Okra is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in warm regions. It does not require much attention as long as you provide it with the right growing conditions. Let’s dive in together to learn more about how to grow okra in your central Texas home garden.
Relative to hibiscus and roselle, okra is a vegetable widely consumed in tropical and subtropical regions. Although no confirmed region of origin, okra is found in many countries around the world. It is present in many cuisines, such as South America, South Africa, and South Asia.
When to grow okra?
Okra is a warm-season crop that thrives when temperatures are higher than 85F (30c). It is among the few vegetables that can set fruit in the hot season. The time frame to plant okra start late spring through late summer. It grows fast and starts producing in a few weeks.
Start okra seeds or direct sow
While you can start okra from seed, it is not really worth the trouble. Sow the seed directly in the ground the weather is warm. Make sure to keep the soil moist until it germinates in about four days to a week.
In case you decide to start okra from seed follow these steps:
- Fill a clean four-inch pot with premoistened seed starting mix.
- Use a pencil tip to make two to three holes in the surface. Each hole should be twice the seed size in depth.
- Place a seed in each hole and cover it with soil.
- Water thoroughly.
- You can keep the pots outdoors.
- Make sure to keep the soil moist.
- Choose the sunniest spot in your garden.
- Amend native soil with well-rotted compost to balance its drainage.
- Plant okra no less than ten inches apart. The plant grows up eight feet tall, in some cases. It needs enough space to thrive.
- If planting transplants, dig a hole as big as the root ball. Then place the plant, making sure the stem base is level with the soil. Do not bury the stem.
- Water thoroughly after planting, then provide at least one inch of water once a week. Okra can survive some drought but not for too long.
Honestly, I did not find okra to be a heavy feeder. Good organic soil is key to having healthy and productive plants. You may use some slow-release fertilizer at planting time or as side-dressing mid-season. Some also recommend a bi-weekly feeding with fish-based organic fertilizer.
Okra is a prolific producer. The flower turns into a fruit one day after blooming. Harvesting the fruit or the seed pod depends on personal preference and variety. The young and short okra pod is more tender and less fibrous and seems to be the choice of most cooks.
Some varieties do produce small pods, but the most common ones can reach six inches long. The key is to check on the plant daily, as okra can grow overnight. Pick them as soon they reach your desired size. Also, the more you pick, the more production there will be.
Some Okra varieties can get as tall as 12 feet. For some of us, that may be too high to reach the harvest. Instead, cut the top of the plant to encourage side shoots to grow. This will make the plant bushier, sturdier, and the harvest will be more at one’s reach.
A word of caution
Okra stem, leaves, and pods contain little spines and when picking a sticky substance is secreted. To some people, like me, that may cause some skin reactions. Wearing long sleeves and gloves may spare you the discomfort. You can also rub some comfrey leaves on your itchy skin for relief.
Storing okra harvest
Fresh okra molds very quickly due to moisture.
- Put okra pods in a paper bag or wrap with a paper towel.
- Place it in a perforated plastic bag or a produce container.
- Keep refrigerated in low moisture for no more than three days.
If you are not using your harvested okra immediately, process it and freeze it for longer storage. There are different ways of preparing okra for freezing. Some like to blanch it or chock cook it, others roast them briefly in the oven. Both methods are trusted and seem to help okra keep its texture and flavor in the freezer.
- Clean okra pods and cut the big ones into desired size pieces.
- Bring a pot filled with water to a boil. You can add salt to the water, but it is optional.
- Add the okra to the boiling water and leave for three minutes.
- Prepare a bowl filled with iced water.
- Scoop the okra from the boiling water straight to the ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Once completely cool, drain the okra and lay it on a clean towel to dry.
- Lay the blanched okra on a baking sheet. Try to space the pieces so they don’t touch.
- Flash freeze.
- Scoop the frozen okra into freezer-safe bags. Close airtight to prevent freezer burn.
- Use frozen okra in your recipes without thawing and avoid overcooking.
2- Oven roasting
This is my favorite method. It saves a lot of time and dished to use (if you know what I mean).
- Preheat oven at 400F (200c)
- Clean okra and pat dry with a clean towel. You may cut the long ones into the desired size.
- Lay the okra in one layer on a baking sheet.
- Transfer to the oven and bake until dry. It takes about 20-30 minutes.
- Allow to cool down before filling freezer-safe bags.
- You can keep okra this way up to six months.
- Again avoid overcooking frozen okra.
3- Sun Drying
This method is very well-known in the far East, where they use dried okra for tea.
- Wash the okra pods.
- Cut them into 1/4 inch pieces.
- Lay them on a drying rack.
- Sun dry them for three to four days.
- Store them in a glass jar.
Nutritional value of okra
Sadly, okra is a vegetable that is not consumed enough despite its high nutritional value. It is one of a few fruits and vegetables high in protein. It is also high in minerals and vitamins, improving heart health and overall immune functions.
Okra is a good source of fiber, promoting the proper function of the digestive system. It is also recommended to young women, especially, during pregnancy for its high folate content. The latter helps prevent brain and spine defects in the developing fetus.
Since okra does not require a long cooking time, it preserves a lot of its nutritional value. Vitamin C is the only one that gets damaged by heat.
How to save okra seeds?
To harvest seeds, there are two important rules to consider. First, the chosen variety has to be an heirloom. Saving seeds from hybrid, also known as F1, won’t produce the same fruit. Second, ensure that there is no cross-pollination with another plant from the same family.
Saving okra seeds is very easy. Leave a few pods on the plant till they become dry. The seeds should rattle inside the pod. Beware, the pods do explode when mature spreading seeds all over the place.
The seeds look like small dark beads. Try to keep them in a small paper bag or a glass jar. You may use silica packs inside the container to absorb extra moisture. Store in a cool, dry, and dark place protected from pests. They should keep for three years when stored properly.