Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench), part of the Malvaceae family, is grown for many reasons including fiber, oil, and the edible flowers and pods (EDN 81). Okra has been cultivated for centuries and remains a very important food crop in many parts of the Middle East and West Africa (FAO stats); varieties have been selected for pod shape, color, and yield. Okra readily adapts to different locations while still providing an ample supply of food (Lost Crops of Africa II: Vegetables).
Our goals with this trial were to observe morphological differences of plant habit and leaf shape, and to find out which varieties produced the most pods within the shortest amount of time after planting. Plants were spaced two feet apart, in groups of 8 to 10, in raised beds covered with plastic mulch. They were fertilized three times a week with 16-3-16 [percentage N (nitrogen): P (phosphorus): K (potassium)] fertilizer, applied through drip irrigation lines at a rate that supplied 1.5 pounds of N per 100 feet of bed space. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, observations were made and pods longer than 2.5” were cut and gathered. Pods were harvested from 5 July to 5 August, 2013. Results are most relevant to early-season production, as time constraints made it impractical to continue harvesting beyond the 5th of August.
Plant traits: We found definite variation, both in the production of pods and in overall morphology. One okra variety (‘Sarajevo’) had many prickles on the leaves and pods, making harvest uncomfortable. Some plants only grew pods on very tall vertical shoots (‘Arka Animaka’, ‘Pusa Makmahli’, ‘Parbhani Kranti’), while others assumed a more bush-like habit with many branches full of pods (‘Jade’, ‘Burgundy’, ‘Gumby’). Large, healthy leaves made finding the pods difficult (‘Ever Lucky’, ‘Greenie’, ‘Clemson Spineless’, ‘Borneo’, ‘Lee Dwarf’), while highly lobed, narrow leaves made harvest of pods easier (‘Prelude’).
Pod production: Top producers were open pollinated varieties ‘Pusa Makmahli’ and ‘Gumby’ (Figure 4). Some of the earliest producing varieties were of Indian origin, including ‘Pusa Makmahli’ (Indian Agricultural Research Institute; Hope Seeds) and ‘Parbhani Kranti’ (Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth, Parbhani). In a previous (2003) ECHO variety trial, ‘Parbhani Kranti’ produced more of its pods early rather than later in the season. ‘Parbhani Kranti’ performed similarly in 2013, but with far fewer pods than ‘Pusa Makmahli’. However, ‘Parbhani Kranti’ has an advantage in its resistance to Yellow Vein Mosaic Virus, while ‘Pusa Makmahli’ is susceptible (IARI).
Other early production leaders were ‘Gumby,’ a variety acquired from Hope Seeds in Missouri, and ‘Burmese,’ a variety originally from Myanmar. During the trial we received a higher than average amount of rain, which could make these observations particularly helpful for individuals working in high rainfall climates. Had the trial been continued, some of these varieties could have also produced pods later in the season.
New Seed Bank Offerings
Special thanks to Mike Mueller with Hope Seeds, for supplying ECHO with seeds of ‘Gumby’ and ‘Pusa Makhmali.’
The variety ‘Gumby’, originally selected from another variety in Florida in the 1980s, was reselected by Hope Seeds and has been maintained at their Missouri location since 2002. According to Hope Seeds, “‘Gumby’ is earlier than many standard types with a shorter plant, yielding very good quantities of medium green smooth velvety pods.… [A] shorter plant with more narrow leaves [makes] the fruit easier to view and harvest.”
The variety ‘Pusa Makmahli’ originated in northern India. Hope Seeds’ selection has been maintained at their Missouri location since 2004. They share, “’Pusa Makmahli’ is a quick-maturing type on a short plant with tender light green five-ridged fruit. Plants may be grown in containers and are compatible with other patio plants; in-ground spacing may be 2-3 seeds per hill on 18” rows or hills. The plant will begin producing at just over 1 foot and [in Missouri] will reach a height of about 6 feet at full maturity.”
As noted earlier, ‘Burmese’ is a variety from Myanmar that compared well–in terms of early yield–with other varieties offered by ECHO.
Those registered with ECHO as agricultural development workers may request a complementary trial packet of one or several of the okra varieties from the ECHO Florida seedbank. Visit ECHOcommunity.org for information on how to register. We encourage you to conduct your own trials, perhaps comparing varieties from ECHO with those from other seed sources to which you have access.