When To Plant Okra

Common names: okra, lady's fingers, gumbo Botanical names: Hibiscus esculentus Origin: Africa

Varieties

Emerald (56 days); Clemson Spineless (58 days); Dwarf Green Long Pod (52 days).

Okra Hibiscus Esculentus

Okra, a member of the cotton and hibiscus family, is an erect, tender annual With hairy stems and large maplelike leaves. It grows from three to six feet tall, and has large flowers that look like yellow hibiscus blossoms with red or purplish centers. When mature, the pods are six to 10 inches long and filled with buckshotlike seeds. Okra is used in Southern cooking, in gumbo or mixed with tomatoes.

Where and when to grow

Okra is very sensitive to cold; the yield decreases with temperatures under 70°f, but it has a short season, which permits it to be grown almost anywhere in the United States. Plant okra from seed in the vegetable garden about four weeks after your average date of last frost. Okra does not grow well in containers.

How to plant

Okra will grow in almost any warm, well-drained soil and needs a place in full sun. When you're preparing the soil, dig in a complete well-balanced fertilizer at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet or 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Plant the seeds a half inch to an inch deep in rows 24 to 36 inches apart, and when the seedlings are growing strongly, thin them to stand 12 to 18 inches apart.

Fertilizing and watering

Fertilize before planting and again at midseason, at the same rate as the rest of the garden. Detailed information on fertilizing is given in "Spadework: The

Essential Soil" in Parti.

Keep the plants on the dry side. The stems rot easily in wet or cold conditions.

Special handling

Don't work with okra plants when they're wet. You may get an allergic reaction.

Pests

Flea beetles and aphids may visit okra. Spray flea beetles with carbaryl. Pinch out aphid-infested vegetation, control the aphids chemically with Malathion or Diazinon. Detailed Information on pest control is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Parti.

Diseases

Okra may be attacked by verticillium or fusarium wilt. Okra varieties are not resistant to these diseases, but maintaining the general cleanliness and health of your garden will help cut down the incidence of disease. If a plant does become infected, remove it before it can spread disease to healthy plants. Rotate crops to prevent the buildup of diseases in the soil. Detailed information on disease prevention is given in "Keeping Your Garden Healthy" in Part 1.

When and how to harvest

Time from planting to harvest is 50 to 65 days, and a 10-foot row will yield about six pounds of pods. When the plants begin to set their pods, harvest them at least every other day. Pods grow quickly, and unless the older ones are cut off the plant will stop producing new ones. Okra will grow for a year if not killed by frost and if old pods are not left on the plant. Keep picking the pods while they are quite small; when they're only about two inches long they are less gluey. If you let the pods mature you can use them in winter flower arrangements; the pods and the stalks are quite dramatic.

Storing and preserving

Pods will store in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days. You can also freeze, can, or dry them. Detailed information on storing and preserving is given in Part 3,

Serving suggestions

Many people are disappointed because their first mouthful often tastes like buckshot in mucilage. A taste for okra is perhaps an acquired one. Try it in gumbo, mixed with tomatoes, or sauteed.

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