Okra

Introduction

Okra is a tropical, heat loving plant in the hibiscus family. Okra plants are drought and heat resistant. The immature pods are used in soups, stir fries, pickles, and stews. The mucilage in okra acts as a thickening agent in soups, such as gumbo. Pods may be round or star shaped. Buyers for fresh market generally prefer star shaped pods, while soup manufacturers prefer a round pod of the Emerald type. Both types are acceptable for the frozen food industry. Okra is high in fiber, both soluble, in the form of gums and pectins that lower serum cholesterol, and insoluble, which helps maintain a healthy digestive system. 

Okra requires warm weather and is frost-sensitive. The time to harvest for okra ranges from 50-60 days. Most varieties have hairs on all parts of the plant that can cause skin irritation, so gloves and long sleeves may be needed for harvest. There are also spineless varieties and red-fruited varieties. Though okra is often listed on pesticide labels with other fruiting crops (Crop Group 8) along with eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, they are not a related species and share few pests.

Types and Varieties

Okra Varieties
Beck's Big Buck
Buffalo Bill 91
Carmine Splendor
Clemson Spineless
Cajun Jewel
Emerald Green
Jambalaya
Jambalaya 2.0
Long Green Pod
Red
Burgunday

Soil Fertility

A well-drained, fertile soil is best for growing okra. Avoid both soils that are poorly drained and soils that are very sandy and light. Apply lime according to soil test to maintain a soil pH at 6.0-6.8.

If plants are to be grown on plastic mulch, the amount of nitrogen fertilizer to be sidedressed can be reduced, since leaching is minimized. If using transplants, apply a liquid fertilizer at transplanting, especially with cool soil conditions. Use a high phosphorous starter fertilizer mixed at a rate of 3 lb/50 gal water. Apply 8 fl oz (1 cup) per transplant.

PLANT NUTRIENT RECOMMENDATION ACCORDING TO SOIL TEST RESULTS FOR OKRA
OKRA NITROGEN (N) LBS PER ACRE PHOSPHORUS (P) LBS P2O5 PER ACRE POTASSIUM (K) LBS K2O PER ACRE
SOIL TEST RESULTS   VERY LOW LOW OPTIMUM ABOVE OPTIMUM VERY LOW LOW OPTIMUM ABOVE OPTIMUM
Broadcast and Incorporate 50 150 100 25-50 0 200 100 50 0
Sidedress 3-4 Weeks after Planting 40 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sidedress 6-8 Weeks after Planting 40 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTAL RECOMMENDED 130 150 100 25-50 0 200 100 25-50 0

Planting

Seeds are sometimes soaked in water for 24 hours due to their hard seed coat to encourage germination. Transplants may be started in the greenhouse, preferably on a heat mat kept at 68-86ºF, and transplanted to larger pots 6 weeks before planting into the field at the 3- to 4-leaf stage. Okra is generally grown in locations where it will receive full sunlight throughout the day. Okra grows best at 75-90ºF and should not be planted outdoors before the soil temperature reaches 65-70ºF at 4" depth, usually in early June. Plastic mulch, row cover and high tunnels can be used to help achieve the heat requirements. Black plastic mulch with drip irrigation will increase yields.

Plant populations range from 7,000-15,000 plants per acre, depending on the variety. Spacing ranges from 8-24" in the row (100-50 plants per 100 feet of row respectively) with 28-38" between rows.

Harvest and Storage

Flowering will occur as soon as 45 days after seeding, depending on the variety, and pods are ready for harvest 5-6 days after flowering. Okra will set fruit without honey bees but bee activity has been shown to increase yields. Pod tenderness (which is desirable) decreases as size increases. Most varieties will lose their tenderness when they exceed 3-4" in length. For this reason okra plantings must be picked every 2-3 days to maintain optimal market size and increase yield. Pods are harvested by twisting them off the plant or cutting with a knife. After harvest, use forced air or a cool room to bring the okra down to 50-55ºF at 85-90% relative humidity, where it may be stored for 7-10 days. Below 50°F, okra pods are subject to chilling injury.