If you learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare okra correctly, it is a delicious, healthy addition to your diet and a beautiful addition to the garden.
Okra is a tall warm-season annual that can be grown for its beautiful flowers alone. Afterward, the flowers develop into a vegetable known for its fiber, folate, and vitamin K, in addition to the ability to slow the digestion of carbs and sugars.
Here are 7 tips for how to grow okra
1. Understand that okra is a warm-season crop
It helps to know that okra belongs to the same plant family as heat-loving hibiscus and cotton. For that reason, okra grows best in warm soil. As a general rule, okra needs 60 days of very warm weather to do well. The heat of Arizona summers is an advantage when growing okra.
2. Plant the correct variety of okra for your climate
Varieties of okra for high heat and low humidity areas (such as the low desert of Arizona) include Becks, Emerald Green Velvet and Texas Hill Country Red. Other varieties that do well are Clemson Spineless and Burgundy.
3. Plant okra correctly
Although okra tolerates poor clay soil, it does better in amended soil. Direct sow when soil temperatures are warm (80-95 ℉). Okra needs full sun to grow well.
Plant seeds ¾” deep and about 6” apart. Thin to 1 foot apart; mature okra plants are tall and wide and need plenty of room to spread. Be aware that because the plants grow tall, okra can shade other plants. Remove lower leaves on bottom of stalk as plant grows up, if desired.
4. Okra likes deep regular watering
Water okra to a depth of 8-12”. Mulch well to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.
5. Harvest okra early and often
Once okra flowers, it will be ready for harvest in 3-4 days. The taste of okra pods is best when harvested at 2-3” long. Okra pods longer than 4” begin to be fibrous and inedible.
Make it a point to harvest okra daily while it is producing – leaving pods on the plant slows or stops production. Always harvest okra by cutting with a knife or pruners – pulling the pods off can damage the plant.
6. Store okra correctly
Store okra in a paper bag in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Don’t wash okra until you are ready to use it. Harvested okra can also be frozen for up to 12 months.
7. Eat okra a variety of ways
For best taste, prepare okra as soon as possible after picking. Enjoy okra fried, pickled, grilled, fresh, and in gumbo. When okra is prepared whole, the mucilaginous juice (that gives okra a slimy feel) is less apparent.
In addition to more traditional ways of preparing okra, drinking okra water is becoming a popular way to enjoy the health benefits of okra.
In this article, I share my 7 favorite okra recipes.