Okra

Okra or Okro, Abelmoschus esculentus, known in many English-speaking countries as ladies' fingers or ochro, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. Its edible green seed pods are a food. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins.



The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate regions around the world and is a notable part of the cuisine of the Southern United States as well as Middle Eastern cuisine, Indian cuisine, Brazilian cuisine and Sri Lankan cuisine.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

3 - 6 feet


Width-Circumference (Avg)

2 - 5 feet


Approximate pH

between 6.0 and 7.0


Varieties of Okra


Blondy


Typically, this okra variety (dwarf) only reaches up to four feet tall. It produces three-inch-long pods that are spineless and pale green.

Blondy is another excellent option for those with a shorter growing season, taking about 50 days to reach full maturity. It works well in container gardens and small plots.


Baby Bubba Hybrid


This plant is appreciated for its small size and suitability for cultivation in containers and small garden plots. These plants typically reach 3-4 feet tall and 24 inches wide.


Baby Bubba produces dark green okra fruits, taking 53 days, on average, to mature. So, if you live in a northern area or somewhere with a colder climate, Baby Bubba is ideal for shorter growing seasons.


Burgundy


The plants typically reach five feet in height and 4 feet in width. That’s pretty large for a single plant.

If have space, this is one of the okra varieties that is a real showstopper. It has burgundy-colored stems with green leaves that create a gorgeous contrast. The pods on this variety are 6-8 inches long, taking 49-60 days to reach maturity.


Clemson Spineless


Clemson Spineless is not a small or dwarf variety. The plants reach four feet tall and four feet wide. It takes 60 days to reach maturity. The pods are spineless, dark green, slightly curved, and up to nine inches in length. This okra variety has been the industry standard and the most popular type on the market.


Bowling Red


Since it originated closer to the southern states, it is a long-growing season variety, taking up to 65 days to mature. Remember, that’s in ideal conditions.

Bowling Red plants grow up to eight tall with deep red stems that make this a real showstopper. The pods are long and thin, and gardeners remark that these are more tender than your average okra pod.


Cajun Delight


Cajun Delight is a hybrid okra plant that takes up to 55 days to reach full maturity. This plant reaches up to four feet tall, so it’s not ideal if you want to grow okra in containers.

The pods on this variety are dark green, measuring 3-5 inches long with a slightly curved shape.


Jing Orange


One of the most popular varieties of okra is Jing Orange that produces a lovely deep reddish-orange, colorful pod.

It’s a Chinese heirloom variety that grows six to eight-inch long pods early, even if you live in dry conditions. Gardeners remark that these pods are incredibly tender once cooked in a dish. The plants themselves aren’t too long nor too small. They measure five to six feet tall, so in the middle of the possible ranges.


Go Big


It’s hard not to appreciate a double duty plant – offering edible, delicious fruits and looking gorgeous while doing so. Go Big okra is perfect for those who like ornamental plants with a purpose.


These plants are tall, typically reaching up to seven feet tall and five feet wide. It’s not a variety if you want to grow okra in containers unless you have a massive pot for them.

Go Big produces dark green pods that are about seven inches long, and it takes up to 65 days to reach full maturity.


Cow Horn


If you live in the south and have a longer growing season, Cow Horn okra can be an ornamental plant for you as well. It’s a large, heirloom that takes up to 90 days to reach maturity.

Cow Horn plants can reach up to 14 feet tall – seriously! To match, the pods are enormous as well, reaching up to 14 inches in length with a curved shape.


Emerald


These are not ideal plants for someone who wants to grow okra in containers; they can reach up to 8 feet tall. Seeds are heirloom and open-pollinated.

The pods grow up to seven inches in length with a smooth, dark green color. It takes up to 60 days for this plant to reach full maturity.


Star Of David


This variety of okra originated as an Eastern Mediterranean heirloom seed, reaching up to seven feet tall or higher. This plant can be even taller than that, so Star of David okra is not recommended for small space gardening or containers.

This plant has purplish leaves and fat pods that take up to 75 days to reach maturity. That’s why it’s recommended as a cultivar for southern gardeners to grow. It’s right on the cusp of being too long for short season gardeners. It’s not a spineless variety.


