Growing Okra - April 24, 2002
Jeff Schalau, County Director, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Okra is a very attractive plant related to Hibiscus and cotton. Wild okra originated in the Nile Valley. Its cultivation by Egyptians began in the 12th Century BC. From there, okra spread throughout Africa, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. It arrived in the Americas (Brazil) in the 1600's, and then spread northward to New Orleans reaching Philadelphia in 1781.
Okra grows best on loams and sandy loam soils, but will produce good yields on heavier soils. It does not tolerate excessive moisture or poorly aerated soils. Incorporate organic matter and a balanced fertilizer (2-3 pounds of 10-20-10 per 100 sq. feet or equivalent) before planting for best results. And now for the good news: okra prefers soil pHs above 6.0.
Okra is best grown from seed since it is fairly quick to produce fruit (48 to 55 days after emergence). Varieties recommended by Texas A & M are "Lee", "Emerald", and "Clemson Spineless". These varieties reach heights of 5 to 6 feet when mature. A dwarf variety is "Dwarf Green Long Pod" which reaches a mature height of 3 feet.
For best results, plant in spring 2-3 weeks after all danger of frost has passed. For a good fall crop, plant at least 3 months before first fall frost. Probabilities for these frost dates are available on the Yavapai County Cooperative Extension web site (ag.arizona.edu/yavapai/) under Natural Resources of Yavapai County. Otherwise, the first of June is a safe planting date.
Plant near other tall crops or on the north end of the garden to avoid shading out other crops. Sow seeds about 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep. Rows should be at least 3 feet apart if you want to walk in between rows. Thin plants to one foot apart after they are up and growing. Okra can tolerate dry soil. However, regular irrigation will increase yields. Keep the area weed free and apply a light fertilization following the first harvest.
Harvest pods when they are tender and immature (3-4 inches long). They must be picked every other day to maintain production. Use shears to cut pods from plant. If the stem is difficult to cut, then the pod is probably too tough to use. However, do not allow old pods to remain on the plant as these will sap energy reducing production.
Refrigerate dry, unwashed okra pods in the vegetable crisper loosely wrapped in breathable plastic bags (like the ones used in supermarkets). Okra can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days for fresh use. Once pods begin to darken, they should either be used or discarded.
Okra pests include aphids, stink bugs, and cabbage loopers. Aphids can be washed off with a steady stream of water or sprayed with soap spray. Stink bugs are more difficult to control. These can be hand picked and destroyed or treated with Sevin (carbaryl) if you choose to use a pesticide. Cabbage loopers can be controlled with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Note: pesticides should only be applied in home gardens when damage to the crop is significant.
Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber, which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy. Of course, if it is breaded and fried, you will probably just break even.
Admittedly, I was not a fan of okra until I visited Louisiana and Mississippi two summers ago. While there, I had fried okra and gumbo several times. This was enough to allow me to overlook okra's slimy reputation and begin enjoying it.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 or E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://ag.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.
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Last Updated: April 17, 2002
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