- Learn how to grow bitter melon. Growing bitter gourd is easy. This healthy vegetable grows up quickly and fruits productively. You can also grow it in pots.
- Bitter Melon (Bitter Gourd) Information
- How to Grow Bitter Melon
- How to Grow Bitter Gourd in Pots
- Requirements for Growing Bitter Melon
- Bitter Melon Plant Care
- Quick Reference Table to Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
- Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
- Harvesting Bitter Gourd and its leaves
- Steps to Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
- Additional Tips
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- Growing Advice
Learn how to grow bitter melon. Growing bitter gourd is easy. This healthy vegetable grows up quickly and fruits productively. You can also grow it in pots.
USDA Zones— 6-11
Bitter Melon is one of the most popular vegetables grown in South-East Asia. Like cucumber, melon or pumpkin, it belongs to the gourd family. A native of the Indian subcontinent, it is used in Asian delicacies. It one of the healthiest vegetables and has many medicinal uses. It has a uniquely bitter and crunchy taste.
Bitter Melon (Bitter Gourd) Information
This very short living tropical perennial climber with thin stems can grow up to 5 m in length. Like other plants of this family, it needs support. Both the stem and lobed leaves are hairy. Bitter melon produces yellow flowers, male or female, which are pollinated by insects.
Bitter tasted fruits are eaten unripe when they are still green or slightly pale. They have delicate skin and can be eaten after cooking. Inside there are large seeds. The flesh somewhat resembles a cucumber and is watery and crusty.
How to Grow Bitter Melon
Seeds can be purchased online or in garden shops. You can also use seeds you get from ripe yellow fruits. Ripe seeds have a crimson red color coat. Germination is not difficult, but there are some tricks to make it faster.
Seeds will germinate slowly in 3-4 weeks if you directly sow them without pre-treatment, especially at low temperatures. But to increase germination rate and for the faster germination, you have to scarify them to remove seed coat. For this, rub the seeds from one side without doing any damage to endosperm inside the seed coat. Soaking seeds for 24 hours in water before sowing will also help.
Planting Bitter Melon
Sow seeds 2 cm deep. Seeds can be sown directly into the ground or in the containers but only when the risk of frost has passed, and the soil warms up enough. Seeds require the temperature above 70 F (20 C) for germination.
In temperate regions, best seed sowing time is summer, usually between late April to May. Whereas in tropics (USDA Zone 10, 11), you can start seeds anytime.
Types and Varieties
There are two types of bitter melons. One from India, which is smaller in size and has spiny skin and the other one is from China. Chinese bitter melons are milder in taste, generally large and smoothly ridged. If you want the higher yield, choose hybrid variety.
How to Grow Bitter Gourd in Pots
Growing bitter gourd (bitter melon) in pots is easy. Similar to squashes, cucumbers, and melons. You’ll need a 12 inches deep pot and a sturdy trellis. However, the bitter melon vine can grow more than 5 m (16 feet) long. A trellis or any other support structure that is at least 5-6 feet tall is required. Once the vine has reached that height, you’ll have to redirect it.
Requirements for Growing Bitter Melon
This plant is cultivated in the same way like squashes, melons or cucumbers.
Provide full sun to this vine, and it will produce heavily. Also, as it is a tall vine, you will need to support it. A tall trellis or a garden fence. If you want to grow it on your patio, terrace or balcony grow it near the wall so that it can go up along with it.
It tolerates a wide range of soils, but prefers permeable, sandy loam soil that is very rich in organic matter. Bitter melon grows in slightly acidic to the slightly alkaline soil. The pH range around 6 to 7.1 is ideal.
It can tolerate drought-like conditions for a short time but regular watering to keep the soil evenly moist is essential to ensure a good yield.
In the initial phase of growth, growing bitter gourds require a temperature more than 70 F (20 C). Humid and warm temperature accelerate the growth of the plant. It is more resistant to low temperatures than other plants of this family but requires the hot temperature and humidity to grow.
Bitter Melon Plant Care
Overuse of nitrogen-rich fertilizers should be avoided, which could encourage the development of foliage at the expense of fruits. At the time of planting, you can mix slow-release complete fertilizer in the soil. Enriching the soil with compost or well-rotted aged manure and regular inputs of organic matter will be enough later. Still, if your plant is not growing well, you can feed it with liquid vegetable fertilizer once in a month.
