Is Anything Easier to Grow Than Okra?
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus Malvaceae) originally grown in Africa along the White Nile, along the upper Nile, and in Ethiopia was introduced in Brazil before 1658, and soon afterwards Louisiana. It quickly became popular on Southern plantations both as a side dish and in gumbo and stews. This relative of the hibiscus, has large-flowers and is fast growing. It can grow anywhere corn is grown. Okra is usually cooked with other vegetables or put into soups and stews. Okra alone is generally considered too "gooey," or mucilaginous, to suit American tastes. It however is delicious rolled in meal and deep fried. In some parts of the world, ripe seeds of okra are roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.
At a Glance: Growing Okra
Plant after all danger of frost has passed.
Planting Depth: one inch deep
Distance Between Plants: 2-3 feet apart
Germination Time: 7-14 days
Time to Harvest: 50-60 days
During a long hot summer, cut back plants to almost Ground Level in Midsummer and fertilize for second crop.
Plant okra in full sun. I have found that it will grow in any garden soil. It is one of the first vegetables that I plant in newly worked, relatively poor clay soil and I have never had a crop failure. Plant when all danger of frost is past in the spring, about the same time that you would plant corn or when the soil is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Sow seeds directly into in rows a half inch deep and covered lightly with soil. Space seeds 3 inches apart with rows 3 feet apart. (I seldom plant more than one 20 foot row of okra). If you have problems with cutworms, place a collar around the stems to deter the cutworms.
Cultivate okra during the first couple of weeks to keep weeds down giving ample time for the soil to warm. Once the okra is about 4 inches tall, mulch to keep out weeds and to help conserve water. Irrigate as needed to provide one inch of water per week.
Okra has few pests or diseases. One exception is stinkbugs that cause misshaped okra pods. To get rid of stinkbugs, handpick and drop into soapy water.Fusarium wilt is a soil-borne disease that may be a problem in hot parts of the country and cause leaves to yellow and wilt. If this occurs, pull and burn affected plants. To avoid this problem, never plant okra in the same place as it was planted the previous year.
Companion Planting with Okra
Okra, sweet peppers, and eggplant make good companion plants. Plant a row of sweet peppers, a row of okra and a row of eggplant in a bed. Dig a trench between the rows making two trenches. Bury a soaker hose in the trenches. Mulch all of them well prior to the hottest driest weather of the summer flood the bed with water on a weekly basis. Because you are watering underground and under mulch, you will waste none of the water through evaporation.
Harvesting Okra Pods
The edible okra pods will start to appear in about 50-60 days after planting. Cut small, little finger sized okra pods daily so that pods do not become tough. If picked daily, plants will keep producing until killed by frost. If you find any mature and tough pods, cut them and dispose of them in the compost pile.
Some people find that their skin is sensitive to the spines of the okra plant and pods, so it helps to wear gloves and long sleeves while harvesting. Spineless okra can also be grown so that this is not a problem.
Harvesting Okra Seed
Okra seed is easy to harvest to save for the following year's crop. Simply allow the pods to remain on the plant and allow the pods and the plant to dry out. Remove dried pod from the plant and discard the plant. Place pod to dry in a windowsill for about two weeks. Remove seeds from pod and place into an envelope marked with the variety and date packaged.
Seeds will save at least one year but should be tested for germination viability before planting in the garden.
Preparing Okra for Freezing
One of my favorite ways of eating okra is by breading it and then deep frying. Slice the okra into rings. To bread the okra, dip the sliced okra into a mixture of 1/2 cup milk and one egg then drop the okra into a mixture of 1/2 cup cornmeal, 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Separate okra rings and drop into hot vegetable oil. Deep fry to a golden brown and drain okra on a paper towel. Eat what you want while it is hot. Any okra that you do not eat, spread out onto a cookie sheet and place in the freezer to freeze. Once frozen, put frozen okra into freezer bag. Eat this okra within the next six months. To reheat, place frozen breaded okra on cookie sheet in a 375 degree F. oven for about 10 minutes or until okra is crispy hot.
Another way I enjoy eating okra is by making pickled okra.
- okra, packed into jars
- one clove garlic, in each jar of okra
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups water
- 3 Tablespoons plain pickling salt
- 1 Tablespoon white granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Mustard Seed
- 1 Tablespoon Coriander Seed
- 1 Teaspoon Celery Seed
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1. Prepare sterilized pint jars and lids. Place one garlic clove into the bottom of canning jar and fill the jars with as many whole tender okra as you can pack into each jar.The top of the okra should come between an inch to 1/2 an inch from the rim of the jar.
2.Place vinegar, water, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar, reduce heat add spices (mustard, coriander, celery, black pepper) to the mixture.
3 Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the jars, up to 1/4-inch from the rim of the jars. Run a thin knife between the okra and the jars to dislodge any obvious air bubbles. Okra is filled with air, so while you run the knife between the okra and the jars, air bubbles will be released from within the okra as well. If the top level of the pickling liquid lowers while you do this, just top off with more of the pickling liquid. If for any reason you don't have enough pickling liquid for all the jars, just add equal amounts of cider vinegar and water. No need to heat first, the liquid will get boiled in the hot water bath.
4 Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean damp towel make certain that no debris is on rims. Sterilize rings and lids for ten minutes. Place sterilized lids on jars. Screw on the the lids, firmly, but not too tight.
5 Place packed jars into hot water bath canner, and cover jars with water. Allow for 1 to 2 inches of water to cover the jars. Beyond that you may want to remove excess water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove to towel lined counter or to a rack (avoid putting a hot jar on a cold surface, jars may crack.)
6 As the jars cool, you should hear a popping sound as the vacuum created by the cooling air in the jars pulls the lid down and seals the jars. A properly sealed jar can last in a room temperature cupboard out of direct sun for about a year. If any jars do not seal, store them chilled in the refrigerator. Opened jars should last one to two months in the refrigerator.
Let sit 24 hours before eating.
Did you Enjoy the Pickled Okra Recipe?
© 2014 Donna Brown
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