Okra – a Southern Tradition in Every Garden

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Well, there’s a lot of foods that southerners have enjoyed for generations and others have only more recently discovered. Biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, country ham, chitlins, cornbread, hushpuppies, deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes just to name a few.

How about the southern garden? Collard greens, turnip greens, sweet potatoes and yes, okra, are more commonly found in the south. If the world doesn’t know by now, don’t fault Paula Deen, she’s tried her best to spill our secrets. Hmm! Hmm! I can smell that okra frying now.

Well, okra is a wonderful garden plant. Quite stately in appearance, this member of the cotton family makes a wonderful summer vegetable. It can be prepared in many different ways. While frying is a favorite, there’s nothing that goes down easier than stewed or steamed okra.

How about some succotash!! I’m not even going to explain that one if you don’t know. The incredible edible pod – there’s about as many ways to use okra as Bubba had to use shrimp. Pickled, stewed with tomatoes, dried, roasted, and of course who can pass up that pot of gumbo?

Growing okra in the garden is relatively easy. However, you better wait until the weather gets a tad warmer. In Western North Carolina, it is best to wait until after June 1 to put your okra in the ground. It’s a warm-season crop and likes high temperatures in the day-time.

There are several different varieties from which to choose.

‘Clemson Spineless’ is the most widely grown variety. It has been around awhile and was a All-American Selection in 1939. It’s an open-pollinated heirloom (as are many okra varieties) and plants reach a height of about 4 feet. The dark green pods can get up to 9 inches long.

In all cases, okra pods should be harvested while they are still tender. They tend to get woody and hard if left on the plant too long. While okra can also make a nice ornamental, even the flowers are edible.

‘Annie Oakley II’ is actually a hybrid that matures early (50 days). Plants reach about 4.5 feet in height. Green pods hold well on the stalk and it usually has a prolific yield.

‘Baby Bubba’ is a hybrid that is very compact and good for containers. It only gets about 3.5 feet tall. Dark green pods are usually about 3 inches long.

‘Blondy’ is an OP that bears 3-inch pale green pods. While the plants can reach 4 feet, it still works for containers and patio gardens.

‘Burgundy’ is another OP that has, as the name implies, red stems and pods. Pods will fade some upon cooking. However, it is a taller, later maturing plant and makes a great ornamental as well.

‘Carmen Splendor’ is another red-podded okra. This hybrid is another early variety that produces well with an abundance of 4-5 inch pods.

‘Cajun Delight’ is a hybrid that produces attractive green 3-5 inch pods. It also gets about 4 feet tall.

‘Cowhorn’ is in a class of it’s own. This old southern heirloom can get up to 14 feet tall and produces pods that can reach 14 inches in length. It does take about 90 days to mature, so you’ll have to wait a little longer for your gumbo.

‘Emerald’ is another older variety. It was developed by Campbell’s Soup about six decades ago. The pods can get up to 7 inches long and are relatively straight compared to other okras.

‘Louisiana Green Velvet’ is another OP heirloom. Another later maturing variety, plants can reach heights of eight feet and dark green pods eight inches.

‘Bowling Red’ is an OP that was developed in Virginia over 100 years ago. The long, tender red pods grown on plants that can reach 8 feet in height.

Okra will easily grow on a variety of soils. Seeds should be soaked overnight in water before planting. Sow seeds in rows that are three feet apart. Sow seeds about six inches apart in the row and then thin to about one plant per 18-24 inches.

As a general rule use about two pounds of 10-10-10 analysis fertilizer per 100 square feet at planting. Then add another 3 ounces of fertilizer when plants are 6-8 inches tall and then again about three weeks later.

Okra can tolerate some drought, but don’t let the plants get stressed. When water is needed, soak the ground good about once a week.

Enjoy the pulchritude of the stately okra plant. Enjoy the delicious pods in any number of ways. But don’t get excited. It’s not June 1 yet.