Okra, scientifically known as Abelmoschus esculentus, belongs to the malvaceae family and is cultivated for its edible seed pods. This herbaceous plant has slender stems that are either covered in bristles or smooth, along with leaves that are shaped like hearts. It can reach a height of 1.2 to 1.8 meters and typically completes its life cycle within a single year as an annual plant. Okra is commonly referred to as lady’s fingers, bhindi, or bhendi, and it was originally cultivated in India and several English-speaking nations.
The young seed pods of okra are consumed either fresh or cooked as a vegetable, while the mature dry seeds are utilized for oil extraction. Additionally, the fiber of okra is employed in the production of paper.
Okra is a plant that thrives in warm climates, primarily found in the southern regions.
Soil: It requires well-draining soil, preferably light sandy to medium loam. The soil should have a high organic matter content, and the pH levels should range between 5.8 to 6.8.
Temperature: Okra flourishes in areas with ample sunlight and hot temperatures, with optimal growth occurring when the soil temperature ranges from 23.9°C to 32.3°C. The minimum temperature for growth should be at least 18.3°C.
Propagation: Okra is directly planted and propagated using seeds. Before planting, the seeds are soaked in water along with an optimizer overnight to break seed dormancy and enhance germination.
Spacing: It is recommended to plant okra in rows with a spacing of 60x45cm or 60x30cm.
Rates: For the summer crop, the recommended seed rate is 18 to 20kg per hectare, while for the rainy season crop, it is 10 to 12kg per hectare.
Thinning: To achieve the desired final plant stand, thinning should be carried out when the plants are 4 to 6 weeks old, reducing the spacing to 15.0-22.5cm.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Water: Okra plants thrive when the soil is consistently moist. In hot areas, it is recommended to apply 1.5 inches of water every 10 days. However, in cooler climates, less water is needed as it can cool the plant and restrict its growth.
Fertilizer Application: Before planting the seeds, apply 220kg of fertilizer along with 1kg of Humipower per 50kg of fertilizer to reduce soil acidity, improve soil structure, and amend the soil. Alternatively, chicken manure can be spread one week before planting as a replacement for chemical fertilizer. Six weeks after planting, an additional side dressing of 40 to 60 units of nitrogen along with 1kg of Humipower per 50kg of fertilizer can be applied. It is also beneficial to use the Goldchance range, including Goldchance Starter, Goldchance Vegetative, and Goldchance Fruits and Flowering, after germination to promote faster crop establishment and increase production.
Weed Control: Shallow cultivation between crop rows can effectively control weeds that emerge. Timing is crucial for successful weed control, as cultivation too early may diminish the effectiveness of pre-emergence herbicides. Hand hoeing within rows should start as soon as weeds emerge. Applying 200ml of Clampdown per 20 liters of water as a pre-emergence and pre-plant treatment can effectively control emerged weeds. It is a non-selective herbicide that translocates within the plant, aiding in the control of larger weeds and perennials.
Harvesting: Okra pods are typically ready for harvest approximately two months after planting. Harvesting should take place when the pods reach a length of 7.6 to 15.2 cm, around 2 to 3 days after they have reached the desired size. Pods can be removed from the plants by cutting them with a sharp knife or snapping them off.
- Aphids (Myzus persicae): Aphids are soft-bodied insects that can be found hiding on the underside of leaves or stems. They are usually green or yellow in color. High infestations of aphids can cause yellowing and distortion of leaves, necrotic spots, and stunted shoots. Aphids produce honeydew, which promotes the growth of sooty mold on plants. To control aphids, prune out any affected leaves or shoots, check transplants for aphids before planting, use tolerant varieties if available, and spray the plants with a strong jet of water to dislodge the aphids. Low to medium infestations can be controlled with Kingcode Elite (10ml/20l).
- Corn Earworm (Helicoverpa zea): The larvae of the corn earworm damage leaves, buds, flowers, and pods. The eggs are laid singly on both the upper and lower surfaces of leaves. Monitor for eggs or young larvae and consider the impact on natural enemies before using chemicals for control. Corn earworm can be managed with Escort (10ml/20l).
- Root-Knot Nematodes (Meloidogyne spp): Nematodes prefer sandy soil and are more likely to increase in fields with this type of soil. Signs of nematode infestation include the formation of galls on roots, which can be up to 3.3 cm in diameter. Affected plants may show reduced vigor, yellowing, and wilting in hot weather. Planting resistant varieties and soil solarization can help control nematode populations. Adventure (5kg/50kg of fertilizer) can be used for nematode control.
- Spider Mites (Tetranychus urticae): Spider mites thrive in dusty conditions, and plants experiencing water stress are more susceptible to their attacks. Signs of spider mite infestation include stippling and yellowing of leaves, bronzing appearance, webbing covering the leaves, and tiny moving dots on the webs or underside of leaves. Early detection is crucial, as leaves may turn yellow and drop from the plant.
In a home garden, spraying plants with a strong stream of water can help reduce the buildup of pests.
To control pests, such as aphids and spider mites, Alonze (3ml/20l) can be used.
Cutworms (Agrotis spp.) are pests that cut off young seedlings at ground level during the night and feed on them during the day. Drenching the soil with Pentagon (20ml/20l) can help control cutworm infestations.
Thrips (Thrips palmi), also known as melon thrips, can cause distorted leaves when the population is high. They leave coarse stippling and may give the leaves a silvery appearance. Black feces may also be visible on the leaves. Profile (30ml/20l) can be used for thrips control.
Powdery Mildew (fungus) – Oidium asterisk- punicei:
- Leaves have a powdery white covering.
- Patches of powdery mildew can merge, covering the entire plant.
- Leaves may curl upwards and appear scorched in severe infestations.
Controlled by Chariot (20ml/20l).
Fusarium Wilt (Fusarium oxysporum):
This disease thrives in warm temperatures and can be introduced to fields through infected seeds, contaminated equipment, or human movement.
- Wilting of cotyledons and seedlings.
- Chlorotic and necrotic cotyledons.
- Wilting and leaf chlorosis in older plants.
- Severe infestations can cause stunted growth and plant death.
- Discoloration of the vascular system can be observed by cutting the stem.
Management: Drenching with Greencop (100g/20l).
Enations: Leaf Curl Diseases (Okra Enations Leaf Curl Virus):
This viral disease is transmitted by whiteflies.
- Pin-headed enations on the lower surface of leaves, which become warty and rough.
- Reduction in leaf size.
- Twisting of stems, lateral branches, and leaf petioles along the enations.
- Thick and leathery appearance of leaves.
- Deformed fruits on infected plants.
Management: Remove and burn infected plants. Control whiteflies with Kingcode Elite (10ml/20l) or Presento (5g/20l).
This soil fungus causes damping off of seedlings, root rot, and crown rot of plants. Symptoms include dark brown lesions girdling the stem at the base, leading to the collapse of seedlings within a few days.
Management: Drenching with Pyramid (100g/20l).
Marketing of Okra:
The popularity of farmers’ markets and consumer preference for locally produced food has increased. Set up an okra stand at a well-attended farmers’ market or consider selling to restaurants or grocers if you produce on a large scale. Online markets and marketing partnerships with other farmers can also be explored.
Challenges facing the marketing of okra:
- Market price fluctuations.
- Inadequate refrigerated transportation for fresh produce.
- Lack of organized and hygienic fresh produce markets.
- Limited access to physical markets due to cartels and brokers.
- Conflicting market management and regulatory roles.
- High post-harvest losses during transportation and offloading.
- Failure to honor contractual obligations between buyers and producers.