Once you discover more of the amazing attributes of this versatile plant, you’ll want to know more about how to grow okra. Yes, we’re a bit early in recommending this summertime vegetable, but now’s the time to start planning what you’ll be growing.
Each spring we watch the soil temperature with our laser digital thermometer, waiting for it to get warm enough to plant okra here in North Carolina, zone 7a. The soil needs to be at more than 60℉. It’s like a right of passage to get those okra seeds into the ground because it means gardening season is full on!
Planting okra signifies gardening season is now in full swing!
Plant okra when soil is consistently higher than 60℉.
Okra – Do You Love it or Hate it?
Mention okra to someone and you’ll likely get one of two reactions.
“I love okra!”
“Ewwww, okra is gross. I can’t stand slimy okra!”
If you love fried green tomatoes… things southerners understand, you’ll love fried okra. We’re not talking about healthy eating here… but good old fashioned comfort food, southern fried style.
However, there are healthier ways to “fry okra”, such as cooking in an air fryer or roasting in the oven that taste just as good without all the oil.
The alternate reaction will likely be a slight wincing of the facial muscles and comments about the distasteful slime factor that accompanies cooked okra.
Mentioning there are ways to cook away the “slime”, also known as mucilaginous properties, has little effect on the “never eat okra” tribe. They’ve been badly initiated.
Cousin to hibiscus, with its own beautiful flowers, okra is a multifaceted vegetable in the mallow family (Abelmoschus esculentus).
The Okra Family Mallow
As a member of the mallow family, okra has the prettiest blossoms in the garden resembling its cousin, the flowering hibiscus.
Scientifically dubbed Abelmoschus esculentus, okra plants are a warm-season crop grown in home gardens throughout the Southern united states, and also popular in warm regions around the world. Okra is a tall, upright plant with a beautiful pale pink on the outside, pale yellow flower on the face and petals, and a deep burgundy interior.
The immature, young seed pods are the most common edible part of this plant. However, all parts are edible, as we will discuss further down.1)https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/okra/
Okra, Okro, Lady Finger, Bhindi…
Also known as “lady finger” and “okro”, okra is popular in Indian and African cuisine. Said to originate in Africa, there’s some dispute and vagueness around it’s exact origins. However, we do know that it’s actually a perennial in its original tropical and subtropical climates. For North American climate, okra is grown elsewhere as a garden annual.
In the South, we have the luxury of just sticking seeds in the warm ground (note: an overnight soak in tepid water helps germinate). Those in other regions may need to get a head start with indoor seeding and setting out the transplants after the last frost. Even then, a row cover might be handy in speeding up the growth. Greenhouse growing is also an option. 2)https://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/1491587/any-okra-tips-for-the-cold-north-regions 3)https://www.almanac.com/plant/okra
Soaking okra seeds overnight in tepid water helps germination.
Okra Plant Image
Gardens All Facebook community member, Patricia McMaster shared her lovely image of okra growing in her garden in Oklahoma. Patricia’s farm is McMaster Farmstead, on Facebook.
Edible Parts of Okra – All of it!
- Fruit (the vegetable pod is actually a fruit)
For those interested in growing the most food in the least amount of space, okra has the benefit of being highly edible. Most people just eat the okra “fruit”, yep… okra is a fruit and not actually a vegetable, though we all eat it and think of it as such. But that’s not the only edible parts of okra. 4)https://www.gracelinks.org/blog/3010/real-food-right-now-and-how-to-cook-it-okra
You can eat the “fruit”, leaves, flowers and seeds of the okra plant!
Edible Okra Leaves
Okra leaves can be eaten as you would spinach: raw in salads, steamed, sautéed and in soups. Here’s an okra greens and corn recipe.
Most people are not fond of the pokey texture of the leaves, however steaming or boiling served with lemon juice and butter or olive oil, sautéing, or added to soups. 5)https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/okra-greens-and-corn-saute-recipe-1969160
On the last day of harvesting okra for us in zone 7a, is when we make sure to harvest all healthy okra leaves before pulling out the plant to make way for planting garlic.
We sautéed them with onions in garlic butter then added potatoes and broth for a creamy potato soup with chopped okra greens.
Okra seeds can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute, similar to chicory, barley, and dandelion roots. 6)https://www.instructables.com/id/Coffee-From-Okra-Seeds/
Delicious and nutritious, okra is another wonderful food with benefits
Okra contains 22% of daily values (DV) of vitamin C.
- Intestinal tract
- Reduces bad cholesterol
- Vitamins – C, A, and folate
- Minerals – iron, potassium and magnesium
*Preliminary studies show that okra may be beneficial for diabetes due to an ability to lower blood sugar in lab studies of mice.
Okra Water, Okra Extract and Okra Seeds – Medicinal Benefits
This diabetes prevention benefit, is perhaps why some cultures have a tradition of drinking okra water. In one study they used the okra seed extract for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.7)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24079173 In the other study, an okra extract was used to improve blood glucose levels of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) rats.8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26706676
In the other study, an okra extract was used to improve blood glucose levels of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) rats.9)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26706676
“An infusion of roasted okra seeds has long been consumed in Turkey for diabetes therapy.”
Source: Dr. Axe 10)https://draxe.com/okra-nutrition/
Yes… Okra Leaves are Edible!
Toss some okra leaves in with your salads, sandwiches and soups for additional nutrition.