Bitter gourd perks up very quickly and within two weeks after planting you must arrange something to support it. You can also grow this vine on pergolas, arches or arbor.
Growing bitter gourd vertically increases the yield and fruit size, moreover, in the case of growing horizontally on the ground, there is a high risk of fruit rot and fungal infection to the plant.
The plant produces numerous side shoots, which must be removed to improve yield, remove the side shoots (lateral branches) until the runner reaches the top of the trellis. Leave only 4–6 laterals and cut the tip of the main runner to improve the productivity of the plant.
In cooler climates, bitter gourds are grown as annual so you may not need to care about overwintering.
Pollinators like bees do the pollination for you, be kind to them. If you don’t find pollinators around the flowers, you may need to hand pollinate them in the morning.
Pests and Diseases
It is prone to diseases like watermelon mosaic virus, other cucurbit diseases, and powdery mildew. In pests, it gets affected by aphids and spider mites.
Bitter melon starts to fruit quickly in 2 months. Harvest fruits when they are green, little pale and unripe and about the size of 3 to 6 inches (depending more on the variety and type). Within 6 to 8 weeks after the germination, you’ll see the blossoms, and in the next 2-3 weeks, fruits will appear and are ready to be picked.
Quick Reference Table to Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
Bitter gourd is not exactly a favourite vegetable of most people. But there are also quite a few like me who love bitter tasting stuff like neem flowers, dark chocolate and of course bitter gourd. In fact in a complete Odia thali it is difficult not to find something bitter. Bitter tasting stuff is actually very good for the body. In fact if you did a search on internet you would find that Bitter gourd is an excellent source of Vitamin B, C, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese and iron. It contains twice the beta-carotene than broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach and twice the potassium of banana. In simple words it is a super food. And the good news is to grow bitter gourd in a pot is child’s play.
|Growing Temperature||25 – 38 °C|
|Germination Temperature||30-35 °C Ideal|
|Germination Time||7-12 days|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.7|
|Sunlight Need||6-8 hours per day (Sun loving Plant)|
|Preferred Planting Method||Direct sowing|
|Container size||10-15 liter per plant|
|Time to Harvest||60-80 days from germination depending on variety|
|Harvest Period||30-60 days|
|Typical Pests||Mexican bean beetle, Mites|
|Typical Diseases||Powdery Mildew|
|Best season to grow in India||March to October|
Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
Bitter Gourd Sapling
Bitter gourd is a climber plant, and hence you need to have trellis arrangement for it to grow. However the plant and fruits are quite light in weight and hence can be grown on any kind of trellis system. In our garden we use the vertical space above the parapet on our terrace to grow bitter gourd. A simple fishing net held in place by a few steel angles drilled to the parapet does the trick. This way we also end up utilizing vertical space of our rooftop garden.
Vertical space used for growing bitter gourd plant
Bitter gourd seeds have a hard cover and hence pre-soaking the seeds overnight before sowing them helps in faster germination. To decrease the germination time even further you can also first germinate the seeds in a bottle before sowing them. To sow the seeds make approximately 1/2 inch depressions in the soil, place the seeds on their side and cover them up with loose soil. Water gently so that the soil is not disturbed to expose the seed. Keep the soil moist all the time. You can plant 4-5 seeds in a 15 liter pot. Keep 1-2 plants in a 15 liter pot and remove the others when seedlings have developed at least four true leaves. Young bitter gourd plants are sometimes susceptible to cutworms. So it is a good idea to wrap the base of the plant with aluminium foil when bitter gourd plants are young. This will create a physical barrier between the plant and cutworms.
Successfully Pollinated Bitter Gourd
Bitter gourd plant has both male and female flowers. The female flowers are pollinated with pollen from the male flower to bear fruit by bees and other insects. Hence you must have at least 3-4 bitter gourd plants growing together. This will ensure that there is sufficient mix of male and female flowers. When the plants start flowering it is time to amend the soil with good quality compost. This will help in the plant getting the required energy to bear fruits. If you find too many female flowers falling off the plant it is possible that they are not getting pollinated. Hand pollination helps when pollinator like bees and wasps are absent in your garden during flowering.
In extreme heat bitter gourd does well under shade
Bitter gourd is a summer vegetables. But in extreme heat conditions it is better to grow them under partial shade. At very high temperatures the fruits tend to get ‘cooked’ in the sun; they become soft and dry.
