Tips & Techniques for Growing Okra
Growing Okra
Varieties of Okra
Okra is a hot weather plant and is more common in the south than in northern states.  A typical okra plant grows about 3 to 4 feet tall and produces green tapered pods about 5 or 6 inches long with spines that can irritate the skin when touched.  However, there are a number of different varieties with different characteristics.  Some are tall with long pods resembling a cow's horn while others have pods of various shapes and colors.  Dwarf varieties work well where space is limited.  My favorite variety is Clemson which produces round spineless pods which seem to be less fibrous.  You can find open pollinated and hybrid varieties.  Most varieties produce pods that are tender and delectable if picked before the pods get too large.
Preparing the Soil
Planting okra seed in rows seems to work best.  Prepare the soil for planting by tilling the garden and marking off rows.  To reduce tilling and weeding work, space the rows so you only have to plow down each middle one time to remove all of the weeds between the rows.  An easy way to ensure straight rows, is to make a shallow trench using a string and hoe.  The trench will serve as a guide when you start digging holes for planting the seed.  Okra is compatible with most garden plants.  However, it can get tall with large leaves.  Select a location for okra where the plants will get full sun and will not over shade other smaller garden plants that also require a lot of sunshine.
Planting Okra
Okra can be planted directly in the ground in hills forming a straight row.  Setting out plants will not speed up okra production by very much over planting seeds since the plants will have to get over the shock of being transplanted and get established in their new location.  Planting more than one row side-by-side, may improve the yield slightly but is not necessary for okra to produce.  You need to wait until the ground is warm before planting okra.  Otherwise, you will not get a complete stand and will have to replant the skips.  You can plant okra in April in the south and in mid-May in northern states.  To plant okra, dig a hole about every 18 inches apart along the row and place 3 or 4 seeds in each hole.  Cover them with about a half inch of dirt.  This should leave space between the hills to allow the plants to bush out and get adequate sunlight.  As the plants grow, you will need to thin out the smaller plants leaving only one healthy plant in each hill.  Okra loves hot dry weather and grows faster once cold wet nights are a thing of the past.
Weeding & Plant Maintenance
Okra is one of the easiest garden vegetables to maintain.  You simply till the middles and hoe out the weeds in the rows about 3 or 4 times during the growing season.  The hoeing is much easier since the plants are about 18 inches apart.  You should be able to hoe out the weeds in the rows with very little hand pulling.  There is no other care necessary unless you encounter problems with pests or diseases. 
Controlling Diseases and Insects
Usually, okra can be grown without too many problems with diseases.   The most prevalent problem seems to be wilt caused by fungi that lived through the winter in the soil and plant residue.  The leaves on the infected plants will start wilting and the plants will produce fewer and smaller pods.  Eventually, the plants will die.  Crop rotation and removing infected plant debris helps control the disease.  If severe infestation occurs, you may want to consider using a fungicide.  Always read and follow the directions on the containers when applying chemicals on garden plants. 
The worst okra pests that I have encountered are deer.  Believe it or not, in some locations deer seem to love okra pods and plants.  While at other locations, they don't seem to bother them.  I guess it is an acquired taste by the local deer population.  There are several methods that people use to repel deer.  A lady from Mendocino California developed a product for her own use to keep deer away from her flowers.  She now sells it to the public under the name of "Not Tonight Deer".  Sounds intriguing but I haven't tried it since I am using a mesh fence.  For additional details on controlling diseases and pests, click on the "Gardening Resources" tab and go to the Sources of Information on Vegetable Garden Diseases and Pests.
Once okra starts producing, you will need to pick it often, i.e. at lease every other day.  Frequent picking encourages production and prevents the pods from getting too hard to eat.  The pods can be cut off of the plants using a knife.  Pods that are too mature contain wood like fibers making them inedible.  Only the young and tender pods are good to eat.  However, all pods should be removed early in the growing season, so the plants will continue to produce.  If you want to save seed, you can leave a few pods that are too mature to eat, late in the season.  Pick them at the end of the season and let them dry for seed.  Once dried, the pods can be opened easily to remove the seeds.  Okra can be eaten fresh, frozen or canned.  Boiled okra can be gluey.  My favorite way of eating okra is sliced and fried slowly with a coating of corn meal mix, salt and pepper.  There is nothing like a meal of fried okra, purple hull peas and sliced tomatoes.  We also can okra with other vegetables at the end of the gardening season.  During the winter, we open a jar, add meat and you have gumbo, a thick vegetable and meat soup.