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Grow Okra For Food and Flowers

Updated on June 21, 2022
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I'm a Master Gardener Emeritus, but will garden forever. Visit The Vegan Kitchen Garden Facebook Page to join the conversation.

Food and Flowers

Every bloom produces an okra pod. What a bonus: food and flowers all in one plant.
Every bloom produces an okra pod. What a bonus: food and flowers all in one plant. | Source

I Hate Okra

Don't eat it, grow it for the flowers.

Even if you don't eat okra, consider growing the plant just for the blooms. The big yellow discs look like the pink flowers of the hibiscus or sorrel plants. These seed will grow tall plants that offer height in a flower garden or create a wall to disguise an unsightly areas.

Attracting pollinators to your garden. Expect few insect or disease problems. Okra plants attract butterflies and other pollinators. Grows to 8' tall, continually producing pods until frost. Keep picked for the tenderest pods.

When overcooked, okra develops that dreaded viscous texture. Properly prepared, okra should be crunchy and tender crisp.

Quick Start To Plant Okra Seed

Okra thrives in warm weather, full sun, and well drained soil. Sunny raised beds are ideal but dwarf okra plant are great for containers, producing full size okra pods.

Wait to plant. Wait 2-3 weeks after the last frost date, making sure ground is well warmed.

The biggest crop will be late summer and early fall. Okra can take the heat, drought and average soil. But like any garden vegetable, it does best in fertile soil with regular watering.

Low and slow germination. Increase okra's typical low germination rate by soaking seed overnight. Keep well warned soil watered but not wet. Plant 1/2” in deep, expect germination in 7-10 days. Thin to 14” apart.

Make Your Own Pickles

Pickled okra can be spicy hot or sweet, but it must be very small and tender for good crisp pickles.
Pickled okra can be spicy hot or sweet, but it must be very small and tender for good crisp pickles. | Source

Pickled Okra

Start cutting okra at about 2- 2 1/2” long for pickling. Pick most okra at about 5” long for tender slices, perfect for frying, recipes such as fried okra, gumbo, okra and tomatoes. Okra is best picked and served fresh. If you cannot eat it immediately after picking, store in the crisper in a plastic bag or wrapped in paper towels.

Follow a trusted and reliable guide the first time you make pickled okra. Then, make it your own with extra herbs or peppers. My neighbor grows Tabasco Peppers peppers especially for pickling okra.

Pickled okra recipe straight from a Louisiana chefs table: Pickled Okra Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, 2001.

I make half the recipe. Because I like pickled garlic, I add the full recipe amount of garlic. Use pint and half pint jars.

  • Time this recipe to prepare the pickled okra when garlic, dill and baby okra are at their peek in your garden. I think the secret is “Soak okra in ice water for1 hour, drain, and pat dry.” This recipe produces tender-crisp picked okra.

For Okra Lovers Only

What is your favorite dish containing Okra?

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Saving Seed is Easy

Let a couple of pods grow to full.size, remaining on the plant. Just befor frost, cut the pod and allow it to dry naturally before removing the seed.
Let a couple of pods grow to full.size, remaining on the plant. Just befor frost, cut the pod and allow it to dry naturally before removing the seed. | Source

Gumbo and Jambalaya

Okra is a key ingredient in my homemade Gumbo or Jambalaya. Make Gumbo or Jambalaya with or without okra. These two dishes are the reason I grow and freeze okra. Use these basics as a starter for your own version.

Gumbo or Jambalaya with okra can even be served as vegetarian versions. These dishes work as meatless meals, just add more vegetables like green peas, corn, beans. Try adding sun dried tomatoes, black eyed peas and even green beans.

The two recipes require a lot of ingredients and make huge amounts of food. Good thing. Because both recipes are even better the next day. Freeze half the recipe to have a quick meal that is easy to reheat, in the microwave, oven or crockpot. Just add steamed rice and dinner is ready.

Because the best okra dishes I have ever eaten, were in New Orleans, I suggest you go to NOLA where you can find Gumbo and Jambalaya

If you have the opportunity to visit New Orleans, go! Visit NOLA to plan your visit or vacation.

