|Scientific Name : Abelmoschus Esculentus|
|Family : Malvaceae|
|Colour : Green to dark green|
|Common names : Okra, Ladies finger, Okoro, Gumbo, Bhindi (India)|
|Best Season : Throughout the year|
|Nutritional Value : 33 kcal, 7.6 g carbohydrate, 2.4 g protein, 70 mg calcium 31 mg vitamin C, 0.32 mg vitamin A, 0.17 mg vitamin B1, 0.21 mg vitamin B2, per 100 g serving.|
Okra is a tall growing warm season annual with ornamental value, native to Africa. They are known by different names and comes in a number of varieties which vary in plant size, shape, pod type, colour and the number of spines. Dwarf varieties without spines and with smooth green pods are best for home gardens.
This upright plant grows 3-6 feet or more in height, some African varieties up to 12 feet, with a base stem of 4 inches in diameter. The woody stems bear leaves that are lobed and are generally hairy, some reaching up to 12 inches in length. The flowers are large around 2inches in diameter, yellowish hibiscus like, with red or purple centers which will last only for a day. Each blossom develops a small green pod. The fruits are green to dark green, sometimes yellow to red; long, conical and ridged. Okra contains moderate levels of vitamin A and vitamin C.Propagation and Planting :
Propagation is through seeds. Soak seeds overnight in warm water before sowing to improve germination. Seeds can be sown 1 inch deep in pots or seed trays or directly on the ground 12 to 18 inches apart or three to four seeds per foot, in single rows. Seedlings are ready for transplanting when they reach a height of 10-15cm. Rows should be kept 3 to 5 feet apart. Plants branch out only when they reach a height of 30-40cm.
Okras grow well in warm weather. They should be planted in full sun. The soil for growing okras should be fertile, well drained, high in organic matter with a pH ranging from 6.0 to 6.5. Soil should be well prepared several weeks before planting by adding well rotted manure, compost or any other organic matter and a balanced fertilizer. Lime or dolomite can be added to get the required ph level of the soil.
The soil should be kept moist by regular watering. Water the soil not the plant directly. But the plant does not tolerate excessive moisture. Regular watering and light fertilization occasionally gives better yield. Always water after fertilizing. Okra will start yielding about 60 days after planting. Fruits should be picked when they are 3-4 inches long and still tender. They become tough and stringy as they mature. Seeds for the next season can be obtained by not picking some of the pods till they reach the full size. Then dry the pods, shell the seeds and save the seeds in an airtight container.Problems and Care :
Keep the area around the okra plants weed free. Remove weeds and grass close to the plant carefully by hand without damaging the roots. Plants are susceptible to stem rot, so when you must water, soak the soil, not the plant. Yields will increase if plants are watered deeply. To reduce the potential for fruit rot problems, be sure that plants have good air circulation.
Some of the many insect pests which may attack okra are silver leaf whitefly, heliothis, stink bugs, rough bollworm, looper caterpillars and green vegetable bugs. Aphids and mites may also occur on okra crops. Aphids can be washed off with a steady stream of water or sprayed with soap spray. Stink bugs are more difficult to control. These can be hand picked and destroyed. Loopers can be controlled with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis).
If the pods/ fruits are not picked on time and allowed to mature on the plant, flowering and further production will be reduced. Branch thinning or cutting off branches may be necessary to control dense growth of the plant.
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