Growing up Southern gives you an added advantage. You probably love okra. Okra is definitely a most southern vegetable. Since I grew up in the Midwest, my appreciation of okra is not love, but it has become more than tolerance.
My first introduction to okra was in a can of vegetable soup, slimy little pieces that I pushed to the side and didn't eat after that first bite. Now that I'm grown, and my heart and home is in Dixie, I've tasted homegrown okra and let me tell you there is a world of difference.
The planting site should be in full sun, or at least have sunshine for 6 hours or more a day. It doesn’t do any good to plant okra seed early. It likes its soil warm and toasty in order to germinate. After all, its heritage is most likely African. So, wait until a couple of weeks after your frost-free date to plant it out in your garden.
You can plant it in rows or in hills, raised up a few inches to improve drainage. Do make sure you will be able to reach the tall plants from all sides in order to make harvesting easier. The plants should be thinned to about 2 feet apart, after they are up and growing. To speed the seeds along, you can soak them overnight in warm water before you plant them. Look for spineless varieties, since old timers can chew up your hands. Even so, when you harvest okra, be sure to wear gloves.
Harvest the pods every other day while they are young and tender. If some pods get away from you and stay on the plant too long, then cut them off and throw them away. Don’t leave them on the plant. You never want to let okra “go to seed” or you will lose new harvests. Once it sets seed, its reason for living is fulfilled and it has no more reason to put out any more flowers or fruit.
Keep your plants fertilized throughout the growing season and be sure to water them if rains don’t give them a good drink. Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden patch, you can grow okra. There are small varieties developed for container culture. Okra flowers are attractive and there are some with purple pods. You could even grow them in a flower border.
Re-evaluate your love/hate of okra. Try one of Chef Linda’s okra recipes on this site in the Articles section. I am especially fond of fried okra, and pickled okra is a real dilly of a treat.
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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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