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Okra (Lady’s Finger) Cultivation Guide: All You Need to Know in Planting, Growing and Harvesting Okra

Okra or Lady’s Finger (Hibiscus esculentus L.) is a tall growing, warm season and annual vegetable crop. It is also known as saluyot a bunga (Ilocano) and kaluyot (ifugao). It is a popular and profitable vegetable in the country. The young and tender fruits can be prepared as salad, boiled, broiled or fried and can be mixed in many meat and fish dishes. It is also an important vegetable mix of the famous Ilocano dish, pinakbet. It is widely grown throughout the year because of its resistance to either drought or waterlogging.

Okra is rich in vitamins A, C and B complex, protein, calcium, fats, potassium, phosphorus, iron and carbohydrates. Okra is also considered as Superfood. Its nutritional composition is as follows.

Table 1.  Okra Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

Energy

30 kcal   150 kJ

Carbohydrates

7.6 g

Dietary fibre

3.2 g

Fat g

0.1

Protein

2.0 g

Folate (Vit. B9) 87.8g

22%

Vitamin C  21 mg

35%

Calcium  75 mg

8%

Magnesium  57 mg

15%

Water (g)

90.0%

Vitamin A

(660 IU) Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okra

Aside from its nutritional value, okra is used as traditional medicine for the treatment of stomach ulcer, inflammation of the lungs, diabetes, asthma, colitis, sore throat and constipation. 

Nearly half of the fruit is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps lower serum cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. The other half of the fruit is insoluble fiber which helps keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

Generally, okra is planted for home consumption. But planting this crop extensively can give a year-round income for a farm family.

Soil and Climatic Requirements

Okra can tolerate a wide range of soil types but for better yield, plant in silty to sandy loam soils with pH 5.5-7.0 during long warm season and are well-drained and with adequate organic matter. Okra seeds germinate in relatively warm soils and do not germinate below 16°C.

Okra can be grown throughout the year but thrives best in a long, warm growing season and from low -to mid – elevation areas with adequate supply of water.  A monthly average temperature of 20-30°C favors growth, flowering and fruit development.


Varietal Selection

Choose varieties that are adapted to local condition, resistant to pests and diseases and preferred in the local market for better profit.To guide you in choosing your variety, refer to the table below:

Variety

Origin/Brand/Supplier

Maturity

(DAT)

Fruit Type

Features

Shape

Color

Diwata

Pilipinas Kaneko

60

Pentagonal but ridge are not so pronounced

Creamy White

All season

Smooth Green

Pilipinas Kaneko

55-60

Tapered round slender

Dark Green

All season

Holiday

Pilipinas Kaneko

45

Pentagonal

Dark Green

All season; Lowland

Okra Green Light

Pilipinas Kaneko

45-50

Slender

Very Light Green

Year round; prolific; smooth and spineless fruit

Paraluman

UPLB

55-60

Relatively slender

Light green to yellow green

All season

Smooth Green EW

East-West Seed Company

50

Slender Round

Bright Green

Year round; lowland

Camiling Smooth

Allied Botanical

40-50

Slender

Bright Green

Plants are very uniform in growth; very prolific

The two most popular recommended varieties of okra are smooth green and the native variety (Diwata). Smooth green is preferred by the consumers because of the deep green appearance while the native variety with yellowish white fruits is preferred by retailers because it does not appear wilted even kept for several days. Both of the varieties are prolific and mature at 45 days after emergence. 

There are two more commercial varieties of okra namely Camiling smooth and Green light. For export, Green Emerald variety is popularly grown. This variety is about 1.5 m tall. Pods are 18 to 20 cm long slightly ridged and green color.


Land Preparation

Prepare the field thoroughly to obtain good crop stand and optimum yield. Before plowing the area, broadcast organic fertilizer or compost (1kg/m2). Plow and harrow 2 to 3 times alternately at one week interval to prevent growth of weeds. Plow at a depth or 15-20 cm for better root penetration. Harrow every after plowing to pulverize and level the field. A well-pulverized soil promotes good soil aeration and enhances root formation. Set furrows after the last harrowing or make plots 75 cm wide at a distance of 100 cm between rows.

For clay soils, incorporate rice hull and compost liberally.

Fertilizer Application

It is necessary to apply fertilizers based on soil analysis to determine the right kind and amount of fertilizers to use.  However, in the absence of soil analysis, follow the following recommendations:

  • Apply 2-3 bags of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) and 20 bags of organic fertilizer per hectare. Apply the fertilizer within the furrows and cover with fine soil before planting.
  • Side-dress urea (46-0-0) 30 days after planting (DAP) at a rate of 10 grams or one (1) tbsp per hill.

 

Type of Fertilizer

 

Rate of Application

 

Time of Application

Method of

Application

Organic fertilizer

20 bags

At plowing

Basal

14-14-14

4 bags

At planting

Basal

 

Urea

 

2 bags

at 28 days after

emergence

 

Sidedress

 

14-14-14

 

4 bags

at 42 days after emergence

 

Sidedress

 

Foliar fertilizer

Follow the manufacturers recommendation

70,84,98 at 112 days after emergence

 

Spray

 


Planting

Okra is commonly planted directly in the field. It requires five (5) kg of okra seeds to plant a hectare. To attain uniform germination, soak the seeds with water overnight before planting. Plant okra seeds in slightly moist soil at a rate of 2-3 seeds per hill at a distance of 30 cm and 2-5 cm deep. Then press lightly to prevent excessive loss of moisture. This system of planting, which is usually practiced by farmers, favors deeper root penetration of seedlings and avoids the early emergence of weeds.