Harvesting Bitter Gourd and its leaves
Camouflaged Bitter Gourd ready to Harvest
Bitter gourd leaves are used in cooking and many people even use it in juices. But harvesting leaves on a daily basis can weaken your bitter gourd plant. In case you are harvesting leaves from your bitter gourd plant make sure that you don’t do it too often. You can harvest leaves once in a fortnight at best.
Seeds from a ripened bitter gourd
It takes about 10-14 days for bitter gourd fruit to become mature after the blossom has dropped. As bitter gourds have the same color as the leaves they are easily camouflaged. The smaller variety bitter gourds are more difficult to spot than the bigger ones. Examine your plant from all sides to spot all mature bigger gourd for harvesting. If you miss them they will ripen soon and become unfit for eating.
Bitter gourd, also known as bitter melon, is a popular vegetable in Asia, Africa, India, and the Middle East, but in the USA it is not a widely known vegetable. It has a bitter taste but is very delicious to eat and good for your health, especially if you have diabetes. (1) It is packed with many essential vitamins and minerals that enhance its therapeutic effects.
The plant is a vine that can be very easily grown in your garden or on your terrace, even in a pot. You just need to use good soil and put it in a place where it gets plenty of sunshine and fresh air. The best part is that this plant does not need much attention. With a little effort, you can enjoy organic bitter gourd harvested from your own garden for months.
Before sowing the seeds, you need to prep the seeds, so they sprout faster. This can be done by soaking them overnight in warm water or even scratching the surface of the seed or sanding the outer coating off of one side with sand paper. If you don’t do this in advance it sometimes takes weeks for the seeds to sprout.
The proper location for your plant to grow is also essential. You need to choose the right location so that the plant gets ample sun all day long. Bitter gourd grows best in organically rich, sandy or loamy soil that is well-drained, with a pH level in the range of 5.8 to 6.4.
It’s best to start your seeds in a spot without real strong heat and sunlight until they are up and growing, then move them to a sunnier spot once they start to grow. Bitter gourd prefers hot or warm weather, so make sure you have a place where your plant can enjoy a lot of warmth from the sun for better growth, ideally full sun all day.
Steps to Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
Things you’ll need:
Items needed to grow bitter gourd in a pot
- Large bucket
- A large pot at least 12″ in diameter
- Organic bagged potting soil
- Jute or garden twine
- Garden gloves
- Coffee filters
- Bitter gourd seeds
- Garden trowel
- Organic bagged compost or homemade compost
- Slender bamboo poles approx 8″
Step 1. Prepare the soil
Get the soil ready for planting the seeds by adding organic compost to it
Mix equal parts of organic potting soil and organic compost in a large bucket or plastic bin. Rub it well between your hands to loosen up the soil. Remove any stones and other hard particles from the prepared soil, as they can create obstacles later on.
Step 2. Use the correct sized pot and ensure proper drainage
Line the bottom of the pot with a coffee filter and transfer the prepared potting soil
Choose a 12″ or larger pot and place the coffee filters over the holes in the bottom. This allows proper drainage of water while preventing soil from slipping out. Bitter gourd thrives in well-drained soil. You can also use landscape fabric in place of coffee filters.
Remember that your pot must have holes in it to ensure proper drainage. This is important to prevent fungal infections on the roots of your plant in the later stages of growth.
Put the prepared potting soil and compost mix in the pot. Fill it completely, leaving only 1 inch from the top. If you find any hard substances in the soil while filling your pot, remove them.
Step 3. Sow the seeds
Now its time to sow the seeds
You can buy good quality seeds online or from your nearest garden store or online seed vendor. Hybrid seeds that are pest and disease-resistant are a good option.
You can plant the seeds directly in the pot or allow them to germinate in a germination tray first.
Make a hole 1″ deep in the soil using a pencil or your finger. Put 1 seed in each hole and then fill the hole with soil.
Water the seeds a little bit, just so that the soil becomes wet.
Step 4. Water and check the growth daily
Keep track of the plant progress
Like all other plants, water is important for the growth of bitter gourds. Water the seeds when it is getting a little dry on the surface and wait patiently for about a week until the seedlings start to emerge. Never let the soil fully dry out, or you will kill the little seedlings as they emerge. Soon the small plant will start growing day by day. Keep track of the growth.
