Okra is one of those wonderful and well rounded crops. It can be canned, boiled, fried, or used in recipes such as gumbo. As wonderful as okra is, it needs certain conditions for the seeds to sprout (aka germinate).
To help understand okra we need to look at where the crop originated from, and that is Africa. What would we expect a crop from Africa to need? If the reader guessed hot weather they are correct. Some theories suggest okra was brought to the United States during the slave trade, which would be feasible. On thing is for sure, okra is a mainstay in Louisiana cuisine, including gumbo recipes. If gumbo does not have okra in it, it is not real gumbo.
The old timers use to say, “Plant okra when all you need is a sheet to sleep with.” This was before modern air conditioning and people slept with their windows open. So when the weather warms up enough that all someone needs to cover up with is a sheet, it is time to plant okra.
Here in Southeast Texas, most people plant okra in early May.
After heat, the next thing okra needs is water. A lot of people I know soak their okra seeds in water before planting. Some people even add a couple drops of bleach to the water. I have never tried the bleach.
Soaking Okra Seeds
Rather than planting the seeds and waiting for rain, soak the seeds in a damp rag for a day or so. Sometimes I will take a cookie sheet, lay down a paper towel, place the seeds on the towel, soak it with water, then lay another paper towel on top of the seeds.
The problem with soaking, evaporation causes the towels to cool. Also, chances are the cookie sheet will be kept in the house, which has air conditioning. Between the evaporation of the water and the AC, the seeds may not reach optimal germination temperatures. To get around this, I placed a paper towel in a bowel, put seeds on top of the towel, then drenched with water. The next day the bowl was set in direct sunlight. To help regulate the seed temperature, a black saucer was placed on top of the bowl. The bowl was white.
What does the black saucer and white bowl have to do with anything? Black absorbs heat, and white reflects heat. I was hoping to create a Dutch oven affect with the black saucer getting hot, but the white bowl not getting too hot.
Things worked out well because the okra seeds germinated in less than 24 hours. This means the seeds had the right amount of moisture and the right heat for them to wake up and germinate.
Storing Okra Seeds
While we are talking about okra seeds, let’s spend a few minutes and talk about how the seeds were stored. My seed stockpile is kept in a plastic tub, which is kept in a deep freezer. Some of the seeds packets are in plastic bags, while other seeds are stored in paper bags.
The okra seeds germinated for this project had been stored in the deep freezer for somewhere around 8 years, and have been kept at a temperature of -12 F.
Most of my bulk seeds, such as okra, peas, beans, corn… etc, are bought from Circle Three Feed in Jasper Texas. Years ago I use to buy seeds from Pickles in Jasper; but Pickles was sold and I do not know what they are selling in the store now.
Now that I used some of my okra seeds, they need to be replaced.
Types of Okra
There are all different types of okra, but there are two main categories:
I prefer spineless. The difference between the two is a ridge which runs down the okra pod. Spineless is a smooth okra pod. Spined is just that, it has spines (raised edges) running the length of the pod.
- Clemson Spineless
- Louisiana velvet okra
- Emerald velvet
- Texas Longhorn (aka Cowhorn) okra
In the late 1980s my father-in-law and I planted some longhorn okra. We picked it every 2 – 3 days, and got close to a 5 gallon bucket with every picking.
Fertilizing and Planting Okra
Okra needs a balanced fertilizer, such as 13-13-13. If a high nitrogen fertilizer is used, such as 21-0-0, the plants may grow tall and may not produce.
While it may be tempting to buy okra sprouts, the plants grow best when sewn directly from seed.
We are going to get more in depth on this topic when I plant the germinating seeds.