Intense heat? Dry weather? No problem. Fresh Homegrown Okra – The Star of the Summer Garden

Fresh homegrown okra

Okra Thrives When Other Plants Die

We’ve had a nice, long, rainy spring this year.  But all good things come to an end, and it’s about time to start thinking about transitioning to some tough summer plants that will keep your garden producing when the heat arrives.  It’s time for fresh homegrown okra.

Okra is one of those no-brainer plants that keeps producing right through the summer heat.  And it’s an easy crop to grow, which means you won’t be out there in the heat trying to baby your plants along.

You might have to deal with some beetles or some aphids, but other than that – the trickiest thing about okra is learning to harvest it correctly.

Who’s the Okra Expert?

Last year we grew only Clemson Spineless, and this year we were looking for some different varieties to try – maybe something burgundy and maybe something heirloom.  So, who do you ask when you’re looking for Okra advice?

Somebody from Georgia, that’s who.

So I started digging, and sure enough, I found two good resources from the good folks at the University of Georgia Extension.

Read more: Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions

Everything You Need to Know to Grow Okra

The first resource I found is a guide for commercial growers.  So, as you would expect, it’s a little heavy on the pesticides/herbicides (and it’s a lot heavy on the fertilizer).  But those recommendations don’t really apply for small home growers.  What’s here that’s really useful is a lengthy guide about harvesting.  How long you should let the pods get for different uses, etc.  And, there’s a chart of different varieties and how they’re best used.

View or download the original PDF here: Okra – Commercial Vegetable Production

The second resource I found is a guide for the small home grower.  This one has good recommendations about pests and disease for home growers.  Basically – you shouldn’t have to worry about any diseases, and you should only control insects if you really need to.  And they recommend organic mulch as the best weed control.  I feel like the fertilizer recommendation is still a bit heavy handed.  Both documents warn against supplying too much nitrogen, but they both call for a lot of fertilizer – go figure.  In my experience, a light application of a balanced organic fertilizer works just fine.

View or download the original PDF here: Growing Okra in the Home Garden

How to Harvest Fresh Homegrown Okra

One tip I’ve learned is that it’s easier to manage your harvest if you have more plants – at least a small bed of them.  It’s not the best choice if you only have room for one or two plants.  If you only keep a few plants, then you’ll probably only get a couple of pods every day or two.

When you only get a couple of okra at a time, it can be tricky to find a way to use those few little pods.  But if you have a whole bed of them, you can pick enough for a good serving – to eat fresh, cook, or pickle – and then come back in 2 or 3 days for another good serving.

Some years we’ve kept a bag in the freezer just for okra, and if some pods are getting long but we don’t have enough for a serving, we add those odds and ends to the bag in the freezer until there’s enough to make gumbo or gazpacho or something else delicious.

Video: 6 Heat-Tolerant Survival Crops You Should Be Growing

When to Harvest Fresh Homegrown Okra

A good “rule of thumb” is to harvest them when they’re about as long as your middle finger – especially if you intend to eat them fresh.  Wait much longer and they’ll start to get hard and stringy.  If you can easily snap the pod in half and get a clean break – that’s perfect!

Do you have any good tips or tricks for harvesting okra?  Use the comments section below to share with the group.

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Thanks to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension for publishing and sharing both of these handy guides.

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Michael Ford


Contributor

Michael has been the resident editor at The [Grow] Network since January 2015. Michael grew up in St. Louis, where he became a lover of nature - hiking and fishing his way through the Ozark hills in Missouri. He attended Baylor University in Waco, TX, and he currently lives in Austin. Michael has background experience in small-scale farming, commercial growing, vegetable gardening, landscaping, marketing, and software development. He received his Permaculture Design Certification from the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2013.


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3 Comments
  • d. henry Lee

    Fried is still my favorite but also my wife cuts them up in 1/4 pieces and sautes them with tomatoes and some onion. Love it.

    I have to wear a long sleeve shirt when I pick okra because if the leafs rub on my arms and hands, they itch like crazy.

    I use emerald variety. They can get bigger than most and still be tender.

  • billie gonzalez

    I’ve learned to use the soak water from okra for helping with blood sugar. Sometimes the pods get too large and tough for “eating’ even if chopped up. So I use the tough ones for the soak water: slice the cap off, cut into slices, cover with water, including the caps –drink this water in the morning on an empty stomach. I have used the soaked okra a second time (don’t refrigerate it when soaking) and then it gets passed on to our parrot, who loves the seeds.
    On one occasion I wanted to cook an okra omelette and only had frozen okra, didn’t want to wait for them to thaw. So, I poached them in a little water till just thawed, let them cool on the chopping board til cool enough to handle, sliced them up for the omelette. By the way, we also eat them raw, cap and all., whole–out of hand, or sliced and added to salads (don’t put any kind of dressing on the salad until ready to eat it, or the okra will start producing it’s mucilaginous fluid . I never throw the caps away. The poaching water I also drained off and drank. It could also be used as a soup broth base. The hardest part is to try not eating all that I pick before getting back to the house!

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