Bitter gourd serves as a storehouse of Vitamin K, Vitamin C and calcium which reserves it position as a superfood amongst all health afficionados around the globe. It is extensively cultivated in China and India.
Scientific studies have associated bitter gourd with substantial decrease in the level of blood sugar which serves as a trigger of diabetes. The best thing about bitter gourd is that they can grow easily with next to none maintenance requirements provided the right climatic condition.
In spite of being a warm weather crop, it grows pretty well throughout the year except harsh winters. The best season for growing bitter gourd is however July to September and April to May.
If you have been wondering about how to grow bitter gourd, then you have come to the right place as today we are going to take you through the entire process in a detailed manner so that even amateur gardeners can deliver professional grade results.
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Varieties and Classification of Bitter gourd
The bitter melons native to China bear an oblong shape. Their ends are blunt and the surface is warty and gently undulating. Some popular Chinese varieties are Hong Kong Green, Large Top, Southern Money Maker, China Pearl and Hybrid White Pearl.
Next in line come the bitter melons native to India having pointed ends, narrow surface. They are covered with triangular ridges and teeth all over. Some examples of Indian varieties are India Long White, India Long Green, Hybrid India Pearl, Hybrid India Green Queen.
How to Grow Bitter Gourd from Seeds?
This popular Asian vegetable blends in the best of taste and health which has led to its massive popularity around the globe. It can be picked, steamed, curried and stuffed with shrimp. The mouth puckering acquired taste of bitter gourd is similar to that of dark chocolate or grapefruit.
For growing bitter gourd from seed, you need to firstly find a warm and sunny spot. It is always advisable to use sandy and well-drained soil which can be given an additional nutrient boost by using a mixture of compost and cow dung.
- You will next have to make half-inch deep holes in the soil and drop the bitter gourd seeds onto the same.
- About 12 inches of space needs to be kept between two holes which will next have to be covered with soil and sprinkled with some water on the top. If you wish to save the bitter gourd seeds for the next season, then you will have to leave some fruits on each vine past harvest season.
- Once the fruits get adequately matured, they will break open and release some white and brown seeds.
- You need to collect and sort the seeds before washing and drying the same on a countertop. It becomes possible to maintain the efficiency of these seeds for 2 to 3 years on storing the same in a cool and dry space.
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How to Plant Bitter Melon at Home?
This warm-season crop is best suited for being grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Bitter gourd receives positive impetus for growth if the daytime temperature varies between 24-31°C.
Ideally bitter melon needs to be planted either during early summer or late spring. You should either set out the transplants or sow the seeds outdoors within just three weeks of the last frost of the season.
The soil also needs to reach a temperature of 15-18°C. Your chosen area needs to receive at least 6 hours of sunlight and the soil should have a pH level between 5.5 to 6.7.
The growing beds should be prepared in advance by adding aged manure and aged compost.
Good drainage is an absolute must for bitter gourd which can even tolerate adverse plantation scenarios like silty or sandy loam soil. Seeds usually have a germination time of 8 to 10 days.
Growing Bitter Gourd in Container
You can grow bitter gourd in a pot. But for best results, you will have to select a container having a capacity of minimum 5 gallons. The drainage capacity of the container also needs to be up to the mark.
Once you get a hang of growing bitter gourd in a pot, you can grow melons and cucumber in the same way. The pot also needs to have a sturdy trellis for best results.
Bitter gourd vine can reach a height of more than 16 feet and for this a 5-6 feet tall support structure is required. You will have to redirect the vine once it reaches the stipulated height.
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How Long Does Bitter Gourd Take to Grow?
Bitter gourd needs to be harvested 12 to 16 weeks post planting and about 8 to 10 days following the blossom drop when the fruits have a length of 4 to 6 inches. Usually these pear-shaped fruits have a light green skin with subtle streaks of yellow.
However, the fruits turn yellow if they over ripen after staying on the vine for long. The degree of bitterness might also vary between fruits growing on the same vine.
How Often to Water Bitter Melon Plant?
- Bitter gourd plant beds need to be kept adequately moist. You can ensure adequate growth and development of the fruit by providing proper quantity of regular water.
- Aged compost can also serve wonders in feeding bitter gourd plants. Slow release organic fertilizer can also be added around plants during the early stage.
- You should also side dress the plants using aged compost for adding requisite nutrients during the growing season. This helps with all the moisture retention in the soil and provides plants with the necessary water boost.
- You can also use comfrey tea or compost evert third week for catering to the water requirements of the plant during its growing season.
Bitter Gourd Pollination
Bitter gourd vines begin to flower within 5 to 6 weeks post planting. The male flowers open first and are followed in a week approximately by the female ones. Both these flowers have a yellow hue. The swelling present at the base of the female flowers resembles a tiny melon.
