If you have not yet discovered the satisfaction of growing okra, now is the time to start. The seeds germinate quickly, the plant has a high tolerance for heat and humidity and both the pods and the leaves are edible. Okra is also a perfect choice when gardening with kids. Here are some quick tips to keep young gardeners engaged while harvesting a bountiful okra crop. In Florida, okra can be started by seed as early as January or as late as September.
STARTING FROM SEED
- Soak the seeds overnight in tepid water. This will help remove the outer shell and accelerate the germination process.
- When the seeds are ready plant them in full sun. Each seed should be placed 1⁄2 to an inch deep and 4 inches apart in rows (each row should be 3 feet apart).
- Seeds will germinate within 2 to 12 days, so sit tight and watch the soil.
The middle stage of the gardening process may be dull for kids (it takes okra 50 to 65 days to reach maturity). Try keeping them involved with the following tasks:
- Although okra is hardy and can usually withstand pests, have them check their plants for pests such as aphids, stinkbugs, and corn earworms.
- Water the garden only in the mornings at the base of the plants. Okra should get an inch of water a week.
- Make sure to weed and place mulch around the seedlings. Let them use real gardening tools and they will understand that you are taking their gardening serious.
- When the seedlings reach 3 inches, weed out the weaker specimens and leave the strong so that there is at least a foot between each plant.
Harvesting is easily the most exciting part of the growing process. Okra can produce for 10 to 12 weeks. Here is what you should watch for:
- At 8 weeks the plants should start to have white or yellow blooms, depending on the variety, out of which the okra pods grow. Point these out to the little helpers.
- The pods must be harvested when soft and about 3 inches long. When harvesting simply cut the pod off with gardening sheers or scissors. Make sure you and your helper are wearing gloves.
- The pods should be picked every other day.
Don’t forget to cook with the fruits of your labor. Whether you fry, freeze, pickle, gumbo, stew or even eat raw, let your kids experiment with their harvest. Engaging them through the entire process, from seed to table, empowers children and helps them appreciate the work involved in growing food.