Water the plant when the soil loses moisture. Water it generously and regularly, but be careful not to overwater it. The soil should be moist, but not soggy.
Step 5. Give the young plant some support
Provide support to your plant to creep on a bamboo stick
As soon as the small plant has grown about 2 to 3 inches long, it is time to provide support for the vine to creep on. This is important to prevent the leaves from having direct contact with the soil. By this time, the vine will have developed a few leaves. Initially, you can use a sturdy stick, and later use a rope on which the vine can climb and grow. You can also insert a bamboo stick into the soil at the time of planting the seeds.
Step 6. Allow the plant to grow in sunlight
Place the plant right to receive enough sunlight
You must water the plant on a regular basis. You can do this every morning or in the afternoon, but remember that you must not overwater it. It is best to water your plants when they are not in direct sunlight and always water only the soil, and never wet the leaves. Spraying water on the plant leaves can cause disease and also causes the leaves to become burned by the sun.
Keep adjusting the vines, if need be, allowing them to grow properly
Also, from time to time you may need to adjust the vines to help them cling onto the bamboo poles or twines.
Step 7. Add additional support with twine
Let the vine climb with the support of twine
As the vine starts growing longer, you need to use twine to allow the vine to climb.
As the vine begins to grow taller you might need to gently tie it to the support to prevent it from wandering or falling. If your vines get taller than the bamboo you can either coax it back down and around the structure or even add more twine at the top directing the vines up or over to another support such as an overhead beam, fence, post, etc. Vines may grow as tall as 15 feet!
With the blooming flowers, you will notice the fruit by this time
In the meantime, you will notice flowers blooming on the vine.
Some flowers may fall off while others grow on to produce the fruit
The plant will have both male and female flowers. While the male flowers fall off in 1 to 2 days, the female flowers go on to produce fruits. More female flowers will bloom in the coming days.
Step 8. Harvest the fruit
Your bitter gourd is ready for harvest
After about three months, you can harvest the fruits of your labor. The mature gourd fruits have a light green color, and the ends of the spines will become round. Freshly harvested fruit tastes the best.
When harvesting, gently pull the fruit from its stem. You can harvest the fruits every few days. Make sure they do not turn yellow, which indicates over-ripeness.
- If you plan on planting gourds again for the next season, leave some fruits unharvested on the vine. They will turn yellow and break open naturally. Take out the seeds from the mucilage, clean them and store them in a dry place. Seeds should be left to dry fully on paper towel or newspaper in a shady spot for at least a week before storing, or they will mold.
- Take care while handling store-bought seeds, as they are often chemically treated unless they are certified organic seeds. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
- If you are growing bitter gourd in an open garden, make a trellis or fence to help the vine grow properly. In the ground, you can build a much larger structure for your vines to climb.
- From time to time, till the soil to eliminate the weeds and promote good air circulation to the roots. Be careful not to disturb the roots when tilling or weeding. In a pot, there won’t be a lot of weeds.
- Keep an ample supply of organic fertilizer made from your own compost bin, or buy a good quality organic fertilizer from your local garden center. Use no more than recommended on the label and every 4-6 weeks is ideal.
- Too much watering, as well as excessive use of organic fertilizer, is not recommended. You will get lots of leaves and no gourds if you use too much fertilizer.
- Major pests or diseases rarely attack the vines, however, keep a close eye on it just in case. If you notice signs of pests attacking the plant, make a homemade pesticide and spray it on the foliage. Neem oil, horticultural oil, water and dish soap are all good options here.
- From time to time, remove any dry and decaying leaves from the plant.
- To remove the bitterness of bitter gourds, soak them in salt water for a while before cooking.
- Joseph B, Jini D. Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Disease.
From the outside, the name “bitter melon” seems to have nothing to do with the fruit in question: It doesn’t look like a melon, though it does hail from Cucurbitaceae, the same vine-friendly family that brings us watermelon and cantaloupe. Instead of being round and sweet-fleshed, bitter melon — also known as bitter squash, balsam-pear, karela and goya in various parts of the world — resembles a cucumber (though flavor-wise you would never compare them). For starters, bitter melon proves as sharply flavored as you might think, and with rough, bumpy skin. Just because the fruit looks ugly and has a pungent taste, however, doesn’t mean you should pass on it. After all, folks have been cooking with it for hundreds of years, and with good reason.