There is more than food in New Orleans, I always visit the St. Louis Cathedral, French Market and Preservation Hall.

If you still hate okra, consider trying it in a dish made by experts. NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana ) is filled with celebrity chefs famous for regional cuisine. Or, take a cooking class there. You just might like okra cooked correctly.

The family resemblance

Okra is in the same family as cotton and hibiscus. Their giant trumpet-like flowers are very similar.
Okra is in the same family as cotton and hibiscus. Their giant trumpet-like flowers are very similar. | Source

How to freeze okra

Okra is good for freezing and using later for thickening soups and stews.

1. Pick and prepare quickly

An ideal food for preserving in small batches, as you pick it, freeze it right away. Baby okra can be frozen whole and is best used in cooked dishes. Other wise, pick it at about 4 or 5 inches long. The ideal length depends on the variety.

If you want, pick fast growing okra every day. In a couple of days you will have enough to freeze in packages. Refrigerate until there is enough to process.

2. Clean and Trim

Wash whole pods quickly in plain cool or lukewarm water. Trim off both ends of the pod, removing only half of stem end to avoid exposing seed cell. Prepare only one batch for blanching at a time. If this is not done quickly, within thirty minutes, the pads begin to darken and deteriorate. Separate pods into similar sizes.

3. Blanch and chill

Dunk trimmed okra pods into boiling water. Once water starts to boil again, blanch small pods for 3 minutes and larger pods for 4 minutes. Immediately plunge into iced water until completely cool. Then drain.

Slice and spread in a single layer on a silicon or parchment lined cookie sheet. Freeze. Transfer into heavy ziplock bags or vacuum seal and return to freezer.

Cooking Tips

Okra will be watery when thawed. Add frozen okra directly in to stews, gumbos, soups. Do not thaw first.

Okra can be frozen up to 9 months for best quality. Storing okra longer, for up to a year, only deteriorates the quality of the food.

Prepared dishes, casseroles, soups containing okra can be frozen and then later prepared like any entrée. Example: Stewed Okra & Tomatoes

Okra Comes to Monticello

History of okra in America. Thomas Jefferson grew okra in his Monticello gardens. Specifically Cow's Horn okra seeds (Abelmoschus esculentus 'Cow’s Horn') They were sometimes grown as a companion plant with his “tomatas.” Martha, Jefferson's daughter, left a recipe for an okra soup which is essentially a version of gumbo.

Today, Cow's Horn okra is an easy to find southern heirloom variety. Slaves introduced okra to America. The pods were originally cooked in soups and gumbo dishes as a thickener.

Cook Okra Correctly

Okra, properly prepared, is not slimy. You might like okra if it is cooked right.

Okra Local Favorites

A sampling of heirloom okra varieties

Okra is grown around the world, so the varieties are endless. While this plant produces well in hot weather, the better the soil quality and access to water, the higher the yields. All plants produce white or pale yellow flowers.

Here is a small sample of some regional heirloom varieties that have done well in my garden (USDA Zone 6b)

  • Choppee - 3-6 ft. tall plants are heavy producers. Tender, spineless slim, pods.
  • Clemson - 1939 AAS winner. 4-7 ft. plants with few side-branches. Ribbed pods grow to 8” but best picked at 3”
  • Cajun Jewel - Dwarf-type growing only 2½-4 ft.tall. Popular in Cajun country since since the 1950s, but first commercially released in 1989. 1” diameter pods up to 8 in. long
  • Cow horn Okra or Texas Longhorn Okra – pods can grow10” but best harvested at 6-7” long. Plants just keep growing until frost. Will grow to 12' tall, or top the plant at 4' to promote bushier plants for easier picking. Pods are slightly curved, like a cows horn.

→ Make a second planting of seed about 6 weeks ofter first planting to ensure a long, steady harvest. Okra typically has a low germination rate. Plant heavily and thin seedlings to 2' apart.


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