A Beloved Virgin
FaWrmPUet No. I
AGRICULTItL EXMIMENT STATION
COLLEGE OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
*c cenowle dgemends
The author is grateful to Mr. William Saalman, Soil Con-
servation Service, USDA, for photographs included in this
publication; and to Ms. Bonnie L. Andrews, Research
Secretary, VIAES, for her editorial assistance.
CAUTION: Pesticides can be injurious to humans, domestic
animals, beneficial insects, desirable plants, and fish or
other wildlife if they are not handled or applied properly.
Use all pesticides selectively and carefully. Follow
recommended practices for the disposal of surplus pesti-
cides and pesticide containers.
St. Croix, V.I.
Issued October, 1975
Copies of this bulletin are available
from V.I. Agricultural Experiment Station.
P.O. Box 920. Kingshill,
St Croix, V.I. 00850
OKRA- A BELOVED VIRGIN
By Darshan S. Padda
Okra (gumbo or quingumbo) is one of the most popular
vegetables in the Virgin Islands. Because of its outstanding
popularity in the Virgin Islands cookery, it has assumed the
status of a "national vegetable" of the territory. On the
market all year, it is used principally in fungi, or baked, or
fried. Okra combines well with other vegetables, especially
tomatoes, and is a natural thickening agent performing
this function in gumbos. Most of the continentals do not
like okra due to the pastiness which can be overcome with
proper cooking. Pastiness does not occur if the whole pods
are not broken or subjected to long cooking. Whether
boiled, baked, or fried, rapid cooking will preserve the
flavor as well as prevent the mucilaginous consistency from
developing. Okra should not be cooked in iron, copper, or
brass utensils for the resulting chemical reaction, while
harmless, will cause the pods to become discolored. Okra
pods can be preserved by drying, quick freezing, canning,
or by being barrelled in brine.
The botanical name of okra is Hibiscus esculentus L. (Syn.
Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench) with chromosome
number of 2n=72-132. An okra plant is a robust, erect,
annual herb, 1 2 meters tall. Its stems are green or
slightly red in color. Palmately 3 7 lobed leaves are al-
ternate. Flowers are solitary, axillary with peduncle about
2 cm. long. Calyx is completely fused as flower develops,
splitting longitudinally as flower opens and falling with
corolla after anthesis. Five petals are yellow with crimson
spot on claw. Staminal column is united to base of petals
with numerous stamens. Ovary is superior. Stigmas are small
and deep red in color. Fruits are beaked capsules, longi-
tudinally furrowed. Seeds are dark green to dark brown
AERIAL PARTS OF OKRA PLANT
One hundred (100) grams of the edible portion of raw
okra contains the following amounts of nutritional com-
88.9 per cent
520 international units
Research has been done on the use of powdered okra as
a blood plasma substitute. It was prepared by grinding the
pods and then removing the waxes and fats with ether or
alcohol. There appears to be a number of other applications
for dehydrated okra in the food and pharmaceutical areas.
For example, in acqueous mixtures it is an emulsifier for
certain oily materials.
The use of okra seeds as human food has been suggested
by a researcher at the University of Rhode Island.
According to this researcher, the dried okra seeds are rich
in protein and can be pressed for oil and ground into flour.
Because of okra's higher protein content and particularly
because of its high content of lycine, an essential amino
acid, an acceptable bread can be made with substantially
improved nutritional value.
ME BORN IN AFRICA
Okra is believed to have originated in Africa in an area
that includes Ethiopia, the mountainous or plateau portion
of Eritrea, and the eastern higher part of the Anglo-
Egyptian Sudan. From Ethiopia it spread to north Africa,
the eastern Mediterranean, Arabia, and India. It reached
Brazil by 1658 and Dutch Guiana by 1686. Okra came to
the West Indies with the African population.
Soil and Land Preparation
Most of the soils in the Virgin Islands will produce a
satisfactory crop of okra if other conditions are favorable.
Like the majority of other vegetables, okra does best on
well-drained sandy loam soils. The best soil reaction is
between pH 5.5 and 6.5. The bed should be prepared by
working the soil to a good tilth. Well-rotted animal manure
or compost should be applied at a rate of 10 15 tons per
acre for producing a good crop.
Choice of Cultivars is Available
Good quality okra may be green or white in color with
pods that are either long and thin or short and chunky. In
the Virgin Islands, consumers show preference for green
poded cultivars (varieties). Okra cultivars vary in plant
height. Pods of some cultivars have distinct lengthwise
ridges, while those of other cultivars are smooth. The two
cultivars that have given best performance under local
Dwarf Green Long Pod
A dwarf, height about 3 feet, mature pods 7 8 inches
long, ridged, and green. Recommended for fall planting.
Height is 5 feet; pods are 8 inches long. The pods are
smooth, round, very slender, and deep green. They remain
tender longer than the pods of many other cultivars. While
suitable for both fall and spring planning, during summer
this cultivar has consistently out yielded others.
Seed An Important Factor
Okra seeds are hard coated and slow to germinate. This
characteristic enables the okra seed to stay in the soil for
considerable time and wait for optimum moisture to
germinate. However, the rate and percentage of germination
can be hastened by soaking the seed for 24 hours in water
or for 30 minutes in acetone and alcohol. One ounce
contains about 425 okra seeds which will plant a 100 foot
row. 6 8 pounds of seed will plant an acre. Under ordinary
conditions the longevity of okra seed is for 2 years, there-
fore, it is recommended to use fresh seed or seed stored in
a cool dry place. In case old seed is used, it would be ad-
visable to test the germination before planting.