Where it’s from
Like many odd-looking fruits and vegetables, bitter melon grows best in tropical and subtropical regions like the Caribbean, Africa, Southeast Asia and China (where it’s probably the most widely consumed). And as with many not-so-good-tasting foods, bitter melon was touted for its medicinal properties long before it became an ingredient used for its flavor.
“Bitter melon is very good for you, thanks to compounds called cucurbitacins, which are very bitter,” says Jennifer McLagan, author of Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor. “It has long been believed that bitter melon has cleansing powers and improves the blood, and others promote it as a cure for diabetes.” She adds, “Research shows that it is good for lowering blood sugar levels and fighting viruses, and a study at the University of Colorado Cancer Center showed that bitter melon juice kills cancer cells.” If those aren’t reasons enough to give this fruit a try, its unique flavor profile should be.
When it’s in season
You can usually find this fruit at Asian markets all season long. But if you choose to grow it at home, you will want to harvest it at the end of summer or early in the fall, when temperatures are high and humidity peaks. This is also the time you might see bitter melon at the farmers’ market. Don’t pass it up — grab that long, warty fruit and get ready for a culinary adventure.
What to look for
Each oblong fruit grows to about 10 inches (avoid buying any that are bigger than that). You can tell the age of the fruit by the color of the skin. Green fruits are less mature, and if it’s leaning toward yellow and orange, it’s ripe. Normally, cooks work with firmer, unripened fruits. A few variations to keep in mind: Chinese bitter melons look most like a cucumber, albeit pockmarked. Indian bitter melon tends to showcase a darker hue, and the skin folds in ripples around the whole fruit. When shopping for it, McLagan recommends “small to medium-size melons, making sure they are firm. With bitter melon, bigger is not better, just more bitter.”
How to store it
As you would a cucumber, keep bitter melon in the fridge in a vegetable drawer.
Photo: Simon Law
How to prepare it
Unless you get a small, young bitter melon (recommended), avoid eating the thick, waxy skin. Instead, peel the fruit to get to the flesh beneath. The taste of the meat is quite astringent due to the high levels of quinine, the same ingredient that makes the tonic part of your G and Ts. But it’s this bitter quality that makes the fruit so beloved by those in the culinary world.
“I love its bitterness so much so that I find myself craving it,” says McLagan, who highlights it in her book and shares a recipe for bitter melon with coconut milk and tofu. “There are lots of way of using bitter melon — it can be steamed or pan-fried like zucchini, and some cooks leave it whole and hollow it out to stuff, like a squash. Its bitterness makes it a perfect match for chilies and fat, and I like it best simply cooked with other vegetables, or in a spicy curry.”
One of the cuisines that bitter melon is most prevalent in is Chinese food. “Most commonly bitter melon is stir-fried or used in soups,” says Tommy Lee, chef-owner of Hop Alley and Uncle in Denver. “Like most bitter foods in Chinese culture, it’s believed to aid in digestion and improve overall health,” he adds.
But how do you go about dissecting this strange-looking ingredient? First, says Lee, “Split it in half, dig the seeds out with a spoon and slice into half moons. Or it can also be stuffed by cutting into thick rounds and coring. Either way, it’s best to toss the bitter melon in some salt and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes to help draw out some of the bitterness and excess liquid.” The last part is key, an important step Lee’s father, who was raised in Hong Kong, taught the chef. “He grew up eating it and would cook it for our family when we were kids.” One well-known Chinese dish Lee likes is stir-fried bitter melon with Chinese black beans and shrimp or beef. “As with most bitter foods, a salty component, like Chinese black beans, helps balance the bitterness.” Other tips Lee has for working with bitter melon include blanching the produce after its saltwater soak before adding it to the pan and letting it cook for just a couple minutes so it maintains its pleasing crunch.
Bitter melon is a favorite in Asian and Southeast Asian cooking. It can be stuffed with pork or shrimp and steamed or pickled or curried and served with meat or in soup.
Bitter melons are—as their name suggests–a bitter and mouth-puckering acquired taste—something like the acquired taste of a grapefruit or very dark chocolate.
The bitter melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash, watermelon, muskmelon, and cucumbers. Bitter melon can be grown much like cucumbers or cantaloupes but they are a subtropical plant and require at least three to four months of warm to hot and humid weather to mature.
