I grew up hearing about Okra and on my trips down to Georgia to visit relatives is was a dinnertime staple. I tried the vegetable but was different from what I was used to so it never showed up in my garden.
One year that changed though. I read that Okra would control Japanese Beetles. The year before I had horrible leave damage in the gardens and yard. I tried the beetle bag traps and they would fill with rain and fall over or the bugs crawled out. I ended up hand picking them off but it was a loosing battle. There had to be a better way!
One thing I did read and notice to be true is that Japanese beetles were attracted to the color yellow.
That spring I started a few okra plants. I started them indoors living in a cooler Zone 5 growing area and treated them like I would a tomato seedling and transplant. When the plants were ready to set outdoors and all chances of a frost were over I placed them in container and garden pots.
Growing them in containers gave me the ability to move the plants around the yard and gardens to places that were suffering from the beetles. I made sure I placed the plants 20 to 30 feet away from the gardens so that I was not attracting the bugs into the gardens or raspberry patch.
It worked! I quickly noticed a drastic decrease in my plant damage and the pests were no on everything. I moved the plants to another section of the yard and again noticed the bugs were disappearing.
The basis behind the okra plant controlling the beetles is that the large delicate yellow flower on the plant attracted the insect and they would chew on the leaves, which were toxic to this bug and would die. For me this worked and I will have this plant in my gardens from now on.
I also found that the pods dried well and could be used in crafts and dried arrangements.
One other added benefit, the plants are pretty. The leaves are heart shaped and the hibiscus-looking flower is beautiful and adds color to the gardens and yard.
Okra facts and trivia
v Okra is popular in Africa, the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, India, the Caribbean, South America and the Southern U.S. It is not a common vegetable in most European countries. Greece and parts of Turkey are the exception.
v Okra can be served raw, in salads or cooked on its own. It goes well with tomatoes, onions, corn, peppers, and eggplant. Its mild flavor is said to taste like a cross between eggplant and asparagus.
v When buying fresh okra, look for young pods free of bruises, tender but not soft, and no more than 4 inches long. The older and longer the pod is the better chance it will be tough and stringy.
v Okra should snap easily in half. The best varieties are a rich green color.
v Okra does not store well so use it within two to three days.
v Do not wash the Okra until ready to use, or it will become slimy. When preparing the vegetable remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become.
v Okra releases a sticky substance when it’s that has thickening properties. In Louisiana, the slaves taught the Créoles to use okra (gumbo) to thicken soups and to this day it is an essential ingredient in Créole Gumbo.
v Okra grows in varying shades of green and can be smooth or have a ribbed surface. There is also a new variety that is red.
v In warmer climates the okra plant can grow up to six-foot tall.
The Okra seeds can be toasted and ground and used as a coffee substitute.
v Mature okra is used to make rope and paper. It dries well and pods can be used for many craft projects.
v Aluminum pots will discolor Okra.
v Okra is a good source of vitamin C and A, B complex vitamins, iron and calcium. It is low in calories and a good source of dietary fiber. It is also fat-free.