The healthy green pods are all the rage right now. Here’s what to look for when buying, growing, and caring for okra plants. Okra plants ( Abelmoschus esculentus ) likes it as warm and sunny as possible. So it’s impossible to grow tropical vegetables in our garden? With enough expertise and the right approach, okra can actually grow in your garden too. You can find out everything you need to know for this in our article. Here we will tell you where the okra comes from, which varieties there are and how they can be grown, cared for, and harvested.
The okra belongs to the muskrat genus ( Abelmoschus ) and comes from the mallow family (Malvaceae). The hibiscus (hibiscus ) also belongs to the same family, which explains the beautiful flowers of the okra plant. We call okra vegetable marshmallow and the delicious pod is known by many different names all over the world. In Asia, it is called Lady Fingers because of its shape or also Bhindi, in Brazil Quiabo, in Cuba Quimbombó, and in the Mediterranean region Bamyan. Other names for okra are edible marshmallow, gombo bean or Okolo, Egyptian bean, Gambo, gombo, Greek horn, greenhorn, or hibiscus fruit.
In Africa and Asia in particular, the pod with its numerous names is valued as an important vegetable and used in many ways in the local cuisine. For example, it is used in spicy curries, soups, or chutneys. Oil can be extracted from the seeds of the okra – roasted and ground it can even be used as a coffee substitute. Okra plants is still an insider tip for us. This can also be due to the fact that the climatic conditions in this country are not optimal for tropical vegetables.
If it is not warm and sunny enough, the cultivation of okra will not succeed. It is considered to be even more difficult to grow in our latitudes than, for example, peppers ( Capsicum ) or eggplant ( Solanum melongena ). In terms of taste, the okra pods are reminiscent of green beans and are not only delicious but also low in calories and good for digestion. In traditional medicine, they are even used to treat stomach irritation.
Origin and properties of okra plants
Okra plants are one of the oldest crops on earth – it is said to have been cultivated as early as 4,000 years ago. The vegetable originally comes from the highlands of Ethiopia. From there it spread rapidly across the entire African continent and made its way to southern Europe. The okra then found its way to North and South America through the slave trade. Today it is cultivated in all tropical areas of the world, the main cultivation areas are Nigeria, India, and Pakistan.
Okra is an annual plant and under optimal conditions can grow up to two meters in height. The stems of the plant are light green to reddish and covered with hair. Large leaves grow on long stalks at the nodes of the stems. From July, pretty flowers in white to light yellow or purple appear on the leaf axils. From this, 10 to 20 centimeters long, pointed pods that are covered with a fluff develop very quickly. Depending on the variety, the fruits can be light green, dark green, yellow, or red. Small, white seeds form in the cross-section of the five- to hexagonal pods.
As diverse as the names for the okra are, so is the variety of varieties that the vegetable can offer. The variety determines the shape of the fruit and the color of the pods. We have put together a selection of different types of okra for you below.
Okra varieties with green peel:
- ‘ Sun love ‘: The pods of this variety are rich green
- ‘Alabama Okra’: The special thing about this variety is the two-colored fruits: They are both green and red
- ‘Cajun Delight’: This variety gives you green pods and beautiful, white flowers
- ‘Cow horn’: Like cow horns, the fruits of this variety are particularly long
- ‘Eagle Pass’: This variety has short, thick pods and yellow flowers
- ‘Clemson Spineless’: This variety is high yielding and has no thorns
- ‘Emerald’: This variety has no spines and produces rounded pods
- ‘Lee’: The pods of this variety are small and tasty
Okra varieties with red skin:
- ‘Red Velvet’: The fruits of this variety are bright red
- ‘Bowling Red’: This variety has light to dark red pods
- ‘Red Burgundy’: The fruits of this variety are particularly intensely colored; they shine in deep dark red to purple
Okra varieties with yellowish and white skin:
- ‘Five Creek Cowhorn’: This variety bears light green to yellow long pods
- ‘Burmese’: The light green to yellow pods of this variety are just as beautiful as the white flowers with a purple center
- ‘Edna Slaton’s Candelabra’: The fruits of this variety are particularly long, but also rather thin
- ‘White Velvet’: The pods of this variety are white
Unfortunately, buying okra is not that easy. You will rarely find young plants in our stores, if at all. It is therefore easier to resort to seeds and grow young plants yourself. This is cheaper, but of course, requires a little more time and effort. When buying okra seeds, you should pay particular attention to the variety and shelf life of the seeds. You can buy this in spring in nurseries or order it from an online retailer.
Okra only knows it from its tropical homeland when it is sunny and hot. And that’s how she wants it in our garden too. In the following, we will show you where okra feels comfortable and how the plant is preferred and finally planted out.
The right location for okra
When it comes to okra, it is best to grow it in a greenhouse. You can only dare to cultivate it outside in the garden in sun-drenched vineyards. The tropical fruit wants to get at least six hours of sun a day, otherwise, it has little to no pods. The soil for cultivation should be loose and permeable. In addition, the okra is always hungry, it needs a lot of nutrients. The optimal pH value for the cultivation of okra is between 6.5 and 7.0.
What is the right location and soil for okra?
- As warm as possible
- Best in the greenhouse
- Loose, well-drained soil
- Soil rich in nutrients
- Ideal pH: 6.5 to 7.0
In order to give the okra a head start in the garden, we recommend that you give preference to young plants from seeds as early as spring. You can start doing this from the beginning of April. Prepare pots with a suitable growing medium – for example with the peat-free organic herb and seed compost. The seeds are soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours before sowing – this speeds up germination.
