Gardening is a great way to get some exercise, relieve stress, eat healthier, and increase your food security. And while some of us have always enjoyed gardening, it’s great to see a whole new crop of gardeners is emerging as people find themselves spending more time at home.
It’s late spring in Central Florida, and we can still plant many warm-season vegetables. Okra is a heat-hardy Southern favorite that anyone can grow. It is high in Vitamin C, fiber, and flavonoids. It’s also an attractive plant with lovely flowers. Okra is in the same family as cotton and hibiscus. This vegetable was originally brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans. Florida-grown okra is harvested commercially March – November.
Grow your own
I’d recommend a minimum of six plants to be able to harvest enough at one time to cook. Okra varieties include spineless (‘Clemson Spineless’), Heirlooms (‘Emerald’, ‘Silver Queen), red leaves and flowers (‘Alabama Red’, ‘Burgundy’), and compact types suitable for container-growing (‘Baby Bubba’, ‘Jambalaya’).
Plant okra seeds directly into your growing location. In sandy soil, irrigate daily during warm weather. Fertilize once plants are a few inches tall.
Cut okra pods when they are about three inches long. Okra grows fast, and once the plants start producing, you must harvest daily to prevent the tender pods from growing into inedible, woody ones. Okra flowers are also edible!
Harvesting and eating
Once harvested, okra can be stored dry in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator for only a few days.
Okra is usually eaten here breaded and fried, or in gumbo, but there are many creative ways to enjoy it. Very small pods are great eaten raw. Okra can be sautéed, roasted, or even cooked into marinara sauce and served on pasta. I’ll admit I never liked okra much until I had it in some Indian and African dishes that use rich seasonings and make the most of this mucilaginous vegetable. If you have more okra than you want to eat fresh, you can pickle it, or simply trim stems, blanch, bag, and freeze. Flowers can be eaten raw or fried.
For gardening and farming information and education, contact UF IFAS Extension-Osceola: http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/osceola/ , 321-697-3000.