Bitter gourd isn’t everyone’s favorite dish, due it’s not so delicious taste. However, thanks to its nutritional benefits, many people like you are after this creeper. So when you can easily grow this vegetable in your backyard, then why visit a market.
Growing bitter gourd at home garden doesn’t need any expertise. All you need is the will to do it and love towards gardening. I personally don’t like bitter melon or karela plant, as we call it in India. But now am in love with this veggie, as this is the first plant in my container gardening.
This is what growing your own vegetable does to you.
Also Read: How to Grow Pointed Gourd at Home?
Bitter Gourd Varieties
Originated in India and extensively used as a cuisine in most Asian countries. Depending on its shape and size, you can distinguish bitter gourd varieties. One is Chinese variety with pale green and warty surface unlike Indian variety with triangular teeth on its surface.
Again there are many intermediate forms. Specifically in India there are 8 sub varieties like Pusa Do Mausmi, Coimbatore Long, Akra Harit, VK-1 Priya, Phule Priyanka, Phule Green Gold, Phule Ujwala, Pride of Gujarat. You can check characteristic of these Indian varieties here.
I’ve round shaped bitter gourd variety in my garden. Though small in size, my plant gives enough bitter melons for my family.
It is called karela in Hindi and Urdu, pavaykka (Malayalam), kakara (Telugu), pagarkay (Tamil) and hagalakayi in Kannada. (Source)
Also Read: Growing Artichokes in Containers
Bitter Gourd Growing Season (Climate Condition)
It is a warm weather crop, grows extensively in dry conditions. However, you can grow in lower temperatures too. This plant needs plenty of sunshine to grow. You must protect this creeper even from lighter frost. It needs dry weather when the fruit is about to mature.
Tropical and sub tropical regions are preferred to grow this veggie. Once you plant bitter gourd in your garden you can harvest around the year. However, March to October is best period to grow in India.
Soil Requirement to Grow Karela Plant
Permeable, sandy loam soils are preferred to grow bitter gourd plant. Anyway this vegetable plant can with stand any type of soil. Slight acidic and slight alkaline soil with pH range around 6 to 7.1 is ideal.
If you’re planning to grow in a container/pot, then mix red soil with some sand and organic matter (vermicompost) in the container.
How to Grow Bitter Gourd at Home?
Now, that you know about the soil requirement and climatic condition, let’s look at the best propagation method.
Bitter Gourd Propagation at Home
If you’re very keen on the type of bitter gourd, then I prefer you to go for seed propagation, as it is difficult to find seedlings of all varieties.
You can use your own bitter gourd seeds. Leave bitter melon to ripe and turn red yellow. It gives brown or white seeds. Dry the seeds for 3-4 days and they are ready to be used.
Seed germination time for bitter gourd is up to 3-4 weeks. For faster germination, gardening experts recommend to rub the seeds without damaging the endosperm. Else, you can also soak the seeds in water overnight before sowing.
Instead, you can visit a garden store and bring bitter gourd seedlings to transplant. This method of propagation will reduce the time and you can harvest in 2-3 months.
How to Plant Bitter Gourd at Home?
Seeds need 20 C (70 F) temperature to germinate. In winter season you can sow bitter gourd seeds 2 cm deep in a container and transplant the seedlings to your backyard.
As mentioned above, this creeper needs enough sunlight. So, the plant must be place in a spot where it gets sunlight most of the time (if not throughout the day).
It’s a creeper, so plan accordingly. Trellis is best way to grow this type of vegetables.
Spacing: While transplanting to your backyard, sow seedlings or seeds with 10 cm apart to make sure that these creepers won’t mix with one another.
Growing Bitter Gourd in Containers/Pots
Yes, you can plant, grow and harvest bitter gourd in pots/containers. I selected a large container to grow my first karela plant.
- Make 2 holes on opposite sides at the bottom of the container.
- Fill the container with red soil, vermicompost and cocopeat.
- Place the container on terrace, where it is exposed to maximum sunlight.
- Sow the seed or plant seedling and water regularly.
- As the creeper grows, place a wooden stick to support the plant.
Bitter Gourd Trellis
This creeper grows up to 6 feet in length, so you must plan for vertical trellis or circular trellis. It all depends on you and the space you’ve in the garden.
If don’t have enough space, then plan for circular trellis. You can make your own wooden trellis or buy iron circular trellis that is available in a local store.
Make sure to consider the size of your container while building trellis. I personally made simple jugaad by placing the container to the wall and supporting it with wooden sticks. Yes, am going to change it a couple of days.
Bitter Gourd Pollination
Every plant has male and female flowers to pollinate. Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies and insects do the pollination for you.
Unfortunately, if there is no natural pollination then you may need hand pollination in the morning.
Make flowers start appearing after 5-6 weeks of planting, followed by female flowers. Both are yellow in color. However, female flowers have swelling (ovary) at the bottom and make flowers open up in the morning and fall by end of the day. Don’t worry if flowers drops, it’s common.
This swelling part of female flower will turn into light green bitter gourd.
