When harvest time rolls around, be sure to dress for success.
It sounds funny but remember that some okra plants have spines; most have hairy stems. Don’t go walking into the okra patch in shorts and short sleeves. Put on some sturdy pants and a long-sleeved shirt to protect yourself. And, please: put on your garden gloves.
You need to stay sharp when your okra is approaching harvest time. Watch for flowers to appear on the plant. From that point, you can expect your okra pods to be ripe and ready for picking in five to six days. As each flower fades, you have a three to four day window to wrap up your harvest.
The general rule of thumb is to harvest your okra pods when they’re between 3 to 5 inches long. If you let them grow to their full, mature length, you’ll have a harvest of decorative pods or pods full of seeds for next season. Over-ripe pods are tough and woody. If you have trouble cutting the pod from the plant, you’re probably too late.
Pods that are ripe have bright color and firm but tender skin; the seeds inside a ripe pod are small. Check your pods for ripeness at least every other day. Pods ripen quickly, especially in areas with hot humid weather. And here’s a bonus: the more pods you harvest, the more pods your plant will produce. Use sharp garden snips, a sharp knife, or a twine knife (also called a ring knife) to cleanly cut the pods off the plant.
To prune or not to prune
Pruning your okra plants is a personal decision. On the one hand, if you prune your plants as you harvest, you’ll have less trouble finding ripe pods when you come back to the garden in a day or two. That’s the secret to a quick and easy harvest.
On the other hand, if you’re all about the okra and you want a bigger harvest, then let your plants get bushy. Sure, you’ll have to do a little more hunting to find the ripe pods, but you’ll get more pods. So the choice is yours: prune less, harvest more—but spend more time.
However much time you spend harvesting your okra, keep your pods dry as you collect them in a basket or bucket. Even better, get yourself an over-the-shoulder harvesting bucket; it will let you keep both hands free for harvesting. Add a ring knife to the mix, and you’ll be an expert okra harvester from day one.
You can store your pods in a cool, dry area in a basket, or in an aerated plastic bag in the fridge. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to cook with them. You’ll have three to four days to get cooking, canning, or freezing.
Remember: okra is a use it or lose it vegetable. As soon as you see the tips and ridges start to turn dark, get cooking. Dark okra is decaying okra.
Do you know exactly when to harvest your okra? Please tell us what you look for when getting ready to harvest.