- Both pollinating insects and bees visit the blooms for transferring the pollen to the female flowers from the male ones.
- The male blooms usually live for a single day by opening in the morning and falling off in the evening.
- Flower drop is a common attribute of bitter gourd plant. The pollinated female flower ovary starts enlarging and it takes just two to four months for the fruit to fully mature.
- Within 12 weeks, the mature fruits become ready to be picked and during this time, they have a light green outer skin with a juicy white inner flesh.
In most cases, pollination of bitter melons is done by honeybees and insects. However, pollination might not occur if there are flowers but no fruit forms.
In such cases no bees work in the garden and pollination has to be done manually. This also holds true for squash and cucumbers. In such a case, you will have to touch the pollen by brushing the centre region of the male flower against the female one.
You can identify the female ones from its enlarged section which resembles a little fruit positioned between the vine stem and the flower. This is not present in the male ones.
How to Prune Bitter Gourd?
Bitter gourd produces numerous side shoots and they need to be removed on regular intervals for improving the yield. You need to keep on removing the lateral branches unless the runner reaches the top portion of the trellis.
However, you will have to leave between 4-6 laterals and also cut the main runner’s tip for improving the plant’s productivity.
Bitter Gourd Fruit Turning Yellow
The colour of bitter gourd shifts to yellow from its usual green hue whenever it ripens or over-ripens. This mostly occurs whenever the fruit stays too long on the vine and this causes it to increase drastically in shape.
Bitter melon is often attacked by striped and spotted cucumber beetles. These insects are carriers of a bacterial wilt disease which often cause the vines to collapse. It is imperative to note here that it becomes impossible to recover infected vines. You can use a pyrethrum-based insecticide or rotenone for spraying the adult beetles.
- Pesticides should always be used at dusk so that you don’t end up harming the honey bees. Bitter gourd might also be attacked by other fruit flies who are the chief carriers of fruit rot.
- You can cover the fruits using paper bags to prevent flies from reaching the fruits.
- Rubber bands or twines can also be used for being wrapped around the fruits once the fruits reach about an inch or two of length.
Harvesting Bitter Gourd at Home
Bitter gourd can be harvested on the passage of 12 to 16 weeks from the day of its plantation. Skin colour of bitter gourd changes from dark green to orange over time with intermediate stages of light green and yellow.
This transition occurs pretty fast and you need to be especially cautious during the flowering stage.
- Usually it takes between a week and half from the time when the bitter gourd blossoms fall off for the fruit to form. Often yellow patches form if the gourd gets unpleasantly overripe.
- This is why you should keep on checking the vine on the passage of every two to three days whether they are ready to harvest.
- If the bitter gourd is left on the vine for long, then its quality might deteriorate and the older ones can even steal away the essential nutrients of newer gourds.
- Once the bitter gourd is harvested, you should store them in the refrigerator and consume them within just five days.
But while storing the gourds in the fridge, you should keep it separated from fruits releasing ethylene gas such as apples. This gas causes the bitter gourd to get over ripened.
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Trellis for Bitter Gourd
Fungal diseases like downy mildew, powdery mildew, rots and rust are very common amongst bitter gourd. You can reduce the chances of fungal infection by trellising as this increases air circulation around the vines.
In case of non-trellised vines, you can use plastic mulch or straw to prevent the bitter gourd from resting on the moist soil directly. It is impossible to cure plants which have been attacked by viruses.
Plants have a natural ability of resisting such diseases but at times, you might be required to make manual intervention. Bitter gourd has an ability of perking up pretty easily. You will be required to arrange for some support within just two weeks of planting. This vine can also be grown on arches, pergolas or mini arbors.
The fruit size and yield of bitter gourd increases on growing them vertically. But on growing them horizontally, bitter gourd becomes more susceptible to fungal infection and fruit rot.
- Vigorous plants trained on a fence or trellis can be set at a space of 9 to 10 feet from each other. Apart from reducing diseases, trellising can also make harvesting easier.
- Once the vine grows up to the top of the trellis, you will have to pinch away all lateral branches up to the 10th node. Doing this stimulates the upper branch to generate higher yield in the form of greater number of fruit and flowers. Fruit growing on trellis is straighter and longer than the ones growing on ground.
How to Save Bitter Gourd Seeds?
Saving seeds are essential to grow bitter gourd for next season. You will have to leave some fruits on the vine so that they get adequately matured and attain a yellow-orange taste.
In this stage, the plant will break open to release the seeds which remain covered in a red sweet pulp and can be consumed. You will have to collect these seeds and wash them properly before drying and storing the seeds in an air-tight container.
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Best Companion Plants of Bitter Gourd
Corn, beans, pumpkins, peas and squash. Bitter gourd should never be grown with herbs or potatoes.