Other common names: Bitter Melon, Bitter Cucumber, Balsam Pear, Leprosy Gourd, La-kwa, Peria Laut, 苦瓜
Bitter Gourd, as the name implies, is a bitter fruit used in a variety of Asian dishes. Eaten as an immature fruit, it can be stewed, fried, steamed or juiced.
The fruit has a lumpy appearance, with Chinese cultivars looking more warty and Indian varieties sporting spikes. The immature fruit ranges from bright green to white depending on cultivar, and the mature fruit turns orange with bright red seeds.
Sun and soil needs:
This vine does best in full sun gardens with a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight. This plant can also grow with 4-5 hours of direct sunlight and at least 6 hours of indirect sunlight but will produce less fruits.
As a fast-growing vine, this plant needs a sturdy trellis to scramble on. Because the fruits hang down, it is ideal for arch-shaped trellises.
As with all members of the melon family, this plant is bee-pollinated and produces male and female flowers. To encourage the formation of more fruits, it is best to have at least 3 separate plants growing in the same area to have both male and female flowers available. Also, include bee-attracting plants within the garden to encourage pollination.
Seeds can be sown directly into pots or the ground around 15-30cm apart. Lightly water the soil until damp, once a day. Seeds should sprout within 2 weeks.
Bitter gourds will produce more flowers and thus more fruit when fed with fertilisers high in phosphorus and potassium. Plants can be fertilised regularly once a month after the plant produces its first flower for a fuller crop.
Because the vines will grow on top of each other, it is a good practice to prune regularly and remove dead leaves and vines to improve ventilation and allow light to reach more of the plant.
Direct sunlight can damage the fruit. Allow leaves to grow over the fruit or protect it using a cloth cover.
Plants can be harvested for immature fruits around 4 months after sowing. The best time to harvest the fruit is in the early morning, before 9am.
The plant will continuously produce fruit for about 6 months to a year before declining.
|Sowing to germination
|Germination to transplanting
|Transplanting to first harvest
|Total sowing to first harvest
|2 weeks or less
|Around 3 months
|Around 4 months
Check out our sowing and harvest planner to schedule your growing!
This vine can be grown via seeds. Seeds can be taken from mature fruit for immediate planting.
Common problems & solutions:
Young plants have soft stems and can be completely eaten by slugs and snails. Grow seedlings till they are at least 10cm tall before planting them in true ground, or use DIY cloches or netting to protect young plants.
If your plant has few to no flowers, you can fertilise the plant with fertilisers high in phosphorus and potassium. These nutrients encourage root and flower growth, which are important for the plant to produce more fruit.
However, if your plant is producing lots of flowers but is not bearing fruit, you may not have female and male flowers present in the same area together. Pollen from the male flower needs to be transferred to the female flower before the female flower can become a fruit. This process is called pollination and is important or the formation of many edible fruits. Vines from the melon family generally produce male flowers before female flowers. Having at least 3 plants of varying ages in the garden will make both male and female flowers present for pollination to happen.
Many plants require pollinators to help them fruit. Bees, butterflies, birds and even beetles transport pollen from one flower to another, pollinating your crops and increasing their fruit yield. Attract some pollinators to your garden by growing pollinator-attracting crops.
Aphids, Mealy Bugs, Whiteflies, and Spider Mites often infest the plant if it has underlying problems like repeated wilting from heat stress. Mechanical pest control methods like pruning the infested parts are the best methods for managing these pests in the short term, but resolving the underlying problem will prevent them in the long term.
Wilting leaves during hot weather is a sign of heat stress. Increase the number of times the plant is watered daily, and apply mulch at the base to prevent water loss.
Fruit flies, can lay eggs in the fruit, resulting in larvae damaging the fruit and creating spots on the skin. Wrap your fruit in netting when it starts to develop from a fertilised flower, ideally after all the petals have dropped off.
Squirrels and birds may eat unripe or ripe fruit. Wrap your fruit in netting when it starts to develop from a fertilised flower, ideally after all the petals have dropped off.