Okra is traditionally a southern U.S. plant that thrives in warm weather. It is easy to grow and use and looks great throughout the growing season due to its beautiful flowers. Okra is also rich in vitamin A and low in calories.
- You can start okra seeds indoors in peat pots under full light 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date.
- You can also start okra directly in your garden 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date as long as you cover the plants with a cold frame or grow tunnel until the weather warms up. Make sure that the covering is 2 to 3 feet tall so that the plants have room to grow.
- If you do not start your okra plants early, wait until there is stable warm weather. You can plant okra in the garden when the soil has warmed to 65° to 70°F.
- Plant okra in fertile, well-drained soil in full light about ½ to 1 inch deep and 12 to 18 inches apart. You can soak the seeds overnight in tepid water to help speed up germination.
- If you are planting okra transplants, be sure to space them 1 to 2 feet apart to give them ample room to grow.
- Okra plants are tall, so be sure to space out the rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
- Eliminate weeds when the plants are young, then mulch heavily to prevent more weeds from growing. Apply a layer of mulch 4 to 8 inches high. You should also side-dress the plants with 10-10-10, aged manure, or rich compost (½ pound per 25 feet of row). You could also apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly.
- When the seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin the plants so that they are 10 to 18 inches apart.
- Keep the plants well watered throughout the summer months; 1 inch of water per week is ideal, but use more if you are in a hot, arid region.
- After the first harvest, remove the lower leaves to help speed up production.
- The first harvest will be ready about 2 months after planting.
- Harvest the okra when its about 2 to 3 inches long. Harvest it every other day.
- Cut the stem just above the cap with a knife; if the stem is too hard to cut, the pod is probably too old and should be tossed.
- Wear gloves and long sleeves when cutting the okra because most varieties are covered with tiny spines that will irritate your skin, unless you have a spineless variety. Do not worry: this irritation will not happen when you eat them.
- To store okra, put the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer. You can then prepare the okra any way you like throughout the winter months.