Description: Bitter melon is a vining plant. It has deeply lobed leaves and grows in a fashion similar to squash, cucumbers, and watermelon producing vines 13 to 16 feet long if left unpruned. Fruits are oblong and either smooth or warty, usually about 8 inches (20 cm) long but fruits can vary in length between 2 and 10 inches (5-25 cm) long. The fruit shifts in color from green to yellow to orange as it ripens and over-ripens. The flesh has a watery, crunchy texture, similar to a cucumber.
Yield: Each plant will produce 10 to 12 fruits and perhaps a few more.
Planting time: Bitter melons are a warm-season crop and are best suited for growing in tropical and subtropical heat and humidity. Grow bitter melons where daytime temperatures average between 75 and 80°F (24-31°C). Plant bitter melons in late spring or early summer. Sow seed outdoors or set out transplants no sooner than two to three weeks after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 60 to 65°F (15-18°C).
Site: Bitter melons grow best in hot and humid climates. Choose a warm, sunny location—at least 6 hours each day–to plant. Plant bitter melons in compost-rich, well-drained soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.7. Prepare growing beds in advance of planting by adding aged compost and aged manure. Bitter melons can tolerate less desirable sandy- or siltly-loam soil but good drainage is essential.
Planting and spacing: Sow seeds in holes about half-inch deep (1.25 cm) and spaced 12 inches (30 cm) apart. Sow two seeds in each hole. Seeds germinate in 8 to 10 days, though low and high temperatures and soil too dry or too wet can slow germination. Vigorous plants trained on a trellis or fence can be spaced 9 to 10 feet (2.7-3 meters) apart. Plants allowed to sprawl on the ground should be grown on straw or plastic mulch to prevent fruits from resting on moist soil where they might rot.
Trellising can reduce diseases and make harvesting easier. Place a trellis 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and wide or slightly more next to each plant. When the vine grows to the top of its trellis, prune or pinch away all lateral branches from the soil up to the 10th node. This will stimulate the upper branches to grow and produce a higher yield. Prune laterals from 2 to 3 feet long (.6-.9 meters) and prune away the growing tip when it reaches the top of the trellis. As a result, the plant will produce a greater number of flowers and fruit sooner.
Fruit grown from a trellis will grow longer and straighter than those grown on the ground.
Water and feeding: Keep bitter melon planting beds evenly moist; regular water is essential for fruit development and growth. Aged compost will feed melon plants. You can also add a slow release organic fertilizer such as 5-10-10 around plants early in the season. Side-dress plants with aged compost during the growing season to add nutrients and to help retain moisture in the soil. To give plants a boost water with compost or comfrey tea every third week during the growing season.
Companion Plants: Beans, corn, peas, pumpkins, and squash. Do not grow bitter melons with potatoes and herbs.
Care: Trellised vines produce hanging fruit, which grows long and straight. Vines allowed to sprawl on the ground should be mulched with straw or plastic to keep fruit from resting on the soil.
The growing tips of trellised vines should be pruned or pinched when they reach the top of the support, as should long lower lateral branches. This will concentrate the plant’s energy and result in more flowers and fruit. Prune when the first female flowers appear; female flowers follow male flowers.
Pollination: Vines commonly begin flowering about 5 to 6 weeks after planting. Male flowers open first, followed in a week or so by female blossoms. Both flowers are yellow. Female flowers have a swelling (the ovary) at the base of the bloom resembling a tiny melon. Bees and pollinating insects visit both blooms, transferring pollen from male to female flowers. Usually male blooms live only one day; they open in the morning and fall from the plant in the evening. Flower drop is not uncommon.
The ovary of pollinated female flowers will begin to enlarge and fruit will mature in two to four months. Mature fruits will be ready to pick about 12 weeks after planting. They will be light green and juicy with white, bitter flesh.
Hand pollination: Bitter Melons are pollinated by insects and honeybees. If there are flowers but no fruit forms and you find no bees at work in the garden, then you may rightfully suspect that pollination has not occurred. Pollination can be done by hand—this is true for cucumbers and squash as well: pick male flowers and transfer pollen by touching the center part of the male flowers against the center of the female flowers. (Female flowers have an enlarged section that looks like a little fruit between the flower and the vine stem; males don’t.)
