If you are a first-time gardener, you might be surprised to see how different seeds look. Sunflower seeds, onion seeds (usually called bulbs), and okra seeds are all very distinct. With all the variety and distinction, it can be difficult to know when a seed is good and a seed is bad.
Some okra seeds are supposed to look black. Before you plant them, you’ll notice that some of okra seeds are pretty dark, even black. That’s okay. They’re still good to plant. However, if the seeds within your pods are black, the okra was probably harvested too late and will be too woody to eat.
Below, I’ll talk about what okra seeds are supposed to look like when you are gardening. I’ll also talk about how to test them to make sure they’re good to grow, which has less to do with how they look and more to do with how they germinate. Then, we’ll talk a little bit about when to harvest your okra so that if you are seeing black seeds post-harvest, you’ll know what to do differently next time.
Why Your Okra Seeds Are Black
When you get your packet of okra seeds, they might look different than any okra you’ve seen before. Okra seeds are notoriously dark in color, which may have come as a shock considering fully grown okra plants have light seeds like a jalapeno (though they can have dark seeds when you open them up–we’ll get into that later).
Check out this video, where a gardener has let his okra plants dry out to get their seeds for next season, to see what okra seeds typically look like:
As you can see, some of them are darker than others. Some even look black. This doesn’t affect their ability to grow, though.
Determining Germination Rate
We’ve all heard of the term “bad seed.” In the context of gardening, it means a seed that won’t grow no matter how much you water or nurture it. So how can you tell if your okra seeds are bad?
Germination rates are the number of healthy seedlings divided by the number of seeds in your packet. This is the only way to know how many seeds are looking to germinate, though some plants can be determined by the color, size, etc., of their seeds.
For okra, the color isn’t one of the seed viability indicators. Typically, we look at seed viability through the lens of germination rates.
Most companies will give you a germination rate on the back of their seed packet, and it’ll show you how many of your seeds you can expect to grow healthily. Again, this is about probability, so you might find you have 100% healthy growth even if the rate is only 80%. If you’re unlucky, you may get less than that.
When companies do germination tests, they take a number of their seeds and see which ones will germinate (seed or spore, shootout leaves or stems, etc.). You could do this at home, but if you don’t have many seeds, there’s not much of a point to it. You’ll grab a few seeds you’re willing to sacrifice and try to germinate them on your own, noticing how many of the test groups come up.
Some gardeners swear by seed soaking. If you’ve never heard of this, check out this video from Black Gumbo Southern Gardening:
If you didn’t watch the whole video, I’ll summarize it: the soaked seeds germinate faster.
But you aren’t looking for quick germination, right? You’re wondering whether or not your okra seeds are viable to plant. The process of seed soaking helps you decide what you should plant because it germinates them before you put them down in the dirt.
If they don’t come up after a seed soaking, you can toss them because they won’t grow. So, this process works double duty by germinating your seeds faster and helping you decide what seeds are worth planting.
How To Keep Your Seeds Safe
Make sure to keep your seeds safe if you are worried about viability. This means keeping them in a cool, dry place during the off-season. If you take your seeds straight from the okra, some gardeners suggest leaving the okra on the plant (it’ll get woody and even turn yellow!) to dry out before harvesting the seeds. Then, store them somewhere safe.
Should I Eat Okra if the Seeds Are Black?
Above, we’ve talked about the normalcy of finding okra seeds that are black when you begin the garden. This is, of course, a gardening website! But what if you aren’t talking about the seeds you are putting in the ground but rather the ones you’ve found once you’ve harvested?
If your harvested okra has black seeds on the inside, the seeds may have matured within the okra. This might indicate that your okra has gone bad and needs to be tossed or won’t taste very good. You will also likely notice black and brown spots outside your okra if it’s gone bad.
The seeds inside your okra, little pods, should be white or light in color. They may also get darker if your okra was left on the plant to mature. If the inside of your okra is black, it’s gone bad, and you need to throw it out. You could also compost it if you’ve ruled out any illnesses or infestations.
The inside of your okra should have white pods, sort of reminiscent of those you’d find in a jalapeno. If they’re any other color, there’s probably a problem. It could be your harvesting method, how you stored your okra or even some techniques you tried (or didn’t try) way back during their growing days.
When Should You Harvest Your Okra?
If you found black seeds inside your harvested okra, you may be wondering where you went wrong. It’s most likely that you either stored or harvested your okra incorrectly.
You should harvest your okra when the pods are two to four inches (5.08 to 10.16 centimeters) long. The insides of the okra will be white, and the pod should be easy to cut. If it’s too woody to get through, you might have harvested it too late.
To harvest your okra, just take note of their size. Usually, the pods are between one and two days old (around a month or two after you sow the seeds). They’ll be a light green or a purple (depending on which ones you are growing). These babies grow pretty fast, so check back in your plant every few days once you start harvesting.
To store your okra, use the crisper drawer in your fridge. Don’t let them get wet–otherwise, they may get slimy and will be even more susceptible than they already are to molding.
It could also be how you planted your okra if you have harvested and stored everything correctly. Remember, okra prefers:
- Sunlight. Okra likes to be in full, direct sunlight. This means nothing is shading the plants or filtering the sunlight through.
- Temperature. Okra does so well in the south because it can get really warm there, without any spells of coldness one might experience in the summer up North. Your okra plant likes the heat and will stress if the temperature gets anywhere below 60 °F (16 °C).
- Watering. Your okra plants are okay going without the excessive watering your other plants might require, but they still need an inch (2.54 cm) at least once a week.
- pH. Like most plants, okra requires somewhere between 6.0 and 6.8 for its soil to get all of its proper nutrients.
If you have found you’re doing everything right, including harvesting and storing your okra, you may have an illness or an infestation on your hands. Your seeds can be black on the inside, and occasionally, the okra will still be fine. However, it’s usually past the point of edibility (still edible, but not very tasty).
Additionally, if you’re seeing any other bad signs on your okra plant, you may want to avoid the okra altogether. I hate to be the one to tell you that the “black” seeds may have been dead bugs that somehow got into your plant! Some common okra illnesses are:
- Damping-off (though this would kill your seedlings before they can grow)
- Fusarium wilt (a fungus disease)
- Powdery mildew (which is common on most plants and kind of looks like a spider web)
- Mosaic virus (which may turn the leaves yellow)
None of these things have black seeds inside the okra as a symptom, but they make your okra pods weaker, leaving them susceptible to bugs crawling inside and dying. Black bean aphids look like seeds, and if you’ve got bad eyesight, any beetle might look like a seed!
To summarize, remember this: when planting your okra, black seeds are okay, but after harvest, black seeds are usually a no-go. They could mean your okra has matured past the point of being good to eat, so the okra will be hard and difficult to cut through. Or, if you’re seeing anything else that doesn’t look right, it could be rotting.
However, if you are planting okra seeds, there are a few dark ones. Typically the way your okra seeds look will have nothing to do with their germination rate.