Thomas J. Koske | 4/6/2005 1:29:05 AM
Okra (also sometimes called gumbo) is a favorite vegetable of the South, but even more valuable to Louisiana for gumbo. This nutritious vegetable will act as a thickening agent with its pod mucilage. It’s a warm-season crop, related to cotton, so it is found in many summer gardens when few things will grow well.
Start okra in mid-spring when soils have warmed well, or use black plastic mulch to warm early-spring soil. It may be best to wait for warm soil because a good start is important for successful okra production.
Soak the okra seeds overnight in warm tap water to soften the hard seed coats. Some gardeners lightly scratch seed on sandpaper to open the tough seed coat. Plant the seed about ¼- to ½-inch deep, and space plants 15-18 inches apart in well-developed rows with only moderate soil fertility. Soil pH should be 5.9 to 7.2. More acid soil will reduce growth and pucker young plant leaves.
Start with a fertilizer of lower nitrogen and higher phosphorous and potassium. About 3 pounds of 8-24-24 per 100 ft. of row is all you need preplant. Sidedress this long-term crop every month or more with nitrogen, using almost 1 pound of nitrogen fertilizer per 100 ft. If growth is rank, production may drop off; so avoid overfertilizing and reduce sidedressings.
Cultivars popular in Louisiana are Annie Oakley II and Cajun Delight for hybrid choices. Open-pollinated cultivars for this area include North&South, Emerald, Clemson Spineless, Burgundy AAS, Lee (compact plant) and Cowhorn (large pods).
Okra likes hot weather; when the pods start coming on strong, be sure to keep plants well picked to extend pod-setting growth. Old pods left to go to seed reduce total yields. Harvest pods every other day. A pod too small (no such thing) is much better than one a little too big. Ideal pods have a non-fibrous tip that snaps when pushed with the thumb. Discard all hard pods as soon as they're discovered.
In mid-summer when plants are tall, they may be cut back to 18 inches to resprout and regrow to a workable height. This is a good time to sidedress with fertilizer to restore new growth.
Okra pods are tender and store well for about a week in refrigeration. Blanch and freeze any that won’t be eaten soon.
Some problems we see on Louisiana okra include stink bug pod damage, nematodes, aphids, fire ants, high fertility production loss, skin irritation to gardeners, pod rot in extended rains, pod bruising with rough handling and post-harvest pod desiccation.