Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2000
Regional Report

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'Burgundy' okra shows off its colors.

Outstanding Okra

I'm a fan of okra. That works well since it's a great warm-season crop in the desert. It thrives in heat and the humidity that accompanies summer thunderstorms. It tolerates a range of soils and has an extended growing season. Last year, I was still harvesting okra in October.

Okra Planting Tips

Sow okra seeds directly when soil temperatures warm (70F). In the low desert, this means anytime from April through June, or even early July. At higher elevations, sow about four weeks after the last frost. I like to interplant a green variety of okra such as 'Clemson Spineless' with a red variety such as 'Burgundy' for an added visual appeal. Both pods and stems of 'Burgundy' are a deep red, and the leaves have red veins. Unfortunately, the pods turn green when cooked.

Okra Spacing

Okra plants grow quite large, so thin them to about one foot apart. This year I tried transplanting some seedlings that were too closely spaced into areas where germination was erratic, but I didn't have much success. Although the seedlings were quite small, the roots had already grown five to six inches. Okra doesn't like to have its roots disturbed.

Harvest Time

Okra is easy to harvest because the pods are fairly upright on the top of the plant. The taller the plant grows, the less bending over I have to do! My plants are about three feet tall now. Last year's crop reached about five feet. The stems are a bit thick, so I find that it easier to use clippers, rather than snapping them off with my fingers. Harvest when the pods are between 2 to 4 inches long.

Okra needs to be harvested every few days to get the tender pods. If left on the plant an extra day or so, pods become hard and tough. I confess that my okra crop gets away from me, but I clip off overly mature pods anyway and toss them in the compost. This ensures that the plants will keep producing rather than expending energy on seed production.

Watch The Spines

I always wear long sleeves, long pants, and gloves when weeding or harvesting okra. The plants have rough, barely perceptible spines that can cause skin irritation in many people. A friend of mine was harvesting okra wearing shorts and a tee shirt and was soon miserable.

How to Cook Okra

My favorite way to eat okra is to simply chop the pod into bite-size pieces and saute it in butter. If you've never eaten okra, be forewarned that when cooked it has a white "gummy" texture that some people don't like. Doesn't bother me! Okra is also terrific in gumbos and it acts as a natural thickening agent.

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