Jambalaya Okra

This is a productive but compact okra variety that is awesome for growing pods that work well for canning and other preservation methods.

The pods measure about five inches long that are really meaty and take 50 days to reach maturity. That means it’s a fantastic option for northern gardeners or southern gardeners who want two harvests. Since these plants are compact, typically measuring four feet tall, you could grow them in containers if you wanted. The plant starts to produce pods as soon as it’s two feet tall.


Burmese


It is an heirloom variety of okra that originated from Burma or Myanmar. It’s an early producing cultivar that takes about 53 days to produce its harvest.

Burmese okra plants start to produce when the plants are about 18 inches tall, and they’ll continue to bear fruit until the first frost hits in your region. Burmese plants have huge leaves that measure up to 16 inches across. The pods grow up to 12 inches long, slender-looking, and curved while being virtually spineless. As the pods mature, they change from light green to a yellow-green.


Alabama Red


It can reach maturity in as little as 50 days, and it grows to a height of five to seven feet tall.

These plants produce abundantly, yielding fat red and green pods. The stems and leaf veins are red to match the pods. You’ll love these pods; they’re delicious fried or pickled fresh.


Perkins Long Pod


Perkins is an heirloom variety with a shorter growing season, taking only 55 days to reach full maturity. It works well for northern and southern gardeners.

Perkins Long Pod plants reach about five feet in height, bearing straight green pods that measure four inches long.


Silver Queen


Silver Queen okra is a variety that loves the southern states, thriving in the heat of summertime. It doesn’t like cold weather at all.

Silver Queen is one of the okra varieties that takes longer to mature, typically about 80 days. That’s another indicator that this cultivar does better in warmer climates with a long growing season. It’s an heirloom variety that can reach up to six feet tall, producing ivory-green pods that measure seven inches long.


Red Velvet


This okra variety produces plants that grow up to five feet tall and four feet wide, so they’re on the border of being an acceptable size for small space gardening. Red Velvet okra produces scarlet red pods that are ribbed and reach up to six inches long. It takes about 55-60 days to reach full maturity.


Louisiana Green Velvet


It is another open-pollinated, heirloom variety of okra that produces large plants. Louisiana Green Velvet plants can be up to eight feet tall, producing eight inches long, dark green, and spineless pods. This exceptionally large plant bears fruit abundantly, and makes a bold statement in the landscape. Expect maturity in about 65 days.


Hill Country Red


It’s an heirloom seed created in the Texas Hill country. The plant reaches an average of six feet tall, which adds an exciting look along with producing delicious fruit.

Hill Country Red takes about 64 days to mature, producing green fruits with red tinges throughout that measure up to six inches long.


Planting Okra


Okra needs full sun and hot weather with evening temperatures that are in the 60s or warmer. Soil needs to be fertile and well-drained neutral pH. Before planting, mix aged manure and/or compost into the soil.


When to Plant Okra

  • Sow okra directly into the garden 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date and cover the plants with a 2- to 3-foot-high cold frame or grow tunnel until the weather warms up fully. Make sure that the covering is this high so that plants have room to grow.

  • Or, to direct sow okra seeds without any protection from the cold, wait until the soil is 65° to 75°.

  • Where summers are short, especially in more northern areas, start okra seeds indoors in peat pots under full light 3 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost.

How to Plant Okra


Okra’s BB-pellet size seeds have a hard shell. To speed germination, soak seeds for a few hours in warm water before sowing.

  • Plant okra seeds about 1/2 to 1 inch deep and 12 to 18 inches apart in a row. You can soak the seeds overnight in tepid water to help speed up germination.

  • If you are planting okra transplants, be sure to space them 1 to 2 feet apart to give them ample room to grow.

  • Okra plants are tall, so space out the rows 3 to 4 feet apart.


Growing Okra

  • Eliminate weeds when the plants are young, then mulch heavily—4 to 8 inches—to prevent more weeds.

  • When the seedlings are about 3 inches tall, thin the plants so that they are 18 to 24 inches apart.

  • Keep the plants well watered throughout the summer months. One inch of water per week is ideal, but use more if you are in a hot, arid region.

