tips on growing okra

Tom1953(5)April 6, 2005

We are growing okra for the first time. We have many people who have asked for it at our markets so we thought we would fill the need. We are starting in the greenhouse. Any tips?


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garliclady(z7 NC)

Well I usually soak my seed first to help germanation. After transplant keep it well watered and hope for a hot summer. once it starts producing check it EVERY day and keep it picked. Okra grows fast.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 12:13PM
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I started my okra (Clemson Spineless) in cell packs in regular potting soil under fluorescent lights. No soaking. I had 100% germination in 3 days (from 1999 seed)& they're now out in my cold frame hardening off.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 5:34PM
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Slotted row cover helps with additional heat.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 6:48AM
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jayreynolds(zone 6/7)

I've grown Okra, Tom, and highly recommmend clemson spineless, not spineless at all, so be sure to use care and/or if necessary wear sleeves/gloves, for it'll keep you up at night for sure. The spines are really hair-like, but irritating to the skin. Here are some tips:

Okra doesn't start moving till temps get into the 80's, it actually enjoys the 90's! So I intercrop it into a double row of leaf lettuce, following the lettuce by a few weeks.

The pre-soaking is an excellent idea, even for direct sowing. I direct sow at 1seed/inch and thin to 18", but some people plant densely, even thinning to 1/6". They will end up with many straight stalks without many branches, and fruit only at the end of the growing columnar plant.

By spacing widely, the plant will develop a branching structure with ten or maybe more fruiting points per 18" of row. Math will tell you that I am getting more growing points per foot of row. My plants become stump-rooted and sprad widely, up to 3 ft wide, so leave plenty of room for this crop! This year i'm planning to tip-prune the initial growing tip at about 2 ft high, to encourage uniform branching.

Last year, I found that after strong branching and harvest began, It was good to prune off the larger leaves which formed the initial plant before it branched, which had grown 1 ft wide leaes at that point. This allowed easier access to find the fruit without brushing up on so many spines.

I suggest using light pruning shears to harvest okra, as I've found snapping or knife-cutting them increases chance of getting spined. A two handed operation with secateurs in one hand and grasping the fruit in the other. I pick the rows with plastic trays used for under-the-bed storage.
Okra is fairly fragile and shouldn't be piled too deep in a box, or treated too roughly, or else by market time it will have dark bruises along the ridges and no be as attractive cosmetically. Okra can be picked at any size, and some people prefer small okra, mainly because it will always be tender. However, well-grown okra can remain tender through the larger sizes. Don't let customers cheat you out of half your crop by talking you into picking them too small, unless they are willing to pay a premium. Since Okra harvest takes place in the heat of summer, take care to reove field heat after picking, don't just let them sweat in a box. Spread them out to cool or just pack them into quarts and let them cool off. I get $2/qt.

The final word on whether or not an okra pod remains tender is to test it by snapping off the tip of the pod. If it snaps cleanly and crisply, it has not yet become fibrous and is just as good as a smaller pod. Under stress, the maximum size will decrease, so keep them well watered, and top dress them halfway into the season. They are amazingly productive.

One last word. If any exist, target the (east)Indian community, they are massive okra('bhindi') consumers, and can usually be contacted/networked through their dominance in the motel industry.

Oh, I forgot. Last year I ended up pulling my okra out of the ground in the fall with a chain and a front-end loader, some had stumps 4" in diameter!

More than you ever wanted to know about Okra? Maybe, but you asked for it.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 9:46AM
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Jay's comments covered the gamut of info. (I find okra plants one of the toughest to clear out, too.) Just don't bother to plant too early in the greenhouse. If the plants get checked because of cool temps when they go outside, you'll lose the GH advantage. If you use black plastic mulch, you can also direct seed -- loves the heat!

My traditional plant dates are mid May in GH and field plant end of first week June. That's for central PA which isn't prime okra country, but works for me.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2005 at 9:52PM
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softmentor(z9/sunset13 CA desert)

Jay hit the nail on the head. I use lots of clothing when I pick. A trick I learned from some of the farm labor in our area. Take an old long sleeve shirt and cut the sleeves off. Then sow an elastic bank on either side. Then when you pick, wear a long sleeve and gloves, then add these sleeve pieces you made to cover down over the glove and up over the sleeve. This way all the itch and spines and itch stay out.
I usually water 1/2 my stand and pick the other 1/2 each day. Then alternate the opposite day.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 7:23PM
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Ron_and_Patty(z7 GA)

Our red velvet orka plants are 4 feet tall, and temps have be in the high 80s and low 90s. Everyone else has been harvesting for weeks, and we have not even had a bloom! The location is in full sun. The plants do have some damage from Japanese beetles, but not a lot. What could be going on?


    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 11:17AM
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bucks(9 Arizona)

Most has been said above. What I did that helped me was to grow the Okra with enough space in between that the other row would not touch you when you are picking so that you skin has the least amount of contact. I wear a full brim hat and long sleeves to keep the itching down, but last year I bought some gloves from Seeds of Change that were for roses and such that had an extension of leather that went up over your forearm. What a difference this made. Be sure you buy the biiger sizes because their large is actually like a medium.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2005 at 10:21AM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

mine is really tall this year, and I'm short, so I kind of duck underneath it when picking. I can see what needs picking that way, and also, I'm under the spines. They love hot weather. so here in Indiana I don't even try to plant out until June 1st. I usually direct plant. I have too many good money makers to tie up my greenhouse to plant okra plants. (tomatoes)

    Bookmark   August 31, 2005 at 8:43PM
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I bought two Cajun Delight okra seedlings and--oops--put them into one 17" or 18" pot together. They are around a foot tall from the soil surface now and starting to make buds. Do I dare dig up the weaker looking one and put it into another pot at this stage? Thanks for any help you can give me!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 2:21PM
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Sounds like the weaker one will end up dying, but if you disturb the roots of the other one, it might die also. I don't think I would chance it. I know my okras got the 5-6' tall stage before the frost killed them.


    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 5:00PM
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rather than digging it up you could just cut it at soil level.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 9:09PM
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If you are growing okra for the first time, try 'Heavy Hitter' it's a new strain of the Clemson Spineless variety, being developed by OSU, that is extra hardy, and withstands much harsher conditions than its parent Clemson Spineless. During the severe drought of 2011 with temperatures in Northeast Oklahoma reaching 115 degrees, a trial of 'Heavy Hitter'made its debut, by growing over 60 branches and producing nearly 300 tender pods of okra. 'Heavy Hitter' consistently grew trunks that were over 2" inches in Diameter (8" inches in Circumference) with massively strong root systems. While other crops failed from heat or fell prey to grasshopper depredation, 'Heavy Hitter' prevailed as the hardiest plant in the trial. (This was the same new strain of okra that was presented by the ODA, at the Moore Norman Technology Center as the heaviest producing crop of 2011, hailing from Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 7:33AM
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Where can I find Heavy Hitter okra seeds? Anyone have some to sell or trade? New to the site but avid gardner for 20 years.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2013 at 4:24PM
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I have searched high and low but I can't find Heavy Hitter okra seeds anywhere. Does anybody have a source for this seed? All the posts I see are from 2012 and it seems like the subject has been completely dropped.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2014 at 5:19PM
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