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Okra

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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Introduction

Okra (also known as lady’s fingers and bhindi) is best grown under glass; it is only successful outdoors in temperate climates in a sheltered position, during hot summers. It enjoys the same growing conditions as cucumber and melons. The edible calcium-rich pods are used in soups, stews and curries - avoid over-cooking or they become slimy.

Sow

Soak seeds for 24 hours in warm water before planting.

Sow from March to April under glass, or in a propagator at 21-29C (70-84F).

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, transfer them into 9cm (3.5in) pots of multipurpose compost, maintaining minimum night temperatures of 15C (60F).

Seeds can also be germinated in the airing cupboard – put the pot in a polythene bag, check daily and remove the pot as soon as germination takes place.

Four or five plants should produce enough okra for most families.

Grow

In the UK plants are best grown in containers under cover in a glasshouse or polytunnel. Plants may grow well in containers on a warm, sheltered patio.

Transplant into 23-25cm (9-10in) pots, growing-bags or into the glasshouse border from late May to early June, when plants are 10-15cm (4-6in) high. Keep the growing medium moist.

In warmer areas, plants can grow outside in containers or open ground in rich, fertile, well drained soil. Add organic matter if necessary and warm the soil before planting.

Plants to be grown outside should first be ‘hardened off’ (acclimatised to outdoor conditions) for 10-14 days from early June when temperatures rise and the danger of frost has passed.

Space 30-90cm (1-3ft) apart in and between rows.

Water using tepid water, to keep the compost moist.

Plants growing in containers need watering more frequently – check them twice daily during warm summer weather.

Feed weekly with high potassium fertiliser, once the first flowers have formed.

Harvest

The pods should be picked (cut with a knife or secateurs) while they are tender and immature (5-10cm/2-4in) long for most cultivars. This can be any time from July through to October. They must be picked regularly - at least every other day or yields will decrease. large mature pods of many varieties are tough and stringy.

Okra plants have short hairs that may irritate bare skin, so wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting – or touching the plants.

Handle pods gently as the skin is easily marked.

Plants produce pods until temperatures drop in autumn, often until the first frosts. Pods can be frozen for winter use.

Four or five plants should produce enough okra for most families.

Varieties

‘Clemson’s Spineless’: A popular, high yielding variety with a long cropping season that grows well under cover.

‘Burgundy’: Has attractive deep red pods which remain tender, even when large. The leaves, stems and branches are also red.

‘Emerald’:  Prolific with deep green pods on tall plants.

Problems

Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite: Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves also drop prematurely.

Remedy: They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use sprays based on soft soap, plant oils or extracts. Use the biological control Phytoseiulus persimilis in the greenhouse.

Read more information on Red spider mite

Whitefly: Small white flies suck sap and excrete sticky ‘honeydew’ over the plant, encouraging the growth of sooty mould.

Remedy: Use biological control Encarsia formosa in the greenhouse, sticky traps or sprays based on plant oils or soft soap.

Read more information on glasshouse whitefly

Aphids: Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.

Remedy: Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies, spray with pyrethrum, plant or fish oils or use the biological control aphidius or aphidoletes in the greenhouse.

Read more information on aphids

Read more information on biological pest control

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