The Okra – A Little History and Some Growing Instructions
Okra is a beautiful ornamental plant which produces flowers which resemble hollyhock or hibiscus blossoms as well as a delicious and nutritious vegetable. Okra most likely originated in northeast Africa where okra plants can be found growing wild along the banks of the White Nile River and where it has been part of the cuisine for thousands of years.
The name, “okra”, comes from the West African Ashanti word, “nkruma”, and its Cajun name, “gumbo”, comes from the Bantu word, “ngombo”. Okra was brought to the United States in the 1660s by slaves.
Okra grows best in warm, humid weather and requires full sun. In more temperate climates, to grow okra, the seed must be started indoors, 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. Okra does not like to have its roots disturbed, so plants must be started in individual pots. For best germination results, the pots should be bottom heated until the seeds sprout. Before transplanting, mix bone meal into the soil. Transplant after all danger of frost is over. Plant seedlings 12-18 inches apart in rows 24-36 inches apart. Okra will grow in containers, no more than 2 plants per half barrel container.
Okra pods should be harvested when they are young and tender and no more than 3-4 inches long. Okra plants will continue to produce fruit if the pods are harvested frequently. Older, tougher pods may be harvested and shelled for their unripe seeds which can be cooked like peas.