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Tips and Lessons Learnt Growing Okra in the Backyard

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    Okra (or Bhindi as its called in India) is a very popular vegetable in India. This year decided to grow Okra again because we had a good yield last year. I asked a few friends and they recommended some herbs like basil & mint and also Okra. They said Okra is easy to grow and requires little maintenance overhead. Since we love Okra I decided to give it a shot and for the most part I was successful in growing it and also cooked a couple of dishes but not before we learnt a few lessons which I thought would make for some good reading. 

1. Spacing of the Okra Plants - The instructions said to plant the seeds about 12-24 inches apart (but who reads instructions) and I must have planted them 6-8 inches apart. Not a big deal, or so it looked like for the first few weeks but once they grew big, I realized my mistake. You can see from the pictures the all of plants are bunched close together and its quite messy. Plant your seeds about 18 inches apart or better yet, read the  instructions. 

2. Harvest / Pick Everyday - After about 7-8 weeks, you will start seeing the first signs of the Okra pods (which was super exciting) but I had no idea when to pick them and so we let them grow and grow (and grow they did). Some got to about 6-7 inches and I decided to read instructions (you are seeing a pattern here) and realized that its probably best to pick them when they are between 2-3 inches long. You will be surprised how fast they grow so you have to look at your plants everyday or 2 days at the very max. I have probably lost half my harvest because I was too late. 
You need to go look at your Okra plant everyday.




3. Okra plants are very itchy - I wish this was in the instructions (which I would have read after 2 lessons learnt). Yes, Okra plants are very very itchy. Sometimes just touching one leaf can give you a pretty strong itch. Given how close our plants were, I had to move some leaves and dig in to pick the Okra and I got a strong itch which lasted a few hours (a little Cortizone cream and a wash helped). Given that its summer time, most of us would not wear long sleeves, but please wear long sleeved shirts or gloves and make sure your face does not touch it. This is probably the most important tip. Okra plants are very itchy, so make sure you are well covered.

4. Okra plants are very generous - Once the plants grow and the pods start to form, you will be amazed how much Okra you will get. With about 4 plants, we could harvest enough in a week to make something with it. 

Lesser known facts about Okra :  
- Gumbo is Swahili for okra. 
- It also also called Lady's finger in some countries. 
- Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a caffeinate-free substitute for coffee. 

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Overall, its been fun growing Okra this summer. I never had a Green thumb but I certainly do have an itchy thumb now. 

Disclaimer : I am not a farmer or claim to be any expert on growing Okra or any other vegetables for that matter. 



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