One of the well-loved and nutrient-packed vegetables available to mankind across the globe is okra. A tender heat-loving vegetable that grows four to seven feet tall, okra is an economically important vegetable crop of many countries in Africa, including Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Egypt, among others, as well as several others in the world.
This vegetable, also known as “lady’s finger”, is highly beneficial for maintaining a healthy body. One of the health benefits derived from okra is its ability to curb malnutrition. Its pods are loaded with fibre, protein, iron, calcium, and zinc which are essential nutrients for the body.
It is also very useful in maintaining healthy eyesight as it contains vitamin A and beta-carotene that are essential nutrients for maintaining good eyesight. These nutrients are also known to prevent eye-related diseases and protect against age-related eye disorders.
Other benefits of okra include helping to curb magnesium and calcium deficiency as regular intake of okra provides calcium and magnesium for the body; supplying the body with antioxidants – flavonoids and polyphenols – which promote glycogen storage in the liver; and helping to control hunger owing to its rich content of soluble fibre that gives a feeling of fullness faster and for longer.
This controls hunger and keeps calorie intake in check, resulting in achievement of weight loss goals.
Okra equally helps in the fight against cancer as it contains lectin, a nutrient known to inhibit cancer cells’ growth by about 63 per cent. It as well strengthens the bones and prevents osteoporosis, a disease of the bone.
With these numerous benefits, keeping okra in regular supply for consumption and for commercial purposes is, therefore, of utmost importance.
Alternatively, its cultivation could be a job and wealth creator, especially with Nigeria’s unemployment and economic situation. With minimal funds and adequate attention, depending on the scale and variety chosen, okra farming can within 60 days yield huge returns.
Find below, the varieties of okra and steps to cultivation.
Okra varieties include emerald, a spineless variety having a semi-cut leaf and a smooth round pod shape. It requires about 58 to 60 days to mature. This variety is good for canning or processing.
There is the dwarf green long pod variety, which has several side branches with star-shaped pod. This variety is ideal for commercial okra farming, requiring 52 to 55 days maturity period.
Another species is the Louisiana green velvet variety with round pod shape and takes about 56 to 59 days to mature for harvest.
There is also the clemson spineless variety. This variety is spineless and gives heavy yields. It has an angular shaped pod and takes about 55 to 58 days to mature for harvest and supply to the market. This species is recommended for commercial okra farming as well because of its abundant yields.
The hastings improved perkins variety is another species of okra having deep cut leaves and star-shaped pod. It has the shortest maturity period of between 49 and 53 days.
Other varieties are the Annie Oakley variety, which has bright green, star-shaped pods, requiring 53 to 55 days to reach maturity; uga red variety, which produces beautiful red pods and takes 58 days before producing okra; the lee variety, a spineless, semi-dwarf species with deep bright green, straight, angular pods requiring 55 to 58 days to reach maturity; and the prelude variety, an open-pollinated, spineless variety with very dark green, glossy, fluted pods.
Prelude okra requires 50 to 55 days to reach maturity and can be harvested when pods are 1/2 to 3/4 inch longer than other varieties and remain tender.
Okra does well on many soil types and requires a light well-drained sandy loam soil rich in organic matter. Soils with slightly acidic pH between 5.8 and 6.8 are recommended for optimum growth. Before planting, take samples of the soil on the proposed field for testing to determine the fertility level.
Early land preparation is important in growing a good crop. Prepare the land to ensure the establishment of a uniform stand.
The plant tends to thrive better on a raised bed or ridges than when planted on a flat soil. Add compost to planting beds in advance and turn in all plant residues into the soil to give them time to decompose before okra is planted.
Early land preparation also allows for many weeds to become visible to be destroyed with herbicides. The soil test carried out in the site selection stage should reveal whether there are nematodes present in the soil. If that is the case, it is important to fumigate the soil because okra is very susceptible to damage from nematodes.
Okra is a heat-loving plant that cannot tolerate low temperatures for very long and frosts can be very dangerous to the plant.
The crop is best grown in warm climates with a minimum temperature of 22˚C and maximum temperature of 35˚C.
Although okra is highly resistant to drought, it still requires considerable evenly distributed annual rainfall of up to 1000mm optimum growth and yield. Where there is drought, provisions should be made for irrigation.
Okra is very susceptible to damage by nematodes. To prevent a buildup of nematodes population on the farm, follow a crop rotation using crops such as maize, sorghum, and other grass crops. Do not rotate okra with crops which are also susceptible to nematodes such as sweet potatoes and squash.
Planting of okra, a heat-loving annual crop requiring temperatures between 22° to 35°F for optimal growth, flowering, and pod development, should commence in the dry season when the weather is still warm and sunny.
The soil temperature prior to planting should fall within this range, otherwise, the seeds may rot and never germinate and hence, will lead to a decrease in yields.