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
- Additional Tips
Steps to Grow Bitter Gourd in a Pot
Things you’ll need:
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
In the meantime, you will notice flowers blooming on the vine.
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
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.