Get down with your southern side by growin’ some okra! Although a bit picky—it prefers hot and humid conditions and needs at least 2 months of strong summer heat in order to mature—your work will be well worth it. Okra leaves are lobed, hairy, and heart-shaped. Its papery flowers are a gorgeous light yellow with a dark center, resembling hibiscus flowers, and can be added to salads as a handsome and tasty garnish. The edible seed pods are lovely fried or pickled and can be found in recipes popular in the southern US as well as in Indian and Pakistani dishes.
Red Burgundy okra can be grown for its beautiful colors as much as its edible reddish-purple pods. Stems are also a bright red color, although leaves retain their green. Pods are tender when harvested at 4–7″ in length, and plants will reach around 4–5′ in height. This type does well in cooler condition but still prefers periods with temperatures over 80°F during the day. Although less productive than most green okras, Red Burgundy produces pretty well when compared with other red types.
Seed Depth: 3/4″
Space Between Plants: 20–24″
Space Between Rows: 24–48″
Germination Soil Temperature: 60–95°F
Days for Germination: 5–14
Sow Indoors: 4 to 5 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After all danger of frost has passed.
Grows best in warm or hot weather. Wait to transplant or start seeds until after soil temperatures reach a consistent temperature of at least 60°F, if not warmer. Note that if growing in cooler regions, okra will do perfectly well if you start it indoors to extend your season. Remember, seedlings are extremely delicate and should not be placed outside when there is even a slight chance of frost.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Will grow under most types of lamps but prefers bulbs that can provide higher levels of heat, such as HIDs.
Soil: Prefers loamy, well-drained soil. A pH of 6.5 to 7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Can be grown in soilless mixes, perlite, pine bark, and other soilless media. Useful for starting seeds indoors.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a variety of media-based hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water but hates soggy roots, so keep soil moist but not saturated. Aim for at least 1″ of water per week, increasing the amount during times of low precipitation and high temperature.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients. Plants prefer to be fertilized in small doses throughout the season. Try a fertilizer low in nitrogen because high amounts of this supplement will cause increased vegetative growth, redirecting nutrients away from seed pod production.
Foliar: Will benefit from applications of compost tea or fish emulsion.
Pruning: Will benefit from pruning once in late summer when plants get very tall and difficult to harvest. Cut back one-third of the plant top. New buds will form along the remaining stem.
Mulching: Although not required, mulching with an organic material such as straw or wood chips will keep weeds down and conserve soil moisture.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation is recommended. Alternate okra with onions, beets, carrots, or legumes to keep soil healthy.
Companions: Grows well with eggplant, potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes.
Harvest: Cut pods from plants, leaving a short stem attached, when they reach 3–8″ in length. Okra will grow quickly, so check plants every 1–3 days. Wear gloves or long sleeves when harvesting as some people are sensitive to the leaf hairs. If you leave the pods too long, they will get stringy and hard to eat, but remove them anyway to maximize production.
Storage: Pods will store well in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Fun Fact: Okra is sometimes called “lady’s fingers.” Let’s hope no real ladies’ fingers look like these pods!
Preserve: Okra pods can be preserved by blanching and freezing, either whole or cut. You can even bread them before freezing if you plan to fry them later. Otherwise, freeze okra after baking or frying. Okra is also great when pickled or brined.
Prepare: Before cooking, cut off the stem end and remove fuzz from older pods. Okra is commonly breaded and fried. It can also be used in soups, casseroles, stews, gumbo, or as a thickener. To avoid sliminess in cooked okra, try a vinegar treatment, using 1.2 c of vinegar per 1 lb of okra, and soak for at least 30 minutes. Rinse before using. The red types will lose much of their color after cooking.
Nutritional: Low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber. Okra provides vitamin(s) A, B, C, folic acid, calcium, and zinc.
Medicinal: Okra can help with moderating blood sugar, maintaining digestive health, and weight loss. Eating okra can provide a healthy internal environment for good bacteria and probiotics. It can also soothe ulcers, treat inflammation and sore throat, and act as a laxative. Topical preparations are good for hair and skin to provide moisture. Crushed leaves and roots can be applied to wounds.
Use your red okra pods to make this Spicy Pickled Okra for a colorful, crunchy snack.