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Thanks to all the rain this spring, your vegetable garden is probably a weedy, oxygen and nitrogen starved mess. Mine is. Thankfully there’s still time to plant peas, sweet potatoes and okra.Okra is synonymous with Southern culture. The African name for okra was gumbo and subsequently gave us the name for the popular Creole soup that my Cajun wife can make blindfolded. I grew up with okra and like it raw, boiled, roasted, grilled, fried, stewed and, of course, certainly in gumbo. Lots of folks who don’t like okra will eat it sprinkled with olive oil and seasoned salt, sea salt or Tony Chachere’s, and roasted in the oven at 400 degrees. Fried was my favorite growing up, because my mom could fry a shoe and make it edible.Okra is a warm season plant that cannot tolerate frosts, freezes or even cool nights. It thrives on heat so should be planted well after the last frost each year — generally April through May in East Texas, but as late as July 4. Okra is easily planted from seed. Soak it in warm water overnight to speed up the germination process. Once the seedlings are established and about 6 inches tall, thin them to 12 to 18 inches apart. Occasionally okra transplants are available which can be planted at the same spacing.Okra needs at least eight hours of direct sun each day for maximum production. It isn’t picky about soils as long as they drain well. Due to a susceptibility to root knot nematodes, it is best to avoid areas where this has been a problem in the past or where okra was planted the previous year. It is ideal to till in several inches of compost or organic matter and incorporate 2 pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) per 100 square feet of bed or every 35 feet of row before planting. For small plantings, use 2 teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. The ideal soil pH for growing okra is 6.0 to 7.0.Okra can be planted on flat ground or in raised beds or rows. The rows should be 6 to 8 inches high, 24 inches wide, and 36 to 48 inches apart. Using the corner of a hoe or a stick, open up a trench 1/2 to 3/4 inch deep and plant the okra seed at a rate of 4 to 5 per foot of row. Cover the seed lightly with well cultivated soil and gently tamp down with the back of the hoe to conserve moisture and ensure good seed to soil contact.Okra is easy to grow and relatively pest-free, but there are a few potential problems including nematodes and fire ants. Fire ants can inflict damage to the blooms, young pods and your hands. Treat the base of the plants and the mounds with an appropriately labeled pesticide when they occur. After thinning, lightly side-dress them with a high nitrogen fertilizer, like 21-0-0.Okra pods should be harvested when they are 3 to 5 inches long and tender. Sometimes they will snap from the plant but I usually use a pair of hand pruners. Okra foliage irritates some gardeners’ skin, including mine, so you might want to wear a long sleeve shirt. Okra needs to be harvested every other day to keep producing well. If the pods are left on the plant until they get tough and the seeds plump up, the entire plant will stop producing.All okra varieties do well in East Texas. When the plants get too tall to pick, I cut the top of the middle stalk which makes the plant branch from below at lower heights and increases production. Okra is native to Africa.Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.Recent Stories You Might Have Missed
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. He is author of Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Heirloom Gardening in the South, and The Rose Rustlers. You can read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com, read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com), and follow him on Facebook at “Greg Grant Gardens.” More science-based lawn and gardening information from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service can be found at aggieturf.tamu.edu and aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu.
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