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Abelmoschus esculentus

Pronunciation: a-bel-MOS-kus es-kew-LEN-tus
Family: Malvaceae
Synonym: Abelmoschus esculentes
Common Name: Okra
Plant Type:
  • perennial
  • fruits, vegetables
  • annual
Height to: 6ft (1.8m)
Width to: 2ft (0.6m)
USDA Hardiness Zones:
  • 40 to 30ºF ZONE 10
  • 50 to 40ºF ZONE 11
Sun Exposure:
  • full sun
Bloom Description: The flower of Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) is a 3-7in (8-18cm) across white to yellow corolla with red or purple base
Soil Type: prefer average fertility, alkaline soil
Plant Perks:
  • Fragrant
  • Attracts Butterflies
Pests and Diseases: Aphids—Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves. Cabbage worms—Three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads of cabbage and related cole crops. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly is seen during the day hovering over plants in the garden. Cabbage loopers ("measuring worms") are smooth, light green caterpillars. The cabbage looper crawls by doubling up (to form a loop) and then moving the front of its body forward. The moth is brown and is most active at night. Diamondback worms are small, pale, green caterpillars that are pointed on both ends. The moth is gray, with diamond-shaped markings when the wings are closed. The damage caused by diamondback larvae looks like shot holes in the leaf. The larval or worm stages of these insects cause damage by eating holes in the leaves. The adult moths or butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves but otherwise do not damage the plants. The worms are not easy to see because they are fairly small and blend with the cabbage leaves. Cabbage worms are quite destructive and can ruin the crop if not controlled. They are even worse in fall plantings than in spring gardens because the population has had several months to increase. About the time of the first frost in the fall, moth and caterpillar numbers finally begin to decline drastically.
Propagation: sow Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) seed at 50-55ºF in late winter or after danger of frost
Native to: Tropical Asia
Notes for Identification:

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) also known as gumbo, is a tall-growing, warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. The immature pods are used for soups, canning and stews or as a fried or boiled vegetable. The hibiscus like flowers and upright plant (3 to 6 feet or more in height) have ornamental value for backyard gardens.

When to Plant

Because okra seeds do not germinate well in cool soils, plant seeds after the soil has warmed in the spring, probably a week to 10 days after the date of the last frost for your area.

Spacing & Depth

Sow seeds 1 inch deep in hills 12 to 24 inches apart. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, thin all but the one strongest plant per hill. The seeds may be soaked, wrapped in moist paper toweling or in water overnight, to accelerate germination.

Care

Okra usually grows well in any good garden soil. Shallow cultivation near the plants keeps down weeds.

Harvesting

The pods should be picked (usually cut) while they are tender and immature (2 to 3 inches long for most varieties). They must be picked often—at least every other day. Okra plants have short hairs that may irritate bare skin. Wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest okra. Use pruning shears for clean cuts that do not harm the rest of the plant. When the stem is difficult to cut, the pod is probably too old to use. The large pods rapidly become tough and woody. The plants grow and bear until frost, which quickly blackens and kills them. Four or five plants produce enough okra for most families unless you wish to can or freeze some for winter use.

Selection & Storage

Gumbo is Swahili for okra. The recent upsurge in the popularity of gumbo has also brought renewed attention to okra. Okra was brought to the new world by African slaves during the slave trade.

The pods must be harvested when they are very young. Preferably two inches long although three inch pods can also be salvaged. Harvest daily as the pods go quickly from tender to tough with increased size.

Refrigerate unwashed, dry okra pods in the vegetable crisper, loosely wrapped in perforated plastic bags. Wet pods will quickly mold and become slimy. Okra will keep for only two or three days. When the ridges and tips of the pod start to turn dark, use it or lose it. Once it starts to darken, okra will quickly deteriorate.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup sliced, cooked okra)

Calories 25
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Protein 1.52 grams
Carbohydrates 5.76 grams
Vitamin A 460 IU
Vitamin C 13.04 mg
Folic acid 36.5 micrograms
Calcium 50.4 mg
Iron 0.4 mg
Potassium 256.6 mg
Magnesium 46 mg

Preparation & Serving

Okra exudes a unique mucilaginous juice which is responsible for its thickening power in the famous Louisiana Creole gumbo dish. Aside from gumbo, okra compliments tomatoes, onions and corn, shellfish and fish stock. Okra has a subtle taste, similar to the flavor of eggplant.

Home Preservation

Freezing is the best method for long term home storage of okra. Freeze only young, tender okra. Okra must be blanched before freezing, as with all vegetables. Unblanched okra will quickly become tough and suffer huge nutrient, flavor and color loss during freezing. Follow the procedure outlined below for successful home freezing.

To Prepare Okra for Freezing

Since freezing does not improve the quality of any vegetable, it is important to start with fresh green pods. Avoid pods longer than 2 to 2-1/2 inches long. Okra that is at peak quality for eating is best for freezing.

  1. In a blanching pot or large pot with tight fitting lid, bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

  2. Meanwhile, wash, and trim of stems of okra pods, leaving caps whole.

  3. Blanch no more than one pound of okra at a time. Drop pods into boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.

  4. Start timing the blanching immediately and blanch for four minutes.

  5. Prepare an ice water bath in a large 5 to 6 quart container or use the sink.

  6. Remove the okra from the blanching water with a slotted spoon or blanching basket.

  7. Emerge the okra in the ice water bath for 5 min. or until completely cool. If ice is unavailable, use several changes of cold tap water to cool the vegetables.

  8. Remove from water and drain.

  9. Label and date, quart size, zip-closure freezer bags.

  10. Pack okra into prepared freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible by folding the top portion of the bag over. Gently push air out and seal. Freeze for up to one year at 32°F or below.

Note: Blanching water and ice water bath may be used over and over again. Return blanching water to a boil after each batch of vegetables is blanched and replenish water if necessary.

Source: Various sources including The American Horticultural Society A to Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and the University of Illinois

 

USDA Heat Zones (days above 86ºF):
  • Less then 1 day ZONE 1
  • 1 to 7 days ZONE 2
  • 7 to 14 days ZONE 3
  • 14 to 30 days ZONE 4
  • 30 to 45 days ZONE 5
  • 45 to 60 days ZONE 6
  • 60 to 90 days ZONE 7
  • 90 to 120 days ZONE 8
  • 120 to 150 days ZONE 9
  • 150 to 180 days ZONE 10
  • 180 to 210 days ZONE 11
  • Greater then 210 ZONE 12
Additions, corrections by: Bb
Seed photo: 1
Seed Label: 0
Located in: Perennials
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