Okra is a pod vegetable related to hibiscus and hollyhock. The plants grow 3 to 6 feet tall and have prickly hairs on the stems. The edible pod is actually immature when harvested. It is used in stews and soups, fried and boiled. Okra is a hairy, prickly herbaceous plant. The pods are best harvested when small, which may be between 50 and 65 days from sowing.
Okra is a fast-growing vegetable that requires well-drained soil and warm temperatures. The pods are the main feature and may grow from 3 to 8 inches long depending on the variety. The pods are usually green, but there are also red varieties, lightly to heavily ribbed and have a ring of edible seeds at the centre. Okra has a mucilaginous texture, which is effective for thickening liquid-based foods. The vegetable can get slimy if not cooked properly but can be eaten in a variety of ways. It is a characteristic ingredient of gumbo, a Cajun speciality stew that is thickened with the starch from the pods.
Varieties of Okra
Okra plants come in several varieties with different levels of cold hardiness and in various sizes. Annie Oakley and Dwarf Green Long Pod are mature in 52 days and yield tender pods and heavily ribbed pods, respectively. Clemson Spineless was developed as hairless plants that make harvesting less prickly. The other green varieties mature in 52 to 65 days on average and produce tall plants. Red Okra is ready for harvest in 55 to 65 days and bears 6- to 7-inch pods. Red Velvet is very similar and is a tall 3- to 4-foot plant. Burgundy produces a deep wine red okra pod.
Okra seeds will not germinate in soil temperatures below 15.6 degrees Celsius. Plant in spring when the soils have warmed sufficiently. The plant grows best in slightly sandy soils with excellent drainage. Sow the seeds 1 inch below the surface of the soil with 4 to 6 seeds per foot. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, thin them to 12 inches apart. Space rows at least 36 inches apart, although the larger plants may require slightly more room. Side dress the okra plants with manure and irrigate them enough to provide 1 inch of water per week.
Okra pods must be harvested when they are tender or the pods get woody and unpalatable. Harvesting begins four days after the first flowers and is done daily to ensure that the pods are young and sweet. If the pod is hard to cut, it is too old and should be discarded. You can preserve okra in plastic bags in the refrigerator for a week or freeze the pods for longer preservation. Leave some pods on the plants toward the end of the season to mature and provide you with seed for the next year.