When insects or bees are not working in your garden, then you must. Take make flower and touch its center part, now transfer the pollen by touching center of the female flower.
As mentioned above, female flower has swollen part between the vine stem and flower, which eventually grow into the fruit.
Bitter gourd growing time and bitter gourd lifespan
It takes 12 weeks after planting to harvest bitter gourd. As soon as you see dark green fruit with that weight about 8g (depends on the plant variety), start harvesting.
As you harvest more bitter gourds, more start to grow.
Watering Bitter Gourd Plant at Home
Regular (moderate) watering is enough to grow bitter gourd. With good drainage you don’t have to worry much. However, avoid excess watering.
Like watering, feeding is equally important for a plant to give quality fruits. Though you mixed vermicompost in the soil while planting, it’s better to feed bitter gourd creeper with side dress plants to improve its growth.
Homemade Fertilizers to Increase Bitter Gourd Yield
Homemade fertilizers like comfrey tea will help to boost moisture in the soil. These fertilizers are essential for the plant to improve quality and quantity of the fruit.
- Liquid fertilizers like comfrey tea and cow manure once in a week is enough to improve the quality of the fruit.
- Instead you can just put some cow, goat or rabbit manure around the bitter gourd plant and water regularly.
- Egg shells, coffee grounds, banana peels, kitchen scraps and manure are some of the best fertilizers available in your kitchen.
As it’s impossible to list all homemade fertilizers process in one article, below you can find the simple process to make banana peel fertilizer at home.
Banana Peel Fertilizer for Bitter Gourd
I tried this method and it works great.
Instead of throwing banana peels I reused it to feed my bitter gourd plant. Read on to learn how I did it.
Note: Banana peel has 25% of phosphorus and 42% of potassium, which are essential for roots and blossoms.
- First simple method is to bury peels in the garden to increase soil fertility.
- Second method is to dry banana peels in the sunlight for a couple of days.
- Make sure no moisture is left in the peels.
- Grind the dries banana peels into powder and dig into top part of your soil.
- Third method is soaking banana peels in required amount of water for couple of days. Then use the water as liquid fertilizer.
Harvesting Bitter Gourd
When the fruits are 4-5 inches long with light green colored skin, then your plant is ready to harvest. It takes normally 60-70 days after planting to harvest bitter gourd.
I was busy with some other works and I left my first bitter gourd fruit to ripe. It turned yellow due to over-ripe. Don’t do this mistake.
Pick the fruits regularly after 2-3 days regularly. More you pick more your plant produce.
Bitter melon is a thin layer of flesh with light green colored triangular teeth shaped spikes. Darker the green color more the bitterness. It got the bitter taste from alkaloid momordicine present in the fruit.
Seed Production of Bitter Gourd
If you want to produce seeds for next year, then leave 1-2 fruits without harvest. When the bitter gourd turns yellow and reddish, it opens-up.
- Extract the seeds of this overripe fruit along with the pulp.
- Wash the excess pulp with water and allow them to dry for 2-3 days.
- Avoid drying in direct sunlight as it may affect seed germination. (Source)
- Seeds must be 100% free from moisture.
- Frequent stirring is essential to avoid moist and improper drying. Else, your seeds may end up with fungus growth.
How to preserve bitter gourd seeds?
Store bitter gourd seeds in moisture proof (polythene) bags or container. To avoid fungal infection, you can mix carbendazim (4g for 1 kg).
How to Prune Bitter Gourd to Increase Yield
As the bitter gourd starts growing (after 12-15 days), remove side braches at the bottom of the plant to ensure the vine grows vertically. As this vine is very delicate in initial stages, it’s recommended to use a sharp scissor to cut extra braches.
Important: When the plant has grown long enough, its recommend to cut the tip of the vine and allow the branches to grow. This is because the end part of the plant often has very less yield of fruit.
This simple trick of pruning will ensure good amount of bitter gourds to your family.
Pests and Disease
Free your garden with weeds, as they often harbor insects and pests.
Cucumber beetles carry bacterial infection that damage plant and the vine collapse. Fruit flies also attack this bitter melon and result in rotting.
Use insecticide to prevent cucumber beetles or you can opt for homemade insecticides. To avoid common fruit fly, cover bitter gourd fruit with paper bags after it grows up to 2 inch long.
Fungal diseases like downy mildew, powdery mildew and rotting can be avoided by increasing air circulation through trellis. If you’re using trellis then place bitter melon fruits on plastic mulch to avoid rotting.
Bitter gourd leaves turning yellow in color is due to lack of nutrients in the soil. You can spray organic fertilizers with good amount of NPK. Banana peel fertilizer listed above has good amount of phosphorus and potassium but lack nitrogen. So, opt for nitrogen rich fertilizer.
Companion Plants for Bitter Gourd
Companions planting will help the plant in many aspects like pollinating, preventing insects and control pests.
Scientific studies claim that some combination of plants may result in extraordinary power to increase fruit yield.
So, here goes the list of plants that you can grow along with bitter gourd.
Beans, pumpkins, squash, peas and corn. Potatoes and herbs don’t go well with bitter gourd.