Okra is a food full of wonderful nutrients such as Vitamins A, B6, C, riboflavin, and thiamin. It also contains calcium, zinc and iron and is high in fiber and low in calories, having only about 20 calories per serving.
There are quite a few varieties of okra. One of the most common is Clemson Spineless, the “All American” variety. This dark green plant with angular pods takes less than two months to reach maturity. The tasty okra should be picked when the pods are about 3” long.
Another variety people enjoy is Red Burgundy. Red Burgundy okra grows to about 4’ tall and is very productive. The maroon pods should be picked when they are about 6” to 8” long. The time from planting to maturity is about 70 to 80 days. These attractive plants catch the eye with the contrast of their green leaves to their burgundy stems and maroon pods. Okra loves hot, dry weather, but this variety will do fairly well in “cooler” areas.
Many people like the Emerald variety of okra. It is a very productive type of okra and will grow well even if the summer is not very hot. Emerald okra grows to about 6’ tall and is dark green with mature pods being about 8” long. The plant starts producing about 50 days from when it is planted.
Burmese okra, an heirloom variety from Burma, yields early in the season and will produce pods until the fall frosts arrive. It takes about 58 days for Burmese okra to reach maturity. This spineless, tender, finely flavored okra produces a good crop of 12” long pods, and is a favorite of some restaurants.
Another popular variety is cow horn, a giant type that can grow up to 8’ tall and supply large numbers of slender pods. These pods can get up to 10” long without become woody. Cow horn okra takes about 55 days to mature. Although the pods remain tender up to 10” long, they are best picked when 6” to 8” long.
A very interesting variety of okra is the Star of David. It is an Israeli heirloom and is so named because the cross section of the pods looks like the Star of David. It grows up to 7’ tall and takes about 80 days to reach maturity. This drought and heat tolerant plant produces pods that are best picked when they are about 3” long. Pods are easy to remove from the plant.
Purple okra is a rare variety which is seen at peak times. This type is most likely to be found in specialty markets. Although the pods are purple, they turn green when they are cooked.
Okra is a self-pollinating plant, and the seeds from the okra can be saved from year to year to be planted again. The best way to save seeds for next year is to leave some pods on the plants at the end of the growing season and then harvest them when they are fully mature and almost dry. Once the okra flowers, it matures very quickly. In many cases, it is only four days from the time the flower appears to the time the pod is ready to harvest. Old pods must be removed from the plant, or the plant will stop producing.
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