Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: May through October
CHOOSING: Look for small green or red pods, 1 to 3 inches long, that do not have much black bruising on them.
STORING: Place okra in a produce bag in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Use it within a week.
GROWING: Okra likes to be in full sun and good soil. Prepare the bed by loosening the soil and working in compost. Start with seeds or transplants, but wait until the soil has warmed, about two to three weeks after the last spring frost. You can warm the soil quicker by covering it with black plastic until ready to plant. Soak seeds overnight before planting. Sow seeds 6 inches apart, and thin them later to 12 to 18 inches apart. If you are using transplants, disturb the roots as little as possible. Space transplants 12 to 18 inches apart.
Okra plants take about two months to start flowering. Once they do, fertilize again with a liquid or granular product at the rate specified on the label. Pods form immediately after the flowers fade. At the peak of the season, you’ll need to cut pods almost daily to prevent them from getting too big and tough. Use clippers or scissors to minimize damage to the plant. Remember to wear long sleeves when you harvest okra; it can irritate your skin. Store the pods in the refrigerator, collecting for several days until you have enough to prepare for dinner.
Standard-sized varieties such as Clemson Spineless will eventually get too tall to reach. To keep the plant under control, cut it back to 4 to 5 feet. Side branches will sprout and produce even more. For growing in containers, look for dwarf varieties that produce full-sized pods on a short stem, such as Green Fingers and Lee.