Growing okra is a good gardening project for the beginning warm-climate gardener. This Africa native and relative of the hibiscus (making Okra a highly ornamental as well as edible plant) is a staple in Southern and Cajun dishes. As long as it gets full sun, plenty of warmth and fertile soil, it will produce throughout the season if harvested regularly.
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Okra is easy to grow from seed if it has high enough soil temperatures. The soil should be at least 80 degrees F/27 C for germination. If your soil isn’t warm enough, use black plastic mulch for a few weeks before planting.
You can sow okra directly into the ground after danger of frost, or start early indoors. Sow directly or transplant when the air temperature is consistently above 60 degrees F (16 C). Before planting, nick the okra seed with a file or soak it in water overnight to make it easier for the seedling to emerge.
Always thin seedlings to about 18 inches apart.
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Okra requires plenty of sun and water, so use mulch to help keep the soil from drying out. Stake the plants if necessary and remove fast-growing shoots to keep the plant bushy.
Okra grows very quickly once the weather warms. Fertilize with a natural fertilizer about once per month. You may not have to fertilize as much if you've planted in a spot that grew a high-nitrogen crop such as beans or peas last year.
Okra should be harvested when young... the pods should be about as long as your finger. If pods are left on the vines too long, they become stringy.
Cut the pods with a sharp knife or clippers and handle them gently, as they bruise easily. Be sure to harvest regularly so that production doesn't stop.
Okra can be stored in the warmest part of the refrigerator in perforated plastic bags for about a week.
They freeze quite well, too. To freeze, wash the pods and remove the stems. Blanch for about 3 minutes for small pods and about 4 minutes for large ones. Once cooled, freeze whole.
The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Okra. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.
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