Name: okra, lady fingers, bhindi, gumbo (Abelmoschus esculentus).
Climate: grows best in tropical, sub-tropical and warm temperate climates, but can also be grown in arid/semi-arid and cold climates over summer, when all likelihood of frost has passed.
Soil: prefers a deep, well-drained soil enriched with organic matter such as compost and well-aged manure.
Position: full sun, protected from strong winds.
Flowering and fruiting: hibiscus-like, cream-coloured flowers with a magenta throat are produced 12–14 weeks from sowing, quickly followed by long, slender, edible green pods, which should be harvested at around 7–8cm long.
Feeding: additional fertiliser is usually not required in enriched soils, but an application of dynamic lifter or blood and bone can boost plants during the growing season.
Watering: drought tolerant, although regular watering is required for maximum fruit production.
Okra is an ornamental edible (both okra dry and cooked okra) with large-lobed foliage that rounds as it ages, like all other members of the Malvaceae or Mallow family. The large foliage has a lush appearance, bringing a tropical look to the summer garden. Okra is a cut and come again crop, meaning the more you harvest, the more you will produce.
Okra has a flavour described as sweet and grassy, but can grow in complexity depending on its preparation, ranging from crisp and juicy to dense and creamy in texture.
Cooked okra seed pods have traditionally been used as a thickener for soups and stews. However, their tolerance to hot weather means they are also growing in popularity as a vegetable crop and side dish.
The flowers are also edible, making for a lovely accompaniment to summer salads and drinks.
A summer or dry-season crop, sow in spring in cool and warm climates, and during the dry season in humid areas.
Take care when harvesting seed pods, as they are easily bruised and damaged. Harvest and use within three days; otherwise, blanch and freeze to preserve for around three months. Pick daily to extend your harvest.
Although okra is drought tolerant, the plants are lusher and produce a better yield with regular water. Improve soil prior to planting and top-dress with a mulch of compost or application of dynamic lifter throughout the growing season.
Susceptible to the same soil-borne pests and diseases as tomatoes, it is important to practise crop rotation (do not grow in the same spot for three to four years) to avoid nematodes and verticillium wilt.
Fungal problems can occur in areas with high humidity, or when plants are too close together. Space plants out to allow adequate airflow and avoid growing crops during the wet season.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Tomato: loves the same growing conditions as okra and is a star of the summer harvest.
Chilli: loves hot weather—in fact, the hotter the better for the heat of your chillies.
Squash: a wonderful fruiting vegie that is available in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes.
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