Container Growing: Bitter melon can be grown in a pot. Choose a container that can hold at least 5 gallons (19 liters) of potting soil—more is better. Make sure the container drains well.
Pests: Bitter melon can be attacked by spotted and striped cucumber beetles. Cucumber beetles can carry bacterial wilt disease which will cause vines to collapse. Infected vines don’t recover. Spray adult beetles with rotenone or a pyrethrum-based insecticide. Use all pesticides at dusk to avoid harming honey bees.
Fruit flies may also attack bitter melons; they can spread fruit rot. Prevent flies from reaching the fruit by covering fruits with paper bags secured with twine or rubber bands or wrapping them with newspaper when the fruits are just an inch or two long.
Keep the garden free of weeds; weeds often harbor pest insects.
Diseases: Bitter melon is susceptible to most of the same diseases that plague squash and cucumbers: fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, and rust and rots as well as watermelon mosaic virus and bacterial wilts. Trellising which increases air circulation around vines can help reduce fungal diseases. For non-trellised vines, use a straw or plastic mulch to keep melons from resting directly on moist soil. There is no cure for plants attacked by viruses. When possible, plant disease-resistant varieties.
Harvest: Harvest bitter melon about 12 to 16 weeks after planting and 8 to 10 days after blossom drop when the fruits are 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long. The fruits will be a bit pear shaped, with light green skin and a few streaks of yellow. If fruits stay too long on the vine they will over-ripen, turn all yellow, grow too large, and become bitter. Fruits on the same vine can vary in their degrees of bitterness—melons both immature and overripe can taste very bitter.
The bitter melon has a thin layer of flesh that turns orange to bright red when ripe. The flesh surrounds a hollow interior cavity with spongy, white pulp peppered with seeds. The fruit will be watery and crunchy much like a cucumber.
Bitterness is the result of the alkaloid momordicine found in growing bitter melons; the darker the color of a bitter melon the more bitter and intense the flavor of the fruit.
Once melons start to ripen, pick fruits regularly every two to three days. The more you pick, the more fruits will form.
Seed production: To save seed for next season, leave a few fruits on each vine to mature past harvest. Mature fruits will break open and release brown or white seeds. Collect the seed, sort it, wash it, and dry it on a countertop, then store it in a cool, dry spot. It will remain viable for 2 to 3 years.
Varieties: Bitter melons native to India have a narrow surface with pointed ends and are covered with triangular “teeth” and ridges. Bitter melons native to China are oblong with blunt ends and have a gently undulating, warty surface.
Chinese varieties include Large Top, Hong Kong Green, China Pearl, Southern Money Maker, and Hybrid White Pearl.
Indian varieties include India Long Green, India Long White, Hybrid India Green Queen, and Hybrid India Pearl.
Use: To prepare bitter melon, slice the fruit open and remove the seeds and pith. Do not peel. The fruit can be parboiled or soaked in salted water to lessen bitterness however this can affect the fruits normally crunchy texture.
Bitter melon can be stuffed (often stuffed with pork or shrimp and steamed), pickled, or curried and served with meat or in soup. The fruit pairs well with other strong flavors, like garlic, Chinese black beans, chili peppers, or coconut milk.
A dietary note: bitter melon is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in alternative medicine to treat Type 2 diabetes. It is also a folk remedy for treating high blood pressure. The combination of bitter melon and drugs sometimes used to treat hyperglycemia can decrease blood sugar levels to dangerously low levels.
Bitter melon has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the potassium of bananas, and twice the calcium of spinach. It also contains high amounts of fiber, phosphorous, and Vitamins C, B1, B2, and B3.
Storing and preserving: Store bitter melons in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator between 53-55° F. (11-12°C.). Use within 3 to 5 days of harvest. Store bitter melon fruit away from other ripening fruits to avoid hastening the ripening process.
Common name: Bitter gourd, balsam pear, karela, bitter cucumber, bitter squash, African cucumber, alligator pear, ampalaya, goya.
Botanical name: Momordica charantia
Origin: Southern China and eastern India
Soil, Planting, and Care
Like other members of the squash family, bitter melon produces vines that grow 13 to 16 feet long. Plant bitter melon where it receives at least 6 hours of sunshine. In Southern regions, it’s okay to site seedlings in a spot with light shade, as long as vines can ramble into full-sun areas.
