Not everyone likes okra, but there are more ways to prepare it than most cooks think. I looked into it when one of my gardening buddies sent a sheaf of triumphant photos proving okra grows like a weed in Panama.
Glen Hamner lives on a small finca outside of Las Tablas where he has been having a fine time with his okra experiments. Here is what he has to say.
I have been gardening in Panama for the last year. I don’t have enough okra to sell. Nor do I believe I will ever have enough to sell. This morning for example I picked 17 okra. That is a Little over a lb. The plants are still young. However, I don’t think I will ever harvest more than about 20 okra in a single day. Maybe 30. I am growing more than I need. But, not enough to make it worth selling.
Currently I am growing two important crops. Sweet potatoes and okra. Las Tablas has two features that sweet potatoes and okra like. Severe heat, and terrible soil. Not many crops are worth trying here. These two guys are worth trying since we have the conditions they like. Other crops worth trying are long beans, cherry tomatoes and plum tomatoes and hot peppers. Of course, you could grow calabaza or cuban pumpkin as well.
At any rate. I have experimented with several varieties of okra. There is a local okra here. It is a terrible producer. Not worth growing. So I ordered some seed from the US using Mail Boxes Etc. That’s the only way to get seed here that I know of. I paid 14 dollars (including shipping) for a small quantity of special okra seed, two varieties, both open pollinated so I can save seed. I would be glad to sell seed once I have it. It will be about 45 days before I have the first seed crop. I am currently growing two varieties. One is called Heavy Hitter. It is a specially selected cousin of Clemson spineless, the old standby. I am also growing Stewarts bushy Zeebest. I will save seed from both varieties and whoever buys seed from me can save seed once they plant it.
I don’t believe either of these varieties have ever been grown in Panama. They are both heirloom varieties. Heavy producers. One variety is ridged. The other is smooth skinned, skinny, long. Both taste great.
I seem to be having the best luck with the Stewarts bushy Zeebest. But, both are good producers.
I grew my okra in stages. Or, I grew it in batches. On different dates. In different sections of the yard. Everyone has their own ideas or methods of growing okra. Throw away your old ideas for a minute. This is Panama. We have a unique climate here and super terrible soil. I am still learning. And, experimenting. Sometimes I fail. That is how I learn.
Here is a simple way of growing okra. Find a sunny place in the yard. Using a pick mattock, break up a two foot circle of ground and dig it up. Mix in some compost that you buy from Melo in the dirt and push the dirt back in the hole. Plant 3 or 4 seeds about 3 or 4 inches apart in the center of this grow hole. Water it in. The seeds should be up and running in a week or less. Keep the soil moist. If your soil drains a lot and gets dry quick you will need to wáter every day. Once the plants get a little size to them pull out all but the best plant. Side dress with a tablespoon of 12.24.12 granulated fertilizer after a couple of weeks. Then, repeat after another couple of weeks. Check the plants every day to make sure they don’t get stressed out. Leaf wilt means they are a little stressed. That’s ok. Just don’t let them dry completely out. Water the plant. You will get the feel for how much water the plant needs while you are growing it. We are in the dry season now so wátering it and keeping an eye on the plant is necessary. As the plant gets bigger, water deeply and less often. But, continue to keep an eye on it. Side dress with more fertilizer after about a month.
The Heavy Hitter okra shows first bloom in 38 days. First pod in 42 days. Zeebest first Bloom in 42 days. First pod in 46 days.
Production will get better as the plants grow. These varieties branch out so you get bigger yields as time goes on.
Experiment by planting okra in different parts of your yard. Some areas are more fertile than others. The plants should produce for several months or more. Prune the plants later to encourage new growth and more production.
Once the rainy season comes watering will not be so important.
Now, if you plant your okra during the rainy season, there might be a few problems with driving rain beating down the little seedlings. But, it will be worth trying to start during the rainy season. Less watering. But, more fungal diseases, etc. I plan to grow it during the rainy season but I know there are more potential problems in the high humidity, etc.
In my opinion it is best to start the plants about a month before rainy season starts. But, you should do OK planting okra all year long.
I will be.
Sweet potatoes are another worthy crop. Very easy to grow here. Both okra and sweet potatoes are not available in the market in Panama except maybe in a store like SuperRey. And, the prices will shock you. I use sweet potatoes as a substitute for the poor quality White potatoes sold in the market. I eat them all the time. I don’t eat the poor quality rice that is sold to us either. So, sweet potatoes are very important here if you want to eat better.
You can see the big zeebest okra plants growing in a sea of sweet potato vines. Look at all those blooms!
So, there’s a new veggie in town for those of you bored with the local selection. Here are a few ways to prepare it you may not have thought about.
Lots of people say the reason they don’t care for okra is “the slime.” So here you have Slime Free Okra Recipes
Want to add “the power of cheese”? Try Okra Rellenos – this treat is as tasty as it is easy.
Here’s a video showing you how to make fried okra – they love this in the South.
And speaking of the South, Southern Living Magazine offers their Ten Best Okra Recipes.
Glen has offered to answer any questions readers might have regarding growing either okra or sweet potatoes. He’d also love to meet any of you who are interested or might want to buy okra seed or sweet potato slips. Please leave a comment to encourage other gardeners with your enthusiasm, and if you want to contact Glen, just drop a line to the blog and I’ll pass it on.