The seeds are then placed one centimeter deep in the pots, covered with the substrate, and moistened. The seedlings now feel most comfortable in a self-made mini greenhouse. At temperatures between 22 and 25 degrees, but never below 21 degrees, place the seed trays in a place on the windowsill. Now the seeds should germinate within ten days. One week after opening, the seedlings are separated and the weak little plants are sorted out.
Step-by-step instructions for choosing okra:
- Soak seeds in water for 24 hours
- Prepare pots with growing medium
- Plant the seeds about 1 cm deep
- Cover with earth
- Pouring on
- Place pots in a mini greenhouse
- Ideal germination temperature: 22 – 25 ° C
- Germination time: 10 days
- Isolate one week after emergence
Plant out okra
In mid-May the time has come: the young plants can be planted in the greenhouse. First, prepare the bed well by loosening the soil and removing any weeds or stones. In order to meet the high nutrient requirements of okra, enrich the soil with compost or a fertilizer with long-term organic effects. Organic universal fertilizer with organic long-term effects is ideally suited for this, as it provides the okra with sufficient and long-term nutrients.
Now prepare to plant holes with a plant spacing of 30 centimeters and a row spacing of 90 centimeters. Then very carefully remove the young plants from the growing pots. It is particularly important not to damage the sensitive roots of the plants. The plants are then only placed as deep in the ground as they were in the pot. Finally, water everything well.
How is okra planted?
- Loosen up the bed and remove weeds
- Enrich the soil with compost or a fertilizer with organic long-term effects
- Prepare to plant holes with a distance of 30 cm x 90 cm
- Very carefully remove young plants from the growing pots
- Only insert the plants as deep as they were in the pot
- Pouring on
The cultivation of okra is rather not for people without green fingers, because the plant also makes certain demands on its care. In the following section, you will find out what to look for when watering and fertilizing the plant.
The tasty and healthy pod needs a lot of water so that it can grow and flourish. Okra does not survive drought, but you cannot actually give it too much water. So water your okra regularly, even daily on hot days. The best time to do this is early in the morning.
Okra needs sufficient nutrients to be able to form beautiful, large, and, above all, many pods. So fertilize them all summer long. Three fertilizations over the summer have proven to be effective: the first time before planting, the second time after flowering and the third time after the first pods have been harvested.
Compost or a fertilizer with an organic long-term effect is ideally suited to fertilizing the okra for a long enough time. Organic universal fertilizer gradually releases valuable plant nutrients and is particularly gentle on the plant and the environment. The fertilizer also stimulates soil life, which is important for a healthy garden.
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Okra can be propagated well via seeds. If you want to harvest okra pods for seed production, you should wait a little longer than when harvesting to eat the pods, so that the okra seed shell becomes as large as possible. To harvest the seeds, the seed pods must dry on the vine and begin to crack or splinter on their own. You can now harvest the pods. At this point in time, the seeds are already detaching themselves from the seed coat and are also not covered with pulp. So you don’t need to wash them. Dry the seeds in the fresh air for a few days. The seeds will keep in a cool, dark, and dry place until the next gardening season.
How is okra propagated?
- The pods ripen on the plant and allow to dry
- Then harvest when the pods open on their own
- Remove seeds from the seed coats
- Allow airing dry
- Store in a cool and dry place
Harvest and store okra
About two months after the okra has been planted, it is time for the first harvest. Use a sharp knife or secateurs for this. The pods should be eight to ten centimeters long for harvest. The stem is cut off just in front of the pod. If the okra is harvested in this way, new pods can form over and over again throughout the summer.
Okra doesn’t like it cold even after the harvest, so it is best to use them as soon as possible and not store them in the refrigerator. The fresh okra pods only keep for a few days in the pantry. One way to preserve these delicious vegetables is to freeze them. This does not harm the pods, because the pods keep frozen for up to a year.
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Or you can put your okra in brine so that the taste and texture of the vegetables are preserved for a long time.
Harvesting and storing okra:
- First harvest 2 months after planting
- Harvest pods from 8-10 cm in length
- Cut off the stem just before the pod
- Harvest plants all summer
- Do not store pods in the refrigerator
- Consume fresh pods within a few days
- Preservation by freezing or soaking is possible
Ingredients and uses of okra
The exotic vegetables are valued in the kitchen mainly because of their great ingredients. 100 grams of fresh okra contain just 19 kilocalories and only 0.2 grams of fat. But the pods contain plenty of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamins K, E, B1, and B2. Okra can also be used with minerals and trace elements. In addition to calcium, potassium, and magnesium, it also contains iron, zinc, and folic acid. Thanks to its wealth of fiber and mucilage, okra is extremely beneficial for digestion and intestinal flora.
Although okra pods can be eaten raw, most of the time they are boiled or cooked. But don’t be surprised: when cooked, okra secretes a slimy substance. This has the same effect as cornstarch, it is well suited for thickening all kinds of food. However, if you do not want this substance to escape, you can boil the pods in vinegar water for a few minutes and then rinse them with cold water. Another option is to soak the pods in lemon water for a few hours before using them.
For use in the kitchen, cut off the stem and dry the end of the pod. Now the delicious vegetables can be processed and used in a variety of ways. The healthy pods taste good in soups, stews, curries, or pasta dishes. As a popular Turkish starter, okra pods are deep-fried and seasoned with onions and garlic. Another delicious way of preparing it is as a stew, along with tomatoes, garlic, and chili. A well-known African stew is a gumbo with seafood, poultry, smoked sausages, or other meat, with celery, onions, bell peppers, and of course okra pods.