Okra originated in Africa and likes hot weather. It was brought over to North America by slaves. Because it comes from a hot climate, it is usually the last thing standing in a hot summer, still bearing away. The upright stalks can be used as supports for pole beans if desired.
Okra should be planted after all danger of frost has passed. It is planted about one inch deep and two inches apart. Rows should be spaced about two feet apart. Once the okra is up and growing well, thin the plants to one every foot.
Okra needs plenty of fertilizer. Before planting, spread 2 to 3 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row. Mix the fertilizer in well with the soil. After the first harvest, spread an additional one cup of fertilizer per row. Water each time after spreading the fertilizer.
Okra is vulnerable to aphids, stink bugs, and ants. Of the three, ants are the hardest to deal with. No ant bait or poison is approved for use on okra. Spread ant bait around the parameter of the garden to attract the ants to it. Since ants forage at least 100 feet from the nest, they will pick the bait up and take it back to the nest.
Aphids are small bugs that excrete a sticky substance referred to as honeydew. It quickly molds and covers the leaves of the plant, preventing photosynthesis and eventually starving the plant. Malathion will kill aphids.
Stink bugs eat the plant foliage and the okra. They also sting humans trying to harvest the okra. They are green in color and small, with a darker green diamond shield on their back. Sevin ® Dust will kill stink bugs.
Okra is harvested when it is 3-4 inches long. Any longer and it will grow fibrous and tough. When plants are really producing, okra should be harvested every other day. Cut the okra off the plant with a sharp knife. Pulling it off damages the plant and reduces the harvest.
Okra can be stored for 4-5 days in the refrigerator. Fresh okra is used as a thickening agent in gumbo and jambalaya, fried, or steamed. It can be cut into slices and frozen for later use. Okra can also be used to make pickles.
If okra gets too mature to eat, the pods can be cured and dried for use in flower arrangements. At the end of the growing season, a few pods can be allowed to grow and dry out on the okra plants. Since okra is open pollinated, seeds from these pods can then be saved for the next season’s garden and will breed true.
When the season is over, okra can safely be composted with other plants to fertilize the next year’s crops.
Okra is a heavy producer. One row will produce enough okra for a family of four with plenty to store for later use.
Okra is low in calories but provides a high amount of vitamin B6 and vitamin C. It also provides a high amount of fiber, calcium and folic acid.
Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 helps to keep your immune system in good working order. It aids in the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates and amino acids while helping to maintain the health of lymph nodes. Additionally, vitamin B6 helps to regulate blood glucose levels.
Vitamin C – Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infections and scavenges harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals. Vitamin C also helps to prevent respiratory problems such as asthma and lung cancer. Vitamin C has been shown to lower blood pressure, and therefore lessen the probability of hypertension.
Okra grows during the summer months. While fresh okra is typically only available during this season, frozen and dried okra can be purchased year round.
Per 1 Cup (100 grams):
Calories (cKal): 29
Total Fat (grams): .1
Carbohydrates (grams): 6.68
Fiber (grams): 3
When buying okra, make sure the surface is free from blemishes, brown spots, and is hard when squeezed. When storing at home, keep in an open bag or container in the fridge for up to one week.
Okra should be cooked when adding to a recipe. To prepare, remove the stem end and slice along its length. Okra can become a bit slimy when cooking, so add a bit of vinegar to avoid this trait. Okra goes great in a soup, stew, gumbo or fried.