Okra (or lady fingers) are easy to grow and its flowers and fruit can add both ornamental and edible value to your garden. The flower has white or cream-coloured petals and its throat is a deep claret red. The seed pods, when sliced and cooked for a long time, give off a sticky juice that is excellent for thickening soups and stews.
Okra can be pickled, used in a New Orleans gumbo or Middle Eastern stew, lightly cooked in a Vietnamese stir-fry, coated in Indian spices and fried, or prepared Mediterranean-style with tomatoes, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. The large, lush leaves are also edible – especially when young – and can be cooked similarly to spinach. Okra is packed with vitamins and essential minerals and is a good source of dietary fibre.
Related to cotton, hibiscus and cacao, okra is from the mallow (Malvaceae) family and can tolerate growing in very hot temperatures. It can be sown from seed now through to early summer in cool and warm climates; all year in tropical areas. Okra prefers full sun and well-drained soil, neither over- nor under-fertilised. It can also be grown in large containers. As the plant is prone to stem rot, water sparingly around the plant rather than over it.
Okra is a fast-growing veggie. Flowers appear within 12-14 weeks and the seed pods follow very shortly thereafter, within days. It’s best to pick okra when the pods are young, 5-8 cm (2-3 1/2 in). Otherwise, if left on the bush, they can become fibrous and tough. You can tell if the pod is still tender enough to eat by snapping of the tip – if the tip comes off readily, then it’s all good to go!
You can lengthen the harvest period by picking daily. Okra can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and, once blanched and cooled, can be frozen for up to 6 months.