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By: Teo Spengler
Okra is a warm season vegetable that produces long, thin edible pods, nicknamed ladies’ fingers. If you grow okra in your garden, collecting okra seeds is a cheap and easy way to get seeds for next year’s garden. Read on to find out how to save okra seeds.
Grow okra plants in full sun in well-drained soil. Plant okra in the spring several weeks after all danger of frost has passed. Although okra grows with minimal irrigation, watering every week will produce more okra seed pods.
If you’re interested in saving okra seeds from species in your garden, make sure the plants are isolated from other okra varieties. Otherwise, your seeds might be hybrids. Okra is pollinated by insects. If an insect brings pollen from some other okra variety to your plants, the okra seed pods may contain seeds that are hybrids of the two varieties. You can prevent this by growing only one variety of okra in your garden.
Timing on okra seed harvesting depends on whether you are growing okra seed pods to eat or collecting okra seeds. An okra plant flowers a few months after planting, and then it produces seed pods.
Gardeners raising seed pods to eat should pick them when they are about 3 inches (7.6 cm.) long. Those collecting okra seeds, however, must wait awhile longer and allow the okra seed pod to grow as big as it can.
For okra seed harvesting, the seed pods must dry on the vine and beginning to crack or split. At that point, you can remove the pods and split or twist them. The seeds will come out easily, so keep a bowl nearby. Since no fleshy vegetable matter clings to the seeds, you don’t need to wash them. Instead, dry the seeds in the open air for a few days, then store them in an airtight jar in the refrigerator.
Although some okra seeds can remain viable for up to four years, many do not. It’s best to use collected okra seeds the next growing season. For best results, soak the seeds in water for a day or two before planting.
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Okra is a vegetable that is used in soups and casseroles or is fried and boiled. It is a warm-weather crop, so it is primarily grown in southern climates. Okra is also sometimes grown as an ornamental plant in flower gardens, as it can reach a height of up to 6 feet and produces flowers similar to those of hollyhocks. Whether you use okra as a garden vegetable plant or as a floral, if you have a good crop you can save seeds from your prized plants for next year's garden.
Leave one or two okra on the plant to mature. The okra is ready for seed harvesting when it is large and pale in color.
Clip the okra off the plant with your garden shears. Set it in a dry, airy location to dry for 48 hours.
Place the okra on a cutting board. Take a sharp knife and slice the okra in half from top to bottom.
Gather the okra seeds from the inside of the okra and place them on some paper toweling. Separate any plant debris from the seeds, and leave the seeds on the paper toweling for another 24 hours.
Place the dry okra seeds in an airtight container, such as a plastic baggie, and store them in a cool, dry location until it is time to plant them.
One reason okra is easy to grow is that it tolerates different types of soil and climates. The most important things are that it gets enough sun, it’s roots don’t remain wet, and that 75 degrees or warmer.
With these conditions, you will be able to grow okra. If you live in a warmer climate, you will enjoy okra for a long growing season.
It’s important to know that okra is a warm weather crop. It needs heat. Okra grows fast in temperatures that range from 75 – 90 degrees.
It’s important to plant okra at the right time. It’s not like lettuce, kale, cabbage, etc. which are cool season crops.
Temperature is the key to a successful okra harvest. Okra seeds won’t germinate if it’s too cold the seeds will rot in the ground.
The most important thing is to plant okra when it’s at least 65 degrees F.
To ensure a successful crop, grow okra when the soil is a minimum of 65 degrees when you test the soil to 4″ deep. To do this, get a simple soil thermometer.
Diseases on okra are most severe in cloudy, damp weather. Check the plants daily and treat them with an approved fungicide if diseases appear. Neem oil, sulfur, and other fungicides are available for use. Always follow label directions.
Okra plants will produce large flowers about 2 months after planting. The okra pods will be ready to pick 3 to 4 days later.
Harvest the pods when they are 3 to 4 inches long. If the okra gets too large, it will be tough and stringy. Pick the okra every 1 to 2 days or yields will decrease (Fig. 3).
Okra can be stored for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. Okra that is too mature can be dried, cured, and used in flower arrangements.
Okra seed is easily saved for next season by leaving some of the last pods on the plant until they get very large. Remove them and allow them to dry. The seeds will shell easily from the pods. Other okra plant material such as leaves and stems can be put in a compost pile.
Figure 3. Harvest okra when it is about 3 to 4 inches long.
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Do not wash okra. Wet pods become slimy and mold quickly. Refrigerate dry okra in perforated plastic bags. Use within a few days before the pods' ridges and tips start to turn dark.
Because of the long growing season and hearty production, four or five plants usually produce enough okra for most families. More plants may be needed, though, to can or freeze okra for use during the winter.