The common practice is planting the seeds before irrigating the field, causing weed seeds to germinate faster than the okra seeds, resulting in more labor input because of weeding. A hectare requires 10 kilograms of seeds. During rainy season, plant the seeds on raised beds or at the ridge of furrows to prevent the plants from water logging in case of flush floods.

Replant missing hills three (3) days after emergence (DAE).

Irrigation

Water is a limiting factor in crop production. Irrigate or water the plants regularly. Use furrow irrigation if available every 7 to 14 days depending on the soil moisture, season and soil type. Thin the plants to two (2) seedlings per hill 15 Days After Planting. Remove stunted and sickly seedlings leaving only the healthy ones.


Cultivation and Weeding

Weeding is necessary especially during the early growth stage of the crop. Cultivate and hill-up by hand-hoeing in between furrows at 15 and 42 days after emergence to minimize the growth of weeds. Cultivate 10 cm away from the base of the plants to avoid disturbing the roots. Finally uproot the remaining weeds (spot weed) that were missed during the previous cultivation.


Pests Management

Okra is tolerant to most insect pests specifically during wet season because of the profuse growth of foliage, but diseases are common because of the wet–warm condition of the environment.  However, it is necessary to observe the field to make sure that the plants are free from pests.

The most important pests of okra are cotton stainer and stink bug. However, during summer or second crop, leafhopper is the most damaging pest.

The most serious fungal diseases are cercospora blight, powdery mildew, fruit rot and root knot nematode.

Prevent the occurrence of pests by practicing field sanitation, plant resistant varieties, crop rotation. As last recourse spray pesticide following manufacturers recommended dosage.

To managed pest and disease refer to the table below using the suggested biological and remedial control measures presented in the Table 2 below.

Pest and Diseases

Suggested Management

A. Insect Pests

Leaf hopper

Irrigate the area planted with okra twice a week to prevent or minimize drying of the leaves sucked by the pests. Enough water that is absorbed by the plant will compensate the sap sucked by the pest. Practice organic farming because organic nutrients will boost the immune system of the plant against pests.

Cotton stainer

Collect the insects and eggs and burn or bury these into the soil. Use overhead irrigation to reduce insect population.

Leaf folder

Crush folded leaves with thumb and forefinger to kill the larva inside the fold. Do not open the fold because the worm inside will quickly slide, fall, and hide in the soil. Use light trap to kill adults

Collect infected leaves; place these in a plastic bag and then seal. Expose the plastic bag under the sun to kill the worms.

Spray with Thuricide HP or Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis)/Halt following manufacturers’ recommended dosage. These are bacterial pesticides.

B. Diseases

Cercospora Leaf spot

Gather all infected leaves as soon as the symptoms start to appear. To avoid transferring the disease to healthy leaves, burn infected leaves or bury these outside the area. Spray unaffected leaves with decoction of guava, avocado and akapulko leaves (1 L decoction to 16 L of water)

 

Remove some leaves (leaf thinning) so that the ultra violet rays of the sun can penetrate in between the leaves and kill the pathogens.

 

Preparation of decoction: boil 1 kg leaves of each of guava, avocado, and akapulko in 3 gallons of water for five minutes, start counting 5 minutes when the water is already boiling. Strain after cooking then store the decoction in plastics containers.

 

Avoid mono-cropping. Intercrop with botanical plants (marigold, ginger, basil, sunflowers and etc.).

 

Remove infected plant parts, spray with compost tea and tea manure, prune excess leaves to improve air circulation, and water in the morning.

Table 2.  Biological and remedial control of insect pest and diseases of okra.

Ratooning (Optional)

Ratooning is a practice in which the stems of old plant are cut to induce branching and emergence of new shoots. Okra can be ratooned to reduce cost of production. After harvesting, cut the stems leaving about one foot from the ground. Shallow cultivate in between rows using plow. Side-dress 10 g of urea per hill to induce shoot emergence. Hilling-up is necessary to cover the applied fertilizer. Irrigate through the furrows if moisture is not sufficient.

Harvesting and Post harvest Operations

Okra starts to flower 40 to 75 days after planting. Okra pods or immature fruits are ready to harvest 5-10 days after flowering or about 3 to 4 inches long (the pods are young, tender and snappy). Harvest only fruits which measure to this size. Immature fruits are more acceptable for table consumption.

Use a sharp knife or pruning shears during harvesting. Harvesting should be done every day or at at 2-3 days interval. Harvest in the morning or late in the afternoon to maintain the freshness of the fruits.

To facilitate harvesting and control diseases, prune all leaves below the lowest fruit at regular interval. Okra crop can be harvested 40-45 times in cropping season. A hectare of okra production yields about 18 to 25 MT of marketable fruits.

High quality produce demands better price in the market. Sort and discard malformed and diseased fruits. Pack the fruits in 10 kg polyethylene bags, woven basket or box or wooden crates lined with banana leaves or old newspapers to prevent from bruising and for convenience in hauling and to maintain freshness. Too much moisture favors the development of molds on the packed fruits so puncture 4-5 small holes on each plastic bag.

To store pods/fruits in large volume, store it at 10 ͦ C and 90-95% relative humidity to avoid wilting. Then the pods will be graded according to market standards and packed in plastic crates or in cardboard trays covered with plastic film.

After harvest, gather severely damage fruits. They can be included in the compost pile or made into fermented fruit juice



Resources:

PhilRice Handout Series

NUEVA ECIJA FRUITS & VEGETABLES SEED CENTER
CLSU Compound, Science City of Muñoz, 3119 Nueva Ecija

OKRA PRODUCTION GUIDE. Agricultural Communication Section, Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit No. 02, Tuguegarao City.

Bureau of Plant Industry

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