Growing Okra at Home
Okra (Hibiscus esculentus), an unusual vegetable that originated in Central America, is easy to grow and delicious to eat. But it is under-estimated and consequently grown by relatively few home gardeners. This is a great pity because not only are the green pods edible, but so too are the flowers and leaves. Ironically it is not always easy to find in supermarkets either.
Also known as lady’s finger and gumbo, okra is a summer annual that will thrive if planted in a fairly light, well-dressed soil. It needs little attention and is generally free from disease. In fact it is known to grow in dry conditions without additional irrigation.
Okra is a popular veg in Indian cookery, and in parts of Central Africa some indigenous people cook the leaves in the same way as they cook spinach. The bright yellow flowers can be used to brighten salads, even if you can’t bring yourself to eat them.
How to Grow Okra
Propagation of okra is from seed that is sown where the plant is to grow. If you want to improve the success of germination, soak the seeds for about 24 hours in water to which a little vinegar has been added. It will usually germinate within a couple of weeks, sometimes more quickly.
Wait until the seedlings have established themselves, and then thin them back.
Those that are left to grow to maturity should be about 300 mm apart.
Okra generally grows upright, forming large leaves off a spiny stem. They will thrive if planted in full sun in a spot that is sheltered from the wind.
The plants can grow as tall as 2.5 to 4.5 metres and can spread up to 1.8 metres (about six feet). If you want to make the plants bush out more, cut them back in the middle of summer and fertilize immediately with an organic product.
You can harvest the long light-green okra pods when they are about 50-100 mm long, usually about 50 to 70 days after you planted the seeds. If they get too long they become hard and too tough to eat. For this reason you should harvest them progressively every three or four days in much the same way as you would when growing tomatoes.
Pests and Diseases
Generally pests are more of a problem with okra than disease, although mildew and other fungal diseases can sometimes cause damage.
Pests to watch out for are aphids, fire ants, nematodes and cutworms.