image by bittenword.com/Flickr.com, scubadiv67/Flickr.com
Okra is a tall annual vegetable from the hibiscus family that grows 3 to 6 feet or more in height. It is a warm weather favorite in the South. Young pods are used in soups, stews and gumbos, and fried or simmered as a vegetable. The plants grow quickly, maturing only 50 to 55 days from planting and must be harvested every few days once the flowers set. Okra grows well in the heat of the summer when the ground is warm.
Choose a fully exposed site with loamy soil. Okra grows tall and can provide shade for other plants. Consider that when choosing where to plant it. Dig or spade the soil to loosen it and add a well-rotted manure or organic compost.
Warm the soil in colder climates by covering the soil with black plastic for two to four weeks before planting. In hotter climates this is not necessary. You can remove the plastic when planting or plant the seeds through holes in the plastic using it for mulching.
Soak the okra seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting.
Plant okra seeds 1 inch deep about 12 to 24 inches apart. Okra is slow to germinate, taking up to two weeks. Okra will not germinate in cold soil, so do not plant or transplant okra until the soil is at least 65 degrees and all danger of frost is past. Keep the soil moist until the plants germinate.
Cover the plants to protect them from cold wind if needed. Water them well once or twice a week. Once the soil is sufficiently warm, you can add mulch to conserve water.
Control weeds by shallow hoeing near the plants.
Wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest okra to avoid the itchy spines on the plant and pods. Harvest the pods once they are about 3 inches long. Once the flowers set, the pods grow quickly so you will need to cut the pods every two or three days. New pods will continue to grow until frost as long as you do not allow the pods to stay on the plant too long. Larger pods will be woody and tough.
Loosely wrap unwashed dry pods in vegetable bags and store in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. Use within two to three days or freeze for future use.