When the okra flowers, gently dig compost into the surrounding soil. Repeat one month later. If the plants appear stunted or have pale leaves, feed weekly or every 10 days or so with compost tea, made by soaking a bag of compost in a pail of water overnight. Don’t over-fertilize the plants, especially with high-nitrogen fertilizers, or they’ll produce luxuriant foliage and few pods.
Harvesting begins two to two and a half months after planting. Pick the pods when they’re small (about five to eight centimetres long with most varieties), bright green and tender. Use scissors or a sharp knife to cut them just above the cap, taking about two centimetres of stem. Handle carefully, as damaged okra pods will ooze a slimy substance and become discoloured.
They ripen a few at a time, starting lower down on the stalk, so you may need to pick several times to have enough for a meal. Pods become tough and fibrous if left too long on the plant, so check them every other day. If you miss some and they become too tough to eat, cut them off to encourage the plant to keep producing. Store unwashed pods in a brown paper bag or perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days. The plants will bear until the first frost or the temperature becomes too cool.
From slime to sublime
To prevent okra from becoming slimy, don’t wash the pods until you’re ready to use them. Then, wash gently and pat dry before cutting. The pods can be used whole or cut into pieces (keep in mind though, the more you cut them, the slimier they become). When using whole, trim the stem carefully to avoid cutting into the pod.
Don’t cook okra in iron, copper, brass or tin pots, as the metal will react with the pods and discolour them.
Here are some recipes so you can savour your okra crop:
- Red rice with okra and black-eyed peas
- Cornmeal-crusted okra
- Stir-fried okra with tomato and green onions