While old seed pods cannot be eaten, they are perfect for dried flower arrangements.
Cross-pollination is not a concern for vegetables of differing species it is a concern for those of the same species. Cross-pollination does not affect the fruit during the growing season but the seed for next year's crop. This impacts home gardeners who grow two different okra cultivars and save seeds for the next growing season, as the seeds saved are likely to contain characteristics of both okra varieties.
Since okra is self-pollinating, it produces a decorative bloom that attracts bees and other insects that travel from one bloom to the next, leading to cross pollination. Covering the flowers just before they open with a cloth bag and keeping them covered while in bloom is one method of prevent cross-pollination. Other methods include growing only one species of vegetable or spacing them. The degree of cross-pollination depends on several factors: the insect population, the growing season, the cultivar and competitive vegetation.
It’s best to grow okra from seeds because it has a taproot that can be damaged when it’s transplanted. However, since okra is a warm weather crop, you may not be able to plant it outside until June in cooler climates. So, many in cooler climates do start their okra indoors. If you prepare the seeds and protect the taproot, you can grow okra successfully.
Okra seeds have a hard, protective coating that can interfere with germination. Before sowing your seeds you need to prepare them for planting. You have three choices:
Because each okra plant produces so many pods, you only need four or five plants unless you are planning on saving the seeds or pickling, canning, or freezing okra for the winter. Consequently, any of these methods is effective, but soaking the seeds still is probably the most efficient.
You should till the soil at the end of the growing season. You should also have your local extension agency test your soil in the fall if you don’t know its pH and nutrient levels. Okra can grow in many soil conditions, but it prefers well-drained, loamy or sandy soil with a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5 that is rich in organic materials.
If your soil’s pH level is above 7.6, your extension agency will be able to tell you how much lime you need to add to your soil to increase its acidity. The lime should be added in the fall.
You may also need to add organic fertilizers to your soil to increase nutrient levels. Some of these need to age and should be added about a month before planting your okra. You also can work a 2 to 3 inch layer of rich compost or aged manure into the soil to a depth of 15 inches just before planting.
Okra does not tolerate shade. It needs six to eight hours of full sun, and it likes the heat. Peas fix nitrogen into the soil as they grow, so rotating your okra and pea patches each growing season is a good idea. If you are planning on planting and saving the seed of more than one variety of okra, you should keep them 500 to 1,600 feet apart to prevent cross pollination.
Okra is a tall plant that requires a lot of room. Rows of okra should be 2 to 3 feet apart. You can plant the seeds 3 inches apart, but when the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall, you should remove the weaker plants so that the strongest plants are 18 to 24 inches apart.
How deep you plant the seeds depends on your soil and your climate. Okra can grow to be 6 to 8 feet tall or more. If you live in a windy area, and especially if you have clay soil that cracks when it dries out, stability becomes an issue. In such a situation, you should plant your okra seeds 1 or even 2 inches deep and stake your plants with 6 foot or 8 foot tree stakes.
You can also intersperse your okra with radishes because the radishes will help break up the soil and enable your okra roots to grow deeper.
In loamy or sandy soil where windy conditions are not an issue, using a hoe to create a trough that is 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep is a sufficient depth for planting okra outdoors.
The container you choose and how you plant your seeds in it depends on whether you are starting your okra indoors for transplanting into your garden, planning on letting the okra grow to maturity in the container, or growing your okra for sprouts.
If you are starting your seeds for later transplanting, use peat moss starter pots and plant two seeds per pot. When the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches high, snip off the weaker plant. Wait until temperatures warm to around 60°F (16°C) at night and daytime temperatures warm to 85°F (29°C) to transplant your seedlings. Water them before transplanting, and either carefully remove the pot, leaving the soil around the root intact, or, better, carefully slit the sides of the pot and transplant your seedlings pot and all.
If you are growing okra sprouts, choose a shallow container and pack the seeds closely together. You can harvest them as soon as they sprout.
If you are growing your okra to harvest the pods, choose a dwarf variety like Baby Bubba or Cajun Jewel. Your container should be at least 14 inches deep, and if you plan on growing your okra in individual pots, the containers should be 14 inches in diameter.
Sow two seeds 1/2 inch deep and remove the weaker plant when the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall. If you are using a planter to hold multiple okra plants, choose one that allows 18 to 24 inches between the plants. You can fill in with companion plants like radishes, lettuce, or flowers that will attract pollinators.
Whenever you grow any plant in a container, keep in mind that topsoil is too heavy for container gardening and doesn’t allow for sufficient drainage. Use a potting soil blended for vegetable, herbs and vegetables, or flowering plants, depending on what you are growing.