  • Side-dress the plants with 10-10-10, aged manure, or rich compost (1/2 pound per 25 feet of row). You could also apply a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly. Avoid too much nitrogen, which deters flowering and encourages leafy growth. Learn more about soil amendments and preparing soil for planting.

  • High heat can slow the growth of okra.

  • Prune the tops of okra plants when they reach 5 to 6 feet tall. This will result in more side branches. Prune those as needed.

  • In warm regions, some growers cut plants to about 2 feet when productivity slows in summer. The plants grow back and product another crop of okra.

  • After the first harvest, remove the plant’s lower leaves to help speed up production.


Care for Okra


Keep your Okra plant hydrated, water your plant every morning to allow it to retain water throughout the day. Space out the seedlings by thinning them when they’re about 3 inches tall. Thin out the smaller seedlings and leave the stronger ones intact. Keep your plant away from unwanted pests and weeds. If you spot any unwanted plants, remove them. To keep the bugs at bay, use a homemade pesticide and keep your plant in a good shape.


Harvesting

  • Harvest the okra when seed pods are 1 to 2 days old and 2 to 4 inches long; these appear about 2 months after planting. This is when okra is at its softest and most digestible.

  • Cut the stem just above the cap with a knife. If the stem is too hard to cut, the pod is probably too old and should be tossed.

  • Wear gloves and long sleeves when cutting the okra because most varieties are covered with tiny spines that will irritate your skin. Do not worry. This irritation will not happen when you eat okra. There are spineless varieties, if that bothers you. Whether spine or spineless, irritation doesn’t occur when you eat okra.

  • Harvest often: The more you pick, the more flowers will appear, and okra goes from flowering to fruit in a few days.

  • Severe freeze can damage pods, so if one is predicted and plants are drying on the plant for seeds, cut the plant and hang it indoors to dry. Put a paper bag over it so if the pods shatter, seeds will not be last.

How to Store Okra

  • To store okra, put the uncut and uncooked pods into freezer bags and keep them in the freezer. Or wash and blanch okra before freezing.

  • You can also can okra to have it throughout the winter.


Pests and Diseases


Pests:


1. Aphids


Symptoms: Small soft bodied insects on underside of leaves and/or stems of plant; usually green or yellow in color, but may be pink, brown, red or black depending on species and host plant; if aphid infestation is heavy it may cause leaves to yellow and/or distorted, necrotic spots on leaves and/or stunted shoots; aphids secrete a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew which encourages the growth of sooty mold on the plants.


Comments: Distinguishing features include the presence of cornicles (tubular structures) which project backwards from the body of the aphid; will generally not move very quickly when disturbed.


Management: If aphid population is limited to just a few leaves or shoots then the infestation can be pruned out to provide control; check transplants for aphids before planting; use tolerant varieties if available; reflective mulches such as silver colored plastic can deter aphids from feeding on plants; sturdy plants can be sprayed with a strong jet of water to knock aphids from leaves; insecticides are generally only required to treat aphids if the infestation is very high - plants generally tolerate low and medium level infestation; insecticidal soaps or oils such as neem or canola oil are usually the best method of control; always check the labels of the products for specific usage guidelines prior to use.


2. Armyworms


Symptoms: Singular, or closely grouped circular to irregularly shaped holes in foliage; heavy feeding by young larvae leads to skeletonized leaves; shallow, dry wounds on fruit; egg clusters of 50-150 eggs may be present on the leaves; egg clusters are covered in a whitish scale which gives the cluster a cottony or fuzzy appearance; young larvae are pale green to yellow in color while older larvae are generally darker green with a dark and light line running along the side of their body and a pink or yellow underside.


Comments: Insect can go through 3–5 generations a year.


Management: Organic methods of controlling armyworms include biological control by natural enemies which parasitize the larvae and the application of Bacillus thuringiensis; there are chemicals available for commercial control but many that are available for the home garden do not provide adequate control of the larvae.


3. Spider mites


Symptoms: Leaves stippled with yellow; leaves may appear bronzed; webbing covering leaves; mites may be visible as tiny moving dots on the webs or underside of leaves, best viewed using a hand lens; usually not spotted until there are visible symptoms on the plant; leaves turn yellow and may drop from plant.


Comments: Spider mites thrive in dusty conditions; water-stressed plants are more susceptible to attack.


