags, and place them in the refrigerator or freezer where they should keep for five to seven days.
STEP 9: Prune pods after harvesting by shearing the plant’s main stem back by half to encourage next year’s pod production. Trim away any dead branches, dead leaves or immature pods that did not produce.
TIPS: Avoid washing okra pods after harvesting, since wet pods will quickly deteriorate and become slimy.
WARNINGS: Okra plants are susceptible to certain pests that may attack the leaves and pods, destroying the entire crop. These include aphids, stinkbugs, leaf-footed bugs, cabbage loopers and corn earworms. Use insecticides at the first sign of infestation.