Planting the Right Way
Okra seeds can be planted on flat beds, on ridges, or in
furrows. The furrow method is preferred in the Virgin
Islands because the bottom of furrows is cool and moist.
Whichever method you choose, plant 2 3 seeds per foot
in a row with rows 3 feet apart. When plants are well
established, they should be thinned to one plant every 12
to 18 inches depending upon the cultivar grown.
Fertilizer Application Needs judgment
The proper amount and type of fertilizer to be applied
varies with the specific location on the islands and also the
soil type. Soil test results will help make the decision.
Heavier soils high in nitrogen may not need any fertilizer
application. However, average soils will need 500 pounds of
5 10 5 (nitrogen-phosphorous-potash) fertilizer to be
applied at the time of planting. An additional side dressing
of nitrogen will be necessary to keep plants growing
rapidly. The harvest may be delayed if excessive amounts
of nitrogen are used before the plants begin to fruit.
Irrigation Makes the Difference
In the heavy rainfall areas of the islands, okra can be
grown without supplemental irrigation if planted during the
rainy season. However, irrigation is required for spring and
summer plantings. Irrigation is necessary for best yields and
good quality of okra irrespective of the season. The fre-
quency and amount of water to be applied depends upon
weather, soil type, and stage of crop.
Harvesting Stage is Critical
Under favorable conditions of growth, the recommended
okra cultivars will begin to produce edible pods after 50 -
60 days of planting. Pods should be harvested when they
are from 3 4 inches long. The stage will be reached in
five days after flowering. If allowed to remain on the plants
for a longer time, the pods become too tough and fibrous
for food. In order to get maximum yields, okra pods
should be harvested every other day. Mature pods left on
the plants suppresses fruiting and maximum yield. A good
crop of okra would produce 4 6 tons per acre.
Plant Protection Pays
Okra is relatively disease free. In the Virgin Islands,
yellow vein mosaic and fusarium wilt diseases of okra are
not serious. Leaf spot fungus can cause trouble during rainy
season but rarely severe enough to necessitate treatment.
The powdery mildew fungus producing a mealy white
coating on the leaves and stems cause the leaves to die
prematurely. A heavy infestation has been observed on St.
Croix, and the condition can be controlled by spraying with
Karathane at the rate of 8 ounces per acre.
The cotton aphid is perhaps the worst single pest of okra
in the tropics. Leaf minors have also been observed to
attack severely the okra crop in the Virgin Islands. A spray
with Malathion or Diazinon at the rate of 1 quart per 100
gallons of water or 2 teaspoons per 1 gallon of water is
recommended as a control measure. Okra is highly sus-
ceptible to root knot nematodes. Nematodes can be
avoided by either crop rotation or fumigation of soil. Okra
should not follow vine crops, such as cucumbers, and sweet
potatoes. Treatment of soil with Nemagon at the rate of 1
gallon per acre is advisable before planting.
D.S. PADDA IN OKRA FIELD
For fresh marketing, do not remove the caps of okra
pods. Okra deteriorates rapidly, and normally it is stored
only briefly to hold for marketing. Okra pods have a very
high respiration rate at warm temperatures. If in good
condition, it can be satisfactorily stored for 7 10 days at
a temperature of 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative
humidity of 90 to 95 per cent. Temperature below 45
degrees Fahrenheit cause surface discoloration, pitting, and
Fruit Quality Standards
Tenderness of the pods determines the freshness and fruit
quality. Pods that snap easily or puncture on slight pressure
are the best. Young, tender, fresh, clean pods of small to
medium size ranging from 3 4 inches in length are
accepted as a good quality.
"U.S. No. 1 grade of okra shall consist of pods of similar
varietal characteristics which are fresh, tender, not badly
misshapen, free from decay, and from damage caused by
dirt or other foreign matter, diseases, insects, mechanical or
"In order to allow for variations incident to proper
grading and handling, not more than 10 per cent, by
weight, of the okra in any lot may be below the require-
ments of this grade but not to exceed a total of 5 per cent
shall be allowed for defects causing serious damage and not
more than one-fifth of the amount, or 1 per cent, shall be
allowed for decay."
FRUITS OF DIFFERENT
CULTIVARS OF OKRA
ESTIMATED COST PER ACRE FOR PRODUCING OKRA
St. Croix, U.S.V.I.
ITEM QUANTITY AND/OR HOURS COST
Labor Plant-Hand 20 hrs. $ 50.00
Fertilizer Application 12 hrs. 30.00
Weeding-2 times 32 hrs. 80.00
Spraying-5 times 10 hrs. 25.00
Harvesting 100 hrs. 250.00
Handling 14 hrs. 35.00
Sub Total 470.00
Sub Total 178.00
Land Preparation 34.00
Grading & Packing at
Marketing Center 175.00
Sub Total 244.00
Land Charge 25.00
Bookkeeping & Misc. 25.00
Sub Total 50.00
Total Costs $932.00
1 Estimated Production 5.0 tons:
Cost per ton $186.40
Cost per pound 9.3 cents
t Estimated yield under normal rainfall is 6.0 tons and for a drought
year it Is 4.0 tons.