General Information and Agronomic Aspects
Okra is now widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions, but is particularly popular in India, West Africa and Brazil.
Okra, also called lady's fingers, is mainly grown for its young immature pods, which are consumed as a vegetable, raw, cooked or fried. It is a common ingredient of soups and sauces. The pods can be conserved by drying or pickling. The leaves are sometimes used as spinach or cattle feed, the fibres from the stem for cord, the plant mucilage (thick gluey substance) for medical and industrial purposes, and the seeds as a substitute for coffee. Okra seeds contain a considerable amount of good quality oil and protein.
Nutritive Value per 100 g of edible Portion
|Raw or Cooked Okra||Food Energy (Calories / %Daily Value*)||Carbohydrates (g / %DV)||Fat (g / %DV)||Protein (g / %DV)||Calcium (g / %DV)||Phosphorus (mg / %DV)||Iron (mg / %DV)||Potassium (mg / %DV)||Vitamin A (I.U)||Vitamin C (I.U)||Vitamin B 6 (I.U)||Vitamin B 12 (I.U)||Thiamine (mg / %DV)||Riboflavin (mg / %DV)||Ash (g / %DV)|
|Okra cooked||22.0 / 1%||4.9 / 2%||0.2 / 0%||1.9 / 4%||77.0 / 8%||32.0 / 3%||0.3 / 2%||135.0 / 4%||283 IU / 6%||16.3 / 27%||0.2 / 9%||0.0 / 0%||0.1 / 9%||0.1 / 3%||0.8|
|Okra raw||31.0 / 2%||7.0 / 2%||0.1 / 0%||2.0 / 4%||81.0 / 8%||63.0 / 6%||0.8 / 4%||303 / 9%||375 IU / 7%||21.1 / 35%||0.2 / 11%||0.0 / 0%||0.2 / 13%||0.1 / 4%||0.7|
*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower, depending on your calorie needs
Climate conditions, soil and water management
Okra is grown at elevations ranging from sea level to 1600 m. The optimum temperatures for growth and production of high quality pods range between 24 and 30degC. The crop is sensitive to frost and temperatures below 12degC.
Okra will grow on a wide range of soils, but it prefers soils high in organic matter. When grown in sandy soils, it must be frequently fertilised, as soluble nutrients readily leach from the root zone. Its optimum range of soil pH is between 5.8 and 6.5. A soil test will indicate if lime is required to adjust the pH and the amount to apply. If lime is recommended, dolomite should be used, applied 3 to 4 months before the crop is seeded. Okra is sensitive to salinity. Okra can grow in a wide range of rainfall regimes, but needs 400 mm of water for the growing period of about 3 months.
Varieties available in Kenya:
- "Pusa sawani" High yielding variety tolerant to vein mosaic. It grows 2 to 2,5 m tall, has long pods. (18 to 20 cm), dark green, smooth and has 5 ridges. Mainly for export.
- "Clemson spineless" 1.2 to 1.5 m tall. Pods are about 15 cm long, green and moderately ridged.
- "Green Emerald2 This variety is about 1.5 m tall. Pods are 18 to 20 cm long slightly ridged (rounded) and green.
- "White velvet" A medium tall variety of 1.5 to 1.8 m high. Pods are 15 to 18 cm long, slender, tapered, smooth and creamy white.
- "Dwarf Green Long Pod" It grows up to 0.9 m high. It has several side branches. The pods are angular and green and about 18 to 20 cm long.
Propagation and planting
Thorough soil preparation 2 to 3 months before planting is recommended to allow crop residues and organic matter in the soil to decompose before okra is planted. Early land preparation also permits weed seeds to germinate and allows early cultivation to destroy young weeds before planting.
Okra plants may be established by direct seeding in the field, by growing seedlings in nursery seedbeds or by raising seedlings in plastic trays. To facilitate speedy germination, okra seed should be soaked in water overnight before planting. In Kenya, okra is sown directly in the field. About 8 to 10 kg of seed is required per hectare. Planting depth is about 1.5 cm.
Spacing varies: 45 x 45 cm, 50 x 30 cm or 60 x 15 cm between the rows and within the rows, respectively. In some parts of Kenya, okra is planted 2 x 2 m in flood irrigationed basins. The main export season in Kenya is October to May; hence planting should start from July so as to target this export season. However with irrigation okra can be grown all year round for the local and off-season export markets.
It is recommended that soil be analysed before okra planting to determine fertility treatment needed. Without a soil test, the general recommendation in Kenya (issued by Horticultural Crops Development Authority) for conventional production (non-organicproduction) is as follows: well-composted manure should be applied at planting at the rate of 15 to 20 t/ha (17 to 20 gm/plant). It should be mixed thoroughly with the soil in the planting hole.
Sources of plant nutrients
In organic management we have to rely on the natural sources of plant nutrients such as compost, manure teas, plant teas such as tithonia for foliar feed. Well-composted manure should be applied at planting at the rate of 15 to 20 t/ha (17 to 20 gm/plant). Additional compost or manure is needed during the vegetation period. Manure and plant teas can be fed to the plants via a drip irrigation system to avoid excessive labour. However on acid soils agricultural lime is recommended and allowed. Also Mijingu (rock phosphate) is recommended on soils low in phosphorous (almost all soils in Kenya).
Okra is a heavily foliaged crop, so its water requirements are high. According to the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture okra needs 400 mm of water during the growing season of three months. A general guideline for semi-arid areas, where okra is mostly grown in Kenya, is to provide about 35 mm of water per week (this equals 35 litres of water per square metre). Critical times for irrigating okra are at emergence and from flowering to pod production. Saline or chlorinated water should not be used for irrigation.
Okra should be rotated with baby corn, maize, peas, onions, potatoes, fodder grass or small grains. Being in the same family as cotton - with which it shares the same complex of pests and diseases - okra should not be grown before or after cotton.
Okra is harvested over a long period and weed control is important throughout the cropping season. Smallholder growers in Kenya control weeds by hand hoeing.
Most varieties grown in Kenya are ready to pick 45 to 55 days after planting. Pods are ready for harvesting about 4 to 6 days after flowering. Pods are harvested when still tender and on attaining length of 7 to 15 cm, depending on variety and market requirements. The crop will bear pods for several months under ideal conditions, especially when mature pods are picked regularly. Under Kenyan conditions harvesting normally continue 45 days after the first harvest. Regular picking every 1 to 2 days is essential to ensure pods are within the size prescribed by the market. Okra should not be harvested when it is raining or excessively wet. Excess moisture can induce mould development on the pods and the cut petioles. Okra pods decay quickly; therefore they should be harvested within a day to marketing.
Harvesting is done by hand. The pods can be snapped off or cut off, leaving a small stalk not longer than one cm. The pods must be handled carefully otherwise they may be bruised and may discolour. It is best to pick pods into a waist bag to reduce skin damage and to avoid excessive bending of the pods. Wearing rubber gloves when harvesting and handling pods is recommended. This will protect the skin from irritating sap produced by okra plant.