Okra Leaves Nutrition
- Vitamins – A and K (trace amounts)
- Minerals – iron and magnesium
- Fiber for digestive health
The primary nutritional contribution of okra leaves appears to be the insoluble fiber, good for digestive health. Many cultures enjoy okra leaves for the zesty bitter flavor okra leaves add to soups and gumbos. 11)https://www.livestrong.com/article/550346-can-you-cook-breaded-okra-in-a-convection-oven/
We were already fans of okra before knowing any of this information. Now we want to grow even more! So, how do we plant and cultivate this amazing crop?
Okra is Easy to Grow
Okra is one of the easiest plants we grow.
How to Grow Okra
Where to Grow Okra
- Full sun
- Slightly acidic ~6pH
- Well draining, organic rich soil
- Space for the okra plants:
- up to 8′ tall x 3′ width
- Plant okra seeds in the ground when soil is consistently higher than 60℉
- Prepare okra seed by
- soaking overnight in lukewarm water, or
- scarification, (roughing seeds with sandpaper to break the tough husk down more quickly
- Plant seeds 1 inch deep
- Space seeds 4 inches apart in the row (thinning to 12 inches) and in rows 24 inches apart 12)
- Planting Okra Seedlings 12″ apart in rows 24 inches apart
- Apply a balanced fertilizer at the specified rate 12)
- Water diligently as needed during dry and hot conditions
- When 24 inches tall, pinch off the tip of main stem to cause branching and better yields 12)
- Be careful: Roots are shallow and somewhat delicate
Okra Growing Season
- Area dependent – plant after last frost
- Okra takes about 2 months after planting to mature
When to Harvest Okra
- Midsummer to early fall
- Harvest daily
- 3″ in size
Once the pods start popping out, a daily survey is necessary to make sure you harvest them while they’re still small.
3 inches is the ideal maximum size for harvesting okra.
Once the pods get bigger, they become tough and inedible and also cause the plant to slow down production. It’s surprising how quickly those okra pods can increase in size! Often, a plant will send out side shoots that produce additional pods.
Jing Orange Okra adds visual delight and height in an edible landscape plant.
Okra – the Queen of the Garden
Our fresh-from-the-garden okra is much enjoyed. At the end of the season, we always wish we’d grown more. So in 2018, we’ll be doubled our okra production and added in a different variety.
By the way, the Jing Orange, with its showy red pods, is well suited as an ornamental plant for yard gardeners. Clemson Spineless (80) is very prolific producer. Other types include ‘Perkins Long Pod’, Alabama Red’ and ‘Eagle Pass’.
Growing Dwarf Okra in Containers
When space is limited, you can try dwarf okra.
Since we definitely have limited sunny space, this year we’re growing dwarf okra ‘Baby Bubba’ and ‘Cajun Delight‘ in large pots. Another dwarf variety good for container growing is ‘Annie Oakley II’.
These bush like varieties grow to about 4 feet high and can produce in 55 days. This way you can grow okra if space is limited. 12)https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/vegetables/growing-okra-zw0z1312zsto
You might try growing dwarf varieties (like ‘Annie Oakley II’, ‘Baby Bubba’, or ‘Cajun Delight’) in large size containers. These bush like varieties grow to about 4 feet high and can produce in 55 days. This way you can grow okra if space is limited. 13)https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/vegetables/growing-okra-zw0z1312zsto
Choose dwarf varieties of okra for container growing
Cajun Jewel, Dwarf Okra grows to approximate 4′
Dwarf Okra, Baby Bubba grows to approximate 4′
How to Cook, Prepare and Season Okra
There are so many ways to prepare okra.
Steamed, boiled, sautéed, in soup, stew or gumbo, stir fry, southern fried or picked, okra is versatile food that can be prepared in all kinds of ways and all kinds of cuisines.
The simplest and healthiest way to cook okra is to steam them until slightly tender and intensely green.
Steamed with Dressing
Serve steamed okra with a little balsamic vinegar, or if you prefer, some Italian dressing, or butter, or Texas Pete’s hot sauce. The best! There’s also a fantastic Indian curry dish called Bhindi Masala which we prepare on special occasions.
Soup, Stew and Gumbo
A favorite addition to Southern-style soups and stews, okra is well known as a staple in gumbo.
and of course, is a delight when breaded and fried. For a healthier version, try rolling in cornmeal and baking in the oven or air cooker.
All kinds of recipes can be found on line and in many hard copy cookbooks. Pickled okra is easy to make for “putting up” and it can even be grilled alongside your favorite entree. Dried okra or okra chips make fine snacks.
Those of you who are fans of okra but have yet to grow it should know its taste quickly diminishes after harvest. What you buy at the store is tasteless compared to fresh okra out of the garden. So, if you have the space and fair soil conditions, why not grow some? Even some of the “never okra” crowd might reconsider if they try it fresh and cooked so the “ewwwy” stuff is minimized.
Gardens All Facebook community member, Michael Hamori, shared his okra photo and yummy recipe. Super simple summer okra goodness!
Roasted Corn and Okra
Preheat oven to 250℉
Quantities: use approximately equal amounts of each… vary according to your preferences and how much you have on hand.
- Okra – sliced into 1/4-1/2″ slices (1 centimeter)
- Corn on the cob – fresh, scraped corn from cob into a bowl
- Red bell pepper – finely diced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Seasoned pepper, to taste
- Cumin (optional; good if you want a Mexican flare)
- 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
- Toss all these ingredients together into a large bowl.
- Spread over a greased cookie sheet
- Bake on low heat at 250℉ until the corn starts to brown on top. So yummy.
Awesome! Thanks, Michael!
For a whole bushel of tasty okra recipes, you might visit TheSpruce.com.
Wishing you great gardens and happy harvests!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson
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