Okra: Harvest, Yield, Storage, and Post-harvest handling
When and How to Harvest Okra?
The most important step in any okra operation is harvesting the pods correctly and at the proper time. Harvesting methods vary according to the market type.
Okra plantings should be inspected on a regular basis and harvested when the fruit is at the recommended size for the market. The flowers are large, pale yellow and fairly ornamental. Each flower blooms for only one day and eventually forms one okra pod. Most varieties will start yielding about 60 days after planting. The plants can eventually grow quite tall (5 feet or more) but after that will stop growing and producing. Harvesting under favorable conditions should start about six days after flowering.
Harvesting for Processing
Okra should be allowed to grow as long as possible without becoming hard or fibrous. As long as the pod tip will snap off evenly the pod is usually still tender.
Pods 2 to 4 inches (5-10cm) left to mature one to two days longer will yield about 2 1/2 times more weight. If left to grow three to four days longer, the yield will be approximately 3 1/2 times more weight.
Processing okra is normally harvested at a larger size. Pods under 4 inches (10cm) long are not picked but are left to continue maturing. If left to reach maximum length, these pods will return a much greater weight per acre.
Harvesting for Fresh Market
Greater care is necessary in harvesting okra for exact and the pods must usually be cut with a knife. Fresh market okra is usually graded into these sizes:
- Fancy: Pods up to 3 1/2 inches (9cm) long.
- Choice: Pods 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches (9cm to 11cm) long.
- Jumbo: Pods over 4 1/2 inches (11cm) but still tender.
Tips for harvesting okra
- The pods should be harvested regularly (every two days) so that the pods do not become over-mature.
- Picking the pods while wet may darken the skin, though the taste is unaffected.
- Picking crews should carefully and neatly trim the stem end; this can be done as the pod is cut from the plant. In order to achieve pods small enough to grade as Fancy or Choice it will be necessary to harvest every day during periods of rapid growth.
- When harvesting, handling the delicate, tender pods with care is crucial to prevent bruising or discolouration.
- Pods can be snapped by hand, with a sharp knife or shears picking. It is recommended to wear rubber gloves during harvesting to prevent skin irritation from the sap, which can affect most people. Using a waist bag to collect the pods can reduce skin damage and avoid excessive bending.
- Picking okra in the morning can decrease the level of field heat present in the fruit, thereby extending the overall quality of the harvested okra.
- When harvesting, it is recommended to eliminate any overripe pods from the plant to sustain production. If overripe pods are left on the plant, it can negatively affect the amount of flowering and fruiting.
What is the average yield of an okra?
An average, realistic yield is 8,000 to 10,000 pounds per acre, (9.000-11.000kg/hectare) even though it can reach 12,000 pounds per acre (13.500kg/hectare) under favourable growing conditions.
Post-harvest treatment of the pods is essential to achieve a successful okra harvest. The first step is ensuring the pods will be moved to a shady and cool environment. Okra has a very high respiration rate at warm temperatures and must be promptly cooled to reduce field heat and subsequent deterioration.
Okra has a short shelf life and is typically stored briefly before being sold or processed. To preserve its freshness, okra can be stored for up to two weeks at a temperature of 10°C (50°F) and relative humidity of 90% to 95%. However, if okra is stored at temperatures lower than 10°C, it will become discoloured and decay. At temperatures below 4 °C (39.2 °F), okra is subject to chilling injury, manifested by surface discolouration, pitting, and decay. Holding okra for three days at 4 °C may cause severe pitting. Contact or top ice will cause water spotting in 2 or 3 days and should never be used to cool okra.
At higher temperatures toughening, yellowing, and decay are rapid. Relative humidity of 90 to 95 % is desirable to prevent shrivelling.
Fresh okra bruises easily, and the bruises blacken within a few hours. A bleaching type of injury may also develop when okra is held in hampers for more than 24 hours without refrigeration. Storage containers should permit ventilation.
Packing & Shipping
It is important to consider okra’s packing requirements. Arrange this based on the market requirements. Overcrowding the packing or using massive containers can lead to rapid heating and bruising of the fruit. Pre-packaging in the perforated film is helpful both to prevent wilting and physical injury during handling. The common choices for packaging are 20-pound crates or ½-bushel cartons. Precooling with cold air is recommended to eliminate field heat, but it would be better to avoid hydro cooling. If feasible, ship the okra with refrigeration, but refrain from using top-ice or any ice that may touch the okra fruit directly, as it can result in water spots on the fruit.
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