Management: In the home garden, spraying plants with a strong jet of water can help reduce buildup of spider mite populations; if mites become problematic apply insecticidal soap to plants; certain chemical insecticides may actually increase mite populations by killing off natural enemies and promoting mite reproduction.


4. Root-knot nematode


Symptoms: Galls on roots which can be up to 3.3 cm (1 in) in diameter but are usually smaller; reduction in plant vigor; yellowing plants which wilt in hot weather.


Comments: Galls can appear as quickly as a month prior to planting; nematodes prefer sandy soils and damage in areas of field or garden with this type of soil is most likely.


Management: Plant resistant varieties if nematodes are known to be present in the soil ;check roots of plants mid-season or sooner if symptoms indicate nematodes; solarizing soil can reduce nematode populations in the soil and levels of inoculum of many other pathogens.


5. Thrips


Symptoms: If population is high leaves may be distorted; leaves are covered in coarse stippling and may appear silvery; leaves speckled with black feces; insect is small (1.5 mm) and slender and best viewed using a hand lens; adult thrips are pale yellow to light brown and the nymphs are smaller and lighter in color.


Comments: Thrips can produce several generations of insect per year.


Management: Avoid planting next to onions, garlic or cereals where very large numbers of thrips can build up; use reflective mulches early in growing season to deter thrips; apply appropriate insecticide if thrips become problematic.


6. Loopers


Symptoms: Large or small holes in leaves; damage often extensive; caterpillars are pale green with a white lines running down either side of their body; caterpillars are easily distinguished by the way they arch their body when moving; eggs are laid singly, usually on the lower leaf surface close to the leaf margin, and are white or pale green in color.


Comments: Insects overwinter as pupae in crop debris in soil; adult insect id a dark colored moth; caterpillars have a wide host range.


Management: Looper populations are usually held in check by natural enemies; if they do become problematic larvae can be hand-picked from the plants; an organically acceptable control method is the application of Bacillus thuringiensis which effectively kills younger larvae; chemical sprays may damage populations of natural enemies and should and should be selected carefully.


Diseases


1. Charcoal rot


Symptoms: Discoloration of stem at soil line; cankers on stem may spread upwards; leaves may wilt and drop from plant; numerous small black sclerota (fungal fruiting bodies) develop in affected tissues and can be used to diagnose the disease.


Comments: Fungus had a wide host range and affects beans, tobacco, soybean, pigeon pea and many other crops; disease is primarily spread via microsclerota in the soil.


Management: Rotate crop to non-host to reduce build-up of inoculum in the soil; avoid water stress to plants by irrigating when required.


2. Fusarium wilt


Symptoms: Wilting of cotyledons and seedling leaves; cotyledons become chlorotic at the edges and then necrotic; older plants exhibit symptoms of wilting and leaf chlorosis; wilting is usually gradual but may be pronounced after heavy summer rain; if infection is severe plants become stunted and may be killed; vascular system of infected plants becomes discolored and can be seen by cutting the stem.


Comments: Disease emergence is favored by warm temperatures; fungus may be introduced to field through infected seed or by contaminated equipment and human movement.


Management: Use on certified, disease-free seed; plant varieties with higher resistance to the disease in areas with a history of Fusarium diseases; fumigating the soil may reduce disease incidence.


3. Powdery mildew


Symptoms: Powdery white covering on leaves; patches may coalesce to cover entire plant; if plant is heavily infected leaves may roll upward and appear scorched.


Comments: Fungus overwinters on plant debris or alternate host; disease emergence is favored by warm, dry weather with cool nights that result in dew formation.


Management: Use overhead irrigation (washes fungus from leaves and reduces viability); plant crop as early as possible; applications of appropriate fungicides may be necessary to control the disease.


4. Southern blight

Symptoms: Sudden wilting of leaves; yellowing foliage; browning stem above and below soil; browning branches; stem may be covered with fan-like mycelial mat.


Comments: Fungus can survive in soil for long periods; disease emergence favored by high temperatures, high humidity and acidic soil; disease found mainly in tropical and subtropical regions, including the southern United States.


