Do you have a square foot to spare? Plant a bitter gourd seed to get a lifetime’s supply!
The humble Bitter Gourd or Karela as it is called in India is one one the easiest vegetable plants to grow. It is a no fuss creeper with pretty yellow flowers and shiny green spiny fruits. Bitter gourd belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, same family as the melons and gourds – Pumpkins, Cucumber, Zucchini, watermelon etc. The scientific name for Bitter gourd is Mormodica charantia. There are various types of bitter gourd, there are oblong ones and there are short 6-8 cm ones which are slightly less bitter than the long variety.
I have grown many varieties at home and its always been rewarding to grow a Bitter Gourd plant because it grows rapidly, the leaves are almost of a decorative beautiful shape and typically from a single plant you can expect about 4-5 fruits in a week – enough for a family of 4. A year back I had lost my hanging bed of Bitter Gourd to some overzealous gardener and for a long time I didn’t plant another one.
About 2 months back, I vowed to have my Bitter Gourd bed back and planted around 4-6 bitter gourd seeds in the ground. You can also plant it in a container. Bitter Gourd or Bitter Melon usually takes a long time to germinate almost about 10-15 days. So to aid the process, I do the following and it always works. Take a pin and slightly crack the seed open or take a pair of pliers and slowly crack open the thinner end of the seed. Take care to see that the endosperm inside the hard shell is not destroyed. Plant at least 3-4 seeds treated this way. You can also wet the seed and keep it under a moist tissue paper indoors for a few days until it germinates.
Once the seed germinates and the plant is on its way to grow big you would have to build a support structure for it to creep on. You could either build a small horizontal trellis or use a nylon net for the same. I have put 2 sample pictures of both methods below. Depending on the area you have, you can choose what to do. However unlike Pumpkins, the Bitter Gourd plant does not do well on the ground. the leaves need to grow towards the sun and the fruit need to hang vertically.
This is how you can build a trellis for your Bitter Melon plant. Take long strips of wood and arrange them vertically and horizontally and tie them or nail them to make a matrix. Take 4 stout wooden sticks and dig holes in the ground and fix them in the ground according to the size of the matrix. Nail the matrix then to the sticks.
Another way to build a support for the plant can be through using a net. Peg one side of the net to the ground and the other on top of a wall/ any structure at least 6 feet above the ground.
The Bitter Melon tendrils grew quite enthusiastically towards areas of better sunlight and within a couple of months they had spread all over my trellis. The plant has both male and female flowers in the same plant – i.e flowers which do not form fruits and flowers which do. The male flowers fall off in 1-2 days and the female flowers go on to produce fruits. Pluck the fruits when they are green and have attained a decent size. Once it becomes yellow the fruit is not good to eat. Water the plant frequently so as to keep the soil moist but not wet. Replenish with little compost once in a month but don’t overdo it. Pests are very rare but use neem oil diluted in water and spray on the plant if you see any.
To collect the seeds for the next season, leave the fruits on the plant. They will become yellow and then turn into bright orange before they open and curl up. The inner portion will consist of seeds and red pulp. Pick the seeds from the red pulp, remove the covering and store the seeds.
The Bitter Gourd is an excellent for type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Liver function, strengthening the immune system, helps purify the blood and keeps the skin clear. So go on and grow the bitter gourd. This is one bitter pill you won’t mind taking 🙂