Okra is not only healthy and flavourful, it is also easy to grow, writes Stephanie Choo
IF you like eating okra and want to cultivate some edibles, look no further than okra. This tried and tested flavourful vegetable is not only easy to grow, it is low maintenance too.
It’s a good crop to have in any vegetable patch. Sow the seeds, water and feed the plants. Then enjoy continuous yields for a few months.
Of African-cum-Asian origin and widely distributed in the tropics, Abelmoschus esculentus, synonym, Hibiscus esculentus is a flowering plant from the mallow family, Malvaceae. Popular members of this family include hibiscus, cacao and cotton. There are 15 species in the genus Abelmoschus and they are larval food plants.
Okra refers to the edible seedpod of the plant. The seedpod is also known as lady’s finger, gumbo or bhendi. Before the pod or fibrous fruit is formed, its large white to yellow, with a burgundy base, hibiscus-like flower blooms for one day. It is a perfect flower and self-pollinating, hence it does not rely on insects or wind for pollination.
This annual tropical herbaceous vegetable grows to 2m tall. There are many varieties of okra including one with red pod. The stem is hairy and woody when matured. The heart-shaped, three- to five-lobed maple-like leaves are also hairy. The smooth or ridged green seedpods are either short and round or pointed and pyramidal. They grow to about 7-25cm long.
Okra, which grows best in warm climates, is valued for its mucilaginous seedpods that are rich in potassium, B complex vitamins, vitamins C and A, folic acid, iron and calcium. They are also found to be low in calories, fat-free and high in dietary fibre.
Soak sliced raw okras in water overnight and drink the water. The soluble fibre can be beneficial for people at risk of diabetes as it helps to control blood glucose. The other edible parts of the plant are the young shoots and leaves.
Easy to grow
Okra plant can be cultivated with little time and effort. The self-pollinating flowers naturally fertilise themselves and form seedpods. Furthermore, due to the sturdy stem, you don’t even need to provide any support for the plant to flourish.
Although the plant thrives in any soil, it will produce more seedpods when grown in fertile well-draining soil with lots of compost (or some garbage enzyme residue) and plenty of nutrients.
Soak seeds in water for about 12 hours before sowing to soften its hard seed coat. You can sow them directly into their permanent positions during cloudy days.
Plant seeds about 2cm deep and 30cm apart. Water regularly to keep soil moist at all times. The seeds will sprout within several days.
Okra takes up a small space and can be grown in containers. Settle okra plants in full sun locations. Feed with organic fertilisers that are meant for vegetables only and regularly. The plants grow quickly to produce seedpods for harvest within 60 days from sowing and can produce for about 10-12 weeks.
The flower develops into tender unripe seedpods, about 10cm long, in about four to five days. Harvest before they mature and become woody. Snip them off the plant with a pair of scissors or pruning shears, leaving a short stub on the pods.