Okra (Abelmosclus esculentus)
Originally from West Africa, okra runs in the blood of many Southerners for whom summer is not complete without a plate of gumbo, lightly battered fried okra or a side of pickled pods. The stunning plants belong to the mallow family with the relation to hibiscus readily apparent by the flowers, so be sure to make ornamental plantings in addition to those marked for harvest. For best yields pick every other day during the season but special care should be taken when harvesting because it can irritate the skin of some gardeners.
Nutrients: vitamins B6, C, and K, folate, calcium, manganese.
How to Grow Okra from Seed
Okra is a frost sensitive annual that requires full sun and well-drained soil. Okra will tolerate a wide variety of soils and once established is heat and drought tolerant.
Okra has a thick seed coat and does not germinate easily. Soak seeds in water at room temperature overnight and/or nick hard seed coat prior to planting for improved germination. Direct seed after the danger of frost has passed and soil has warmed to 62˚F. Sow seeds 1/2" deep and 3-4” apart in rows that are 3-6 ft apart. Seeds will sprout in 7-15 days. Thin seedlings so that mature plants are 12" apart.
Okra is ready to harvest in approximately 60-70 days. Depending on the variety, pods are best eaten when 2-3" long. If left on plant too long, pods become tough and fibrous. To increase productivity of plants, harvest every two days to promote further pod production.
How to Save Okra Seeds
Okra flowers are perfect and self-pollinating, but they are so large and showy they attract lots of bees to help get the job done. Okra needs at least ¼ mile to retain seed purity, but ½ mile would be best. Okra will keep producing as long as you pick, so it's best not to save pods from early flushes as you will be selecting for lower overall yields. Let your seed pod choices dry on the plant, and cut them off (wearing gloves!) with pruning shears or just grab the pod and twist. You can store the seeds in the pods until use, but for best long term storage, crack open the pods and store seeds in glass jars.