Chinyere Anyanwu

Penultimate Monday, we featured a detailed story on okra cultivation. Today, we bring you the concluding part.

Planting and spacing

Okra planting is done manually or by the use of seed planters. The seed is sown at ½ to 1-inch deep into the soil, spaced at 12 to 15 inches apart within a row and 24 to 36 inches between rows.

The spacing will ensure that the plants receive adequate sunlight, nutrients, and moisture. Prior to planting, soak the seeds in water overnight.

This helps hasten germination. Okra can be intercropped with other plants such as maize and onions. Research has shown that intercropping okra with onion significantly reduces the leaf damage caused by Podagrica spp.

Weed control

Okra is attacked by weeds such as Bermuda grass, crabgrass, goosegrass, nutsedge, morning glory, and sicklepod.

Clear the weeds while they are still small to avoid competing with the okra plant for nutrients and other resources.

While weeding, avoid throwing too much dirt directly against the okra stems as this can result in increase of stem rot.

Weeds can be controlled manually or by use of herbicides. Early weeds can be controlled by application of herbicides on the field before the start of planting.

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However, using them improperly can damage your crop. Carefully follow the instructions on the label of the product of choice and apply herbicides at exactly the right rate and time. If help is needed, contact the nearest professional for guidance.

Insect control

The use of cultural controls is advised to curb pest problems early and make the crop less vulnerable to insect infestations.

Ensure that the plant has a favourable growing condition to keep it strong, healthy and better able to tolerate insect damages.

Check the plant regularly for an early appearance of aphids. Insect pests that affect okra fall into two categories, namely, foliage feeders and pod feeders.

Foliage feeding insect pests feed on the leaves of the okra plant. They include flea beetles, which are tiny, dark and active, eating many small, round holes in leaves; blister beetle, which feeds both on foliage and blossoms of the plant.

They are soft, having narrow necks with elongated bodies and about 1/2 to 3/4 inch long; caterpillars, which eat holes in leaves; and aphids, which damage plants by sucking juice from the foliage.

Okra pod feeding insect pests constitute a greater problem to okra farmers than foliage feeders. This is because damage to pods or blossoms directly affects the edible part of the plant – the pod – hence the economic yield of the plant.

Once flowering and pod set begin, blossoms and pods should be checked regularly for insects and feeding damage.

Among the pod-feeding insect pests are corn earworms. These chew into the pods, leaving holes and tunnels; stink bugs, which feed on the okra pods causing them to be twisted, distorted and having irregular shape; leaf-footed bugs, which suck juices from both the blossom and pod, causing small, dark, raised blister-like spots on the pod.

Diseases that affect okra plant

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Root-knot nematodes can cause serious losses in okra. Nematode damage commonly causes irregular growth and reduced or delayed production.

The incidence of fusarium wilt is much greater when root-knot nematodes are present. Application of approved nematicides prior to planting reduces fusarium wilt.

Cultural methods of controlling nematodes would be the use of soil solarisation, crop rotation or the use of nematode suppressive crops.

Blossom blight caused by the fungus Choanephora cucurbitarum. This can be controlled by avoiding over-fertilisation and planting of okra in shady areas.

Okra is also affected by leaf spot diseases but this rarely causes significant damage to the plant. The best control of leaf spot disease would be to follow a suitable crop rotation sequence and a balanced fertilisation programme.

The method of application of chemicals for control of weeds, pests, and diseases in the okra farm should be in controlled measures to prevent contamination that will make harvest unfit for human consumption.

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The method of harvesting okra varies according to the market type. There is the harvesting method for okra processing.

Okra grown for processing should be allowed to get as long as possible without becoming fibrous or hard. When harvesting okra for processing, the pods are broken or snapped in a manner that leaves the stem on the plant and not on the pod.

Okra for processing is usually harvested three times a week with pods over 4½ inches long but still tender.

Another method is that of harvesting for fresh market in which pods are harvested when they are 2½ to 4½ inches long and graded according to these sizes:

To get a maximum of these fresh market okra pods, harvesting must be everyday. Pods are snapped off by hand or cut using a knife or scissors. Okra has prickly stems which can irritate the skin. Ensure that gloves worn when picking to avoid irritation of the skin.

It is important to remove mature pods from the plants as soon as possible. Failing to do this will reduce the future yield of pods.

Post-harvest storage

Okra deteriorates rapidly at warm temperatures and must be promptly cooled. This will reduce field heat and subsequent deterioration.

Large quantities of okra can be stored for a short time by canning, refrigerating or soaking in salt water solution.

Freshly harvested okra that is in good condition can be stored for up to seven to 10 days at 7° to 10°C satisfactorily with a relative humidity of 90 to 95 per cent to prevent wrinkling.

Research has shown that okra is subject to chilling injury. This is made evident by surface discoloration, pitting, and decay at temperatures below 7°C.

Also, holding okra for three days at 0°C may cause severe pitting.

Fresh okra bruises easily, causing blackening within a few hours. Okra held in hampers for more than 24 hours without refrigeration may develop a bleaching type of injury.

All containers for storing okra should permit ventilation. Perforated film should be used to package okra as this will reduce wilting and physical injury during handling.

With additional material from Agro4africa.