by Vina Medenilla
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) or also known as “lady’s finger” is a tall-growing vegetable that thrives in areas with tropical climates like the Philippines. This contains high nutritional value that is good for the body. In Filipino households, it can be served in several ways: steamed, sautéed, fried, and sometimes eaten raw. The green okra is frequently used and seen in the country, but the vegetable actually comes in two colors: green and red. Have you ever tried or encountered red okra? If not, let’s learn a bit about from a grower himself:
An educator and red okra grower
Fascinated and amazed by its color, Rinse Galupo, an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Thailand, immediately bought red okra seeds when he first came across them in a farm abroad.
Galupo, who hails from Negros Occidental, brought his red okra seeds to the Philippines and started growing them on his farm in Iloilo. Because of the flight restrictions brought by COVID-19, he hasn’t been able to go back to Thailand, which has enabled him to concentrate on his farm. Last year, Galupo and his partner started developing their farm named RBG Farm & Resort and now, they’re planning to open it soon to the public.
From an early age, he has had easy access to the fields, allowing him to learn farming practices and embrace the importance of growing food and taking care of the environment.
Aside from his farm, he also built a home garden in Thailand where he was able to produce bananas, camote tops, coconuts, malunggay, sweet potato, taro, and other crops before he traveled back to the Philippines for a vacation. The harvested fruits and veggies from his Thai garden are sold to fellow Filipinos abroad.
Two variants of okra
Galupo said that there’s no difference between red and the more common green okra. From seeds to harvest, both will take a month to fully grow and be ready for harvest. “There is no particular season to plant red okra. What’s important is the location where you’ll grow them; it must be elevated so it won’t drown and die during the rainy season and that you must have enough source of water during summer,” said Galupo. One red okra plant can produce eight to ten pods each, he added.
He said it is better to sow the seeds in a temporary seedbed before transplanting them in the permanent space where you will grow them. In his case, he prepares the soil for four to five days before transplanting the seeds. He also uses a natural fertilizer composed of animal manure, rice hulls, hay, and sawdust.
Red okra tastes the same as the green variety; the only difference is their color. “With the red okra’s unusual color and appearance, it looks attractive that you would just like them to be displayed in your garden than to cook it,” Galupo added.
Since his farm is not yet ready to operate, he markets the red okra seeds to anyone interested while the harvested red okras are sold to his sibling who owns a cafeteria in town. For red okra seeds, he sells it for 200 pesos per sachet while for the seedlings, it’s 100 pesos each.
Besides red okra, he also planted spring bitter cucumber (Momordica cochinchinensis) and pea eggplant (Solanum torvum) that are both infrequently grown and seen in the country.
Challenges in cultivation
The challenge in growing red okra are pests, including worms and ants. “Birds and chickens are a big help to keep them away from worms. I also spray calamansi extract to avoid ants in my red okras,” Galupo said. Lemongrass, pandan, and cosmos are planted around the red okras helping him prevent pests.
Tips for growing red okra
- Make sure to have quality seeds
Some seeds are sold with 86% or 98% germination so it’s important to check the seeds that you are buying. The higher percentage, the better. You wouldn’t want your money to go to waste, he added.
- Clean, healthy soil
“Make sure that there will be no grass where you’ll grow the red okra so it will get enough nutrients that it needs from the soil,” said Galupo.
- Sowing the seeds
In planting red okra, the distance between each seed must be at least 2 feet for them to be able to grow properly.
Watering red okra must be done twice a day during summer and in the rainy season, it is not necessary as rainwater is sufficient. Growers may also choose to add natural fertilizers if needed.
RBG farm & resort is located in Iloilo and is not yet officially open to the public, but visitors are welcome to take a look at the red okras and other crops available on the farm.
Photos by Rinse Galupo.
For those who are interested in buying red okra seeds or seedlings, you may contact Rinse Galupo on Facebook.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s September to October 2020 issue.