Okra is a favorite vegetable of the South, but even more valuable to Louisiana for its gumbos, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske. The mucilage (affectionately called slime) on this nutritious vegetable acts as a thickening agent.
Okra is a warm weather-loving crop, so it is found in many summer gardens when few things will grow.
Plant okra in mid-spring when soils have warmed well, or use black plastic mulch to warm early spring soil. "A good start is important to successful okra production," Koske says.
Soak okra seeds overnight in warm tap water to soften the hard seed coats. Plant the seed about 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep and 15-18 inches between plants in well-developed rows with moderate soil fertility. Soil pH should range from 5.9 to 7.2. A more acidic soil will reduce growth.
Apply 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 for 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 over fertilizing and reduce sidedressing.
Cultivars popular in Louisiana and that produce well are Annie Oakley II, Cajun Delight and Green’s Best for hybrid choices. Open-pollinated cultivars for this area include La Green Velvet, Emerald, Clemson Spineless and Gold Coast (local seed only).
Okra likes hot weather. "When the pods start coming on strong, be sure to keep plants well picked to extend pod-setting growth," Koske says, explaining, "Old pods left to go to seed reduce total yields."
Harvest pods every other day. A pod too small (no such thing, Koske says) 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 discovered.
In mid-summer when plants are tall, they may be cut back to 12 inches to18 inches to resprout and regrow at 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 excess that won’t be eaten soon.
Some problems found on Louisiana okra include stinkbugs, nematodes, aphids, fire ants, high fertility, skin irritation to gardener, pod rot in extended rains, pod bruising with rough handling and post-harvest pod desiccation.
For information on related topics, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com. Additional yard and garden topics are available from an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.