Management: Remove infected plants; avoid overcrowding plants to promote air circulation; rotate crops with less susceptible plants; plow crop debris deep into soil; provide a barrier to infection by wrapping lower stems of plant with aluminum foil covering below ground portion of stem and 2-3 in above soil line.


5. White mold


Symptoms: Flowers covered in white, cottony fungal growth; small, circular, dark green, water-soaked lesions on pods leaves and branches which enlarge and become slimy; cottony white growth may be visible on lesions during periods of high humidity; death of branches and/or entire plant.


Comments: Fungus can survive in soil for in excess of 5 years; disease can be spread by wind, contaminated irrigation water and by infected seeds.


Management: Rotate crops with non-hosts like cereals and corn; plant rows parallel to direction of prevailing winds to prevent spread of disease from secondary hosts nearby; avoid excessive nitrogen fertilizer; use a wide row spacing.


6. Enation leaf curl disease


Symptoms: On lower surface of leaves we will see a small pin head enations. This enation become warty and rough in structure at later stage. Reduce in leaf size. The stem, lateral branches and leaf petioles become twisted along enation. Leaves appear thick and leathery. In severely infected plants the emerging leaves shows bold enations and curling. And produce few deformed fruits.


Comments: The virus is transmitted by white fly.


Management: 1. Remove the infected plant and burn them to avoid further spread of disease 2. Use yellow sticky traps to monitor whiteflies population 3. If the whiteflies infestation is more spray suitable insecticides.


7. Yellow Vein Mosaic Disease


Symptoms: The infected leaves shows alternate patches of green and yellow. Veins become clear and chlorotic. With the progress of disease the veins become conspicuous and both vein and vein lets become thick. In advance stage the stems and leaf stalk become distorted. Fruits are yellowish green in color and small in size.


Comments: Transmitted by white fly Bemisia tabaci. It causes huge loss if disease occur at early stage of crop.


Management: Use resistant cultivars. Sow disease free certified seeds. Roughing of infected plants. Follow crop rotation. Keep the field free from weeds. Control vector with suitable insecticides.


Benefits of Okra


Okra is low in calories but packed full of nutrients. The vitamin C in okra helps support healthy immune function. Okra is also rich in vitamin K, which helps your body clot blood. Some of the other health benefits of okra include:


Fight Cancer


Antioxidants are natural compounds that help your body fight off molecules called free radicals that can damage cells. Free radicals are most well known for causing oxidation damage, which can eventually lead to cancer.


Okra contains antioxidants called polyphenols, including vitamins A and C. It also contains a protein called lectin which may inhibit cancer cell growth in humans.


Support Heart and Brain Health


Polyphenols decrease your risk of heart problems and stroke by preventing blood clots and reducing free radical damage. The antioxidants in okra may also benefit your brain by reducing brain inflammation.


Mucilage—a thick, gel-like substance found in okra—can bind with cholesterol during digestion so it is passed from the body.


Control Blood Sugar


Various studies have shown okra may help control blood sugar levels. Researchers believe okra may help prevent sugar from being absorbed during digestion.


Prenatal Support


One cup of okra has 15% of the daily value of folate, a helpful nutrient for pregnant women. Folate helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which can affect the brain and spine of developing fetuses.


It boosts the immune system


The healthy fiber in okra feeds much-needed good bacteria in our intestines, which builds our immunity against viruses and infection.


Uses

  • The oil extracted from okra can also be utilized as a vegetable oil.

  • Okra water is used as a traditional and alternative therapy for diabetes.

  • The young seed pods are eaten fresh or cooked as a vegetable.

  • Okra fiber can be used in paper production.

  • The mucilage produced by the okra plant can be used for the removal of turbidity from wastewater by virtue of its flocculant properties.

  • Okra oil suitable for use as a biofuel.

  • Okra may be used in developing countries to mitigate malnutrition and alleviate food insecurity.

  • In some countries the seeds are used as a substitute for coffee.

  • The leaves and immature fruit long have been popular in the East for use in poultices to relieve pain.

  • It is eaten as a vegetable, raw, boiled, steamed, fried and stir-fried and is a common ingredient as a thickening agent in soups and in gumbo.

  • The leaves are sometimes used as a cooked green vegetable or as feed for cattle.

  • Okra gum is used industrially

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