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July 24, 2011

When to harvest cowpeas and okra?

My readers asked, when do you pick okra and cowpeas? "When they are ready", seems to be an obvious answer, but it is not always that simple, especially if you grow these vegetables for the first time. Okra and cowpeas mature very fast once they start producing. If you miss just a couple of days of picking, it is very easy to let the harvest run away from you. This okra pod is almost twelve inches long and is not dark green color anymore, so it is too late to pick this one:


Usually it is advised to pick okra when it is three to four inches long. But what if you missed that stage? I have my own test for okra: squeeze it between your fingers, and if it feels soft and easy to squeeze, as well as moist to the touch, then you can still pick it. I missed two days of picking and now have okra over six inches long, but it is still edible. Here's what a pound of okra looks like:



This overgrown okra will make a fine roasted okra dinner. The "non-pickable" okra should be left on the plant to mature and go to seed. Did you know you can make coffee out of okra seeds? Just roast them on a non-greased pan and grind in a coffee grinder. Then brew like regular coffee, it tastes almost the same, but probably does not have caffeine.

Cowpeas, as I learned, are best picked when they start showing "bumps", but are still dark green in color:


It is easy to miss some cowpea pods as they like to hide under the leaves. But no worry! Let them mature on the vine and you will have dry cowpeas for cooking or the seeds for the next season. Yellowish cowpeas can be picked when they are dry or almost dry and then threshed to get their seeds:


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