Growing and Saving the Seed Of Okra
Okra, also known as gumbo or lady’s finger, is an Hibiscus relative grown for its immature seed pods. Okra thrives in hot weather and is often the last one standing in Southern gardens when the punishing summer heat has brought less hardy vegetables to their knees. Few northerners realize that okra will grow just fine in their area, as the plants grow and produce seed pods quickly once summer has set in. Okra is one of the most ornamental vegetables, which comes as no surprise considering okra’s glamorous close relative. Many people integrate especially striking varieties, such as Jing Orange and Bowling Red, into the flower garden to showcase the mallow-like flowers, flashy red foliage and seed pods.
]The exact origin of okra is unknown, although it is believed to hail from Ethiopia, western Africa, and southern Asia. Early accounts of the plant were mentioned in Egypt in 1216 AD. Okra was introduced to the Americas in the 1600s, presumably carried aboard slave ships from Africa.
- Southern growers should soak seeds for 24 hours before planting, and direct seed after soil has warmed and all chance of frost has passed.
- Plant about 6 inches apart in rows 6 feet apart.
- Shorter season growers can start okra indoors 3-4 weeks before the expected last frost date.
- Plant seeds ½ to 1 inch deep.
- Ideal germination temperature is 75-90 F.
- Seeds germinate in 7-14 days.
- Growing okra is a breeze, especially if your summers are very hot.
- Okra will tolerate poor soil and sparse water. Plants will flourish with even minimal compost and irrigation.
- Okra does not like excessively rich soil. Set transplants out or thin seedlings to 15 inches apart.
- Mulch plants with straw, and water sparingly when plants just begin to wilt.
- Pick the pods when they are young and tender.
- Okra can be susceptible to aphid damage. A strong stream of water on affected foliage will knock aphids off of plants; insecticidal soap will also curb the population.
- Beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewing flies will also help to keep other pests away.
- Okra is a self-pollinating crop. However, insects may be tempted to cross pollinate the flowers.
- To ensure pure seed, bag or cover plants with a row cover to protect the flowers.
- Harvest pods for seed saving when they have turned brown, split and have begun to dry out.
- Bring pods inside to finish drying. Once totally dried out, twist pods to release the seeds, which are large and round and usually come free without any chaff.
- Simply store the seeds in a cool, airtight container, and they will keep for up to 3 years.