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Weekly planter: Okra is for late-summer gardens

Pick okra pods while they are young and tender and no more than three inches long.
Pick okra pods while they are young and tender and no more than three inches long.

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) likes the sun and plenty of water, as long as it has good drainage. That’s good for us because okra will tolerate South Florida’s hot, humid summers — or at least more of it than most other vegetables. Don’t plant it quite yet — wait until August — but it’s time to start planning.

It’s a pretty plant, a member of the hibiscus family, and you could even grow it as an ornamental. But more important for vegetable gardeners, it will produce many pods that you can pick while they’re young and tender.

Okra likes full, hot sun; frequent watering; and well-drained soil that is deeply tilled and mixed with compost. They don’t like wet, poorly drained soil. Plant seeds one inch deep, 24 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart. Best planting time for South Florida is August-September. Fertilize once a month.

Pick the pods when they are two-three inches long, using scissors or clippers. Beyond three inches, they become tough and, soon, inedible. Plus, if the pods get bigger than three inches but remain on the bush, they signal the plant that it can stop producing. They grow quickly, so pick frequently.

Source: Florida Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, by Robert Bowden (Cool Springs Press).

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