Okra is a warm climate vegetable that takes about two months from planting the seeds to harvest. It’s an acquired taste and it needs to be cooked properly so that it doesn’t get slimy! But once you acquire the taste, you’ll love the fact that okra is easy veg to grow and harvest.
A good rule of thumb is that you can harvest okra about two months after you planted okra seeds when the pods are about 2-4 inches long. But it’s important to harvest okra before the pods get tough and fibrous. If you struggle to cut the stem of the okra pods, it’s very likely too old to eat.
How Do You Know When Your Okra is Ready to Harvest?
The okra vegetable we eat is the immature seed pod of the okra plant. A stalwart of the summer vegetable garden, it has a sturdy, single stalk that grows up to 3 to 5 feet tall.
It develops broad, green leaves that are anything from 8 to 12 inches in diameter and produces stunning hibiscus-shaped yellow or cream-colored flowers with deep black-red centers.
Whatever the color, okra flowers are a key to knowing when to harvest your okra pods. Okra flowers last for only one day, and three or four days later you will find that your okra pods are ready for harvest.
The pods should feel soft and the seeds should be only half-grown – though you won’t be able to see this.
You can test for tenderness by breaking off the end of a pod that looks as if it’s ready to harvest. If it doesn’t snap readily, you’ve left it too late.
The pods should be no more than about 2 to 4 inches long and either vibrant green or purple, depending on the variety. When okra pods get any bigger than this, they tend to become woody.
The University of Illinois Extension warns that even if okra pods are the right size if they are pale in color, they might be woody.
Of course, it’s also a good idea to check the seed packet to see how long it will take for the plant to reach maturity. It takes most okra varieties between 60 and 70 days until the pods are ready to be harvested.
After the first harvest, remove the leaves at the base of the stalk. The plant will continue to produce pods upward.
If the plants stop producing pods, cut the plants back by about one-third. This will encourage new flower buds and pods to grow along the main stem and produce a late-season or fall crop.
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Okra?
Okra is a perennial plant that will continue to bear fruit for at least two years in dry, tropical regions. However, many home gardeners in the U.S. grow it as an annual vegetable.
Okra grows quickly and the pods only take a couple of months to develop. They are at their best when picked young.
In fact, if you don’t harvest okra when the pods are small, they will become fibrous and tough. If you leave the pods to fully mature on the plant, the plant will stop producing okra pods.
Okra is a self-pollinating vegetable and you can save the seed of any pods that you don’t harvest. Harvest the fully mature pods at the end of the season, when they are almost completely dry.
If you leave pods on the plant in the growing season, you will limit your crop as the plant will produce fewer pods.
How to Harvest Okra? (discuss the steps)
Before you even think of harvesting your okra, check whether you’ve planted a spineless variety.
If your okra pods have “spines,” wear garden gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. This will protect you from the tiny hairy spines that cover the pod, which can cause skin irritation.
Note that it’s not an allergic reaction. It will happen even if you aren’t allergic to anything at all.
The spines aren’t a problem when cooking and eating okra. As soon as you cook okra, the spines disappear.
How to Cut the Pods Off Your Okra Plant
Okra pods grow facing upwards. When you harvest them, cut the stem of the pod, just above the cap.
Use sharp pruners or garden scissors to cut the pods off the plant. Be sure to leave a bit of the stem attached to the pod and the rest attached to the stalk of the plant.
This is not a vegetable that you can harvest in one go. The pods form quickly in the peak of summer, and so you can usually pick okra every couple of days.
Picking the mature pods progressively will also encourage your okra plants to continue producing more pods.
If your plants produce a late-season or fall crop, the pods may develop a bit more slowly.
What to Do With Tough Okra Pods
If the stem is tough and difficult to cut, the pod is probably too old to eat. But this doesn’t mean you have to toss them into the compost heap.
The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension suggests using over-mature pods in dry flower arrangements.
Alternatively, you can harvest these pods and let them dry. When they are dry, remove the seeds from the pod and plant them the following spring.
Should You Wash Okra after Harvesting?
You shouldn’t wash okra pods straight after you have harvested them unless you are going to cook them immediately. It’s sometimes called a slimy superfood, because, if the pods stay wet, they can easily develop mold and a slimy, outer coating.
There may, though, be a dilemma when the pods are dirty, or you’ve sprayed your vegetables with chemicals.
If the pods have dirt on them, you can wipe them clean. If you’ve been spraying, then it’s best to wash the pods thoroughly before you store okra.
Rinse under running water. But pat them dry with a cloth or paper towel before storing or cooking them.
Can You Eat Okra Immediately after Harvesting?
You certainly can eat okra immediately after harvesting. In fact, okra tastes best if you eat it the same day as you pick it.
It stands to lose flavor and deteriorates in quality. It doesn’t store well, and it often turns black when chilled.
A more important question is, How will you cook your okra pods?
If you are new to okra, be aware that if you chop the pod into pieces, when you cut it, it will produce a slimy goo known as mucilage. For this reason, it’s best to cook the pods quickly, whole, with their caps intact to avoid releasing the mucilaginous goo.
You can boil them quickly, like green beans, dredge them in beaten egg and cornmeal and fry them, or oven-roast them. Okra is also good in a stew, and it’s a must in gumbo, the popular soup-=stew dish so characteristic of Creole cuisine in Louisiana.
You shouldn’t store freshly harvested okra in plastic bags or rigid plastic containers in your refrigerator for more than a week. If you aren’t going to eat the pods within a few days, rather freeze them uncut and uncooked in freezer bags.
You can also pickle okra.
Can Anything Threaten Your Okra Harvest?
Although okra doesn’t have many enemies in the pests and diseases department, some can threaten your harvest.
As the horticulturalists at North Carolina State Extension say, okra has very few noticeable pests. But it does have some pesky enemies, and these can threaten your okra harvest.
Some insects, like corn earworms and Japanese beetles, feed on buds, foliage, and pods. Some, including the European corn borer (a caterpillar) and vegetable leafminer (a maggot), feed inside the plant, usually inside the stalk or leaf tissue.
Root Knot Nematodes
One of the biggest threats to a successful okra crop is root-knot nematodes. This causes swellings or galls on the roots of the plants and stops them from getting enough nutrients from the soil.
The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension folks at Aggie Horticulture, suggest that the best way to control root-knot nematodes is to plant a bed of marigolds right next to okra. Do this before the first fall frost, so that the two root systems overlap.
When fire ants feed on the base of okra flower buds before they open, they can kill them and stop the plant from producing pods.
If you see these non-indigenous ants on an okra plant, find the ant mounds and get rid of them. The horticulturalists at Aggie say, quite simply, “kill the mounds.”
Hard-bodied Japanese beetles eat the leaves, skeletonizing them. They sometimes eat the pods as well.
Aphids & Stink Bugs
Unwelcome in any vegetable garden, aphids and stink bugs both cause discoloration and distortion of okra plants.
Aphids feed in colonies and excrete honeydew which leads to the growth of sooty mold.
Stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs both pierce the buds and pods of okra plants. This causes deformed pods with warty growths and makes the seeds shrivel up.
Okra is an easy enough vegetable to grow, but unless you opt for a spineless variety, it’s not very pleasant to harvest. Unless you don gloves and a long-sleeved shirt, you’re likely to end up with nasty skin irritation.
It’s also important to keep your thumb on the pulse of your okra crop.
If you don’t harvest okra when the pods are still young and small, there’s no point in trying to cook it. When okra gets too big, it becomes tough and fibrous.
Nevertheless, if you follow our simple gardening tips, you’ll find out when and how to harvest your okra pods with minimal issues. Enjoy!