Soil should be fertile, but well-drained, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.7. Adding composted manure or compost to enrich soil results in good yields.
This plant thrives in heat and humidity, and as summer temperatures rise, vines grow quickly. Fruits have a tendency to rot on moist soil, so it’s best to trellis vines. You can do this on a fence or evenly spaced supports. Not only does trellising reduce disease outbreaks on fruit, it also makes harvesting easier. When planting along a fence, space seedlings 9 to 10 feet apart.
Trellised vines produce hanging fruit, which grows long and straight. If you don’t trellis vines, be sure to mulch soil beneath vines. Use loose mulch, like straw, which helps keep soil moist but won’t promote fruit rot.
For trellised vines, as stems reach the top of the support, remove the growing tip along with a few lower lateral branches. This pruning causes vines to branch near the growing tip. These upper branches will yield strongly. If you’re not trellising vines, prune vines when the first female flowers appear.
Keep soil consistently moist. Like other squash or melons, bitter melon fruits develop best when soil moisture remains even. Work compost or Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Vegetables & Herbs into the soil to improve its nutrition and texture before planting. Also add a continuous-release vegetable fertilizer, like Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed® Tomato, Fruit & Vegetable Plant Food, at planting time and throughout the growing season; be sure to follow label directions.
Scientific Name: Momordica charantia
Other Common Names:
Bitter melon is also sometimes known by the names bitter gourd, bitter squash, balsam-pear, goya, karalla & karela.
Bitter melon originates in India and was introduced into China in the 14th century.
Bitter melon is best cooked and ideal for adding to stir fries, soups, pickles and chutneys. The skin is edible and doesn’t need to be removed but the seeds and pith around them should be discarded. If left to fully ripen, the pith around the seeds turns bright red and is quite sweet and able to be eaten raw. This is a good, alternative way for those who can’t stand the bitterness of bitter melon to still enjoy it. Young leaves and shoots can also be eaten as a cooked green.
Grow bitter melon on a trellis to keep the fruits off the ground, promote air circulation and to help to support the vines which can become quite large and heavy. Bitter melon has separate male and female flowers and may require hand pollination for fruit to set if insect pollinators are lacking in your area. Pick a location for planting in full sun or light shade on well drained soil. Fertilising heavily with well-rotted manure or compost will result in vigorous and productive vines. Keep well watered.
When To Sow:
Sow bitter melon seeds from October to December in temperate regions of Australia or from September to December in tropical or subtropical regions. Ensure any chance of frost has past. Seeds may rot if soil temperatures fall below 20 degrees Celsius.
How To Sow:
Sow bitter melon seeds 2.5cm deep spacing plants about 50cm apart to allow room for growth. Soak seed in warm water overnight or nick seed coat to improve germination rate.
Germination should occur between 7 and 14 days after sowing.
Time To Harvest:
Expect to harvest your first bitter melons 11 to 12 weeks after sowing. Pick continuously to encourage further flower production.
Bitter Melon Seeds
Useful gardening information
Its bitterness comes from the high concentration of quinine it contains, which incidentally, is the reason why it is regarded by Asians, as well as Panamanians and Colombians, as a valuable drug for preventing and treating malaria.
The vast majority of Americans who have tried bitter melon probably found the experience quite unpleasant, not something they would ever want to repeat. But really, bitter melon is a delicious vegetable — when cooked right and when latent taste buds on the tongue are given the chance to become acquainted with the most misunderstood and maligned of the five primary flavors. Moreover, it is immensely nutritious.
Rich in iron, bitter melon has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contains vitamins C and B 1 to 3, phosphorus and good dietary fiber. It is believed to be good for the liver and has been proven by western scientists to contain insulin, act as an anti-tumor agent, and inhibit HIV-1 infection.
Informative articles found on the web:
National Bitter Melon Council
IP323 Green Skin This bitter gourd produces a generous crop of large, heavy and uniform fruits with distinctive vertically scored, shiny and warty light green skin. Fruit size up to 12-13 inches and 3 inches in diameter.
Also known as Bitter Melon, Karella, and Balsam Pear, it prefers warm, humid conditions. Among the most bitter of vegetables, the flesh of the bitter gourd is crunchy and juicy, somewhat like a cucumber in texture. Approx. 56-63 days.