How To Grow Bitter Melons from Seeds

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), Native to Southeast Asia is a common vegetable in many countries. It is also known as Karela, bitter cucumber, bitter gourd, bitter squash, African cucumber, alligator pear, balsam pear, ampalaya and goya. It belongs to the family of cucumbers, watermelons and squash and grows vigorously on a vine.

Detailed information on how to grow bitter melon (karela) from seeds in containers at home is given including planting guide, plant care, and disease and pests problems.

Types of Bitter Melon
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, size varying from 2 inches to as long as 10 inches. The bitter melon Karela of India has a narrow surface with pointed ends, and covered with triangular "teeth" and ridges.

The bitter melon of China is long, oblong with blunt ends with a gently undulating, warty surface. In Australia (Sydney, Melbourne), only Chinese type bitter melons are normally available.

Types of Bitter Melons - Indian, Chinese, short, long, white, green
Bitter melon types - shapes and sizes

Bitter Melon Growing Instructions and Guide

Bitter melon plant is easy to cultivate (grow) from seeds. You can even grow bitter melon in your baloney or terrace in a pot or any container.

The following  step-by-step instructions will show you how to grow and take care of your bitter melon plant.

It is easy to grow bitter melon if you follow the tips given below:
  1. Position: Select a warm, sunny planting location.
  2. Growing in Pot or Ground:  Bitter melon can be grown in ground in your garden or in a pot.
  3. Soil: Bitter melon grows best in organically rich, sandy or loamy soil that drains well. If planting in a pot, it should have a number of holes at the bottom to ensure good drainage. Mix compost and cow manure in the soil (preparing garden soil).
  4. Buy bitter melon seeds from any garden shop or you can use the seeds prepared from last years crop.
  5. Bitter Melon Seeds
    Bitter Melon Dried Seeds
    Seed preparation for germination: Remove the red coating covering on the seeds partially or fully before sowing. You may soak the seeds overnight in water before sowing to speed up germination.
  6. Sow the seeds directly in the selected planting location in late spring or early summer. Make holes about half inch deep and spaced 12 inch apart in the soil. Put two seeds in each hole, and cover the holes with soil and water well. The soil should be allowed to dry out slightly between watering to prevent rot. The seeds will germinate in 8-10 days, however, high temperature and soil dampness are the key factors for germination.
  7. Put a trellis or other support structure about 6-8 ft high beside your bitter melon vines. The vines will climb on and be supported by a trellis.
  8. The plant will develop lateral shoots 3-4 weeks after sprouting. Cut off the growing tips of the branches when they are 2-3 ft long. This will force the plant to produce side branches that will produce fruit much sooner, more flowers and more fruits.

Bitter Melon Flowers and Pollination

Bitter Melon Male and Female Flowers
Bitter Melon
Male and Female Flowers
Note the fat ovary section
on the female bud.
The plant produces both the male and female flowers of yellow color. The female flower has an ovary (a fat section) of the shape of the fruit between the flower and vine stem.

In the enlarged picture on the left, you can see that the female flower bud has an ovary.

Bitter Melon needs insects like honeybees to carry out the pollinating process for setting fruits. Sometimes your plant may have lot of flowers but no fruits. This is due to the failure of pollination as there is no bee activity in the garden area.

Hand Pollination
  1. If the insects are not available in your area, the pollinating process can be done manually, by transferring pollen from male flowers to female flowers. This may be done in two ways:
  2. Just pick up a male flower face-to-face to the center part of the female flower and touch softly each other.
  3. Rub a soft brush first in the male flower and then in the female flower.
Surround your plants with a layer of cow manure and mulch to conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds. I put a layer of cow manure and then a 2-3 inch layer of sugarcane mulch.

Less Flowers and Less Fruits

Sometimes the number of bitter melon vine will produce a very few flowers or no female flowers and no fruits. To increase the male and female flowers and fruits, just cut off the growing ends of the branches when they  are about a foot long. The new growth will produce more flowers. Also feed the vine with comfrey tea (how to grow comfrey tea).
Bitter Melons growing on a Vine
Bitter Melons growing on a Vine. The picture has been turned horizontal for better display.

Watering: Water regularly to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.
Feed seaweed solution or liquid fertilizer or comfrey tea fertilizer every 3rd week.

Pests and Diseases

The bitter melon plant is susceptible to fungal diseases like powdery mildew and downy mildew, and watermelon mosaic virus, rots, and fruit flies may be a problem.  Trellising can reduce rot issues.  Treat vines infected with fungal diseases with fungicides.

If fruit flies are present, wrap each young fruit in a paper bag.

Bitter Melon Seeds
Bitter Melon Seeds

How To Make and Preserve Bitter Melon Seeds

To make bitter melon seeds, just leave a fruit on the vine and let it ripen.  When the bitter melon is fully ripe, it will change its color to yellow and open to reveal the seeds. You can cut the fruit from the vine and open the fruit to take the seeds out.

Wash the seeds and put them on a paper towel to absorb water. Dry in shade and store in a air tight bag.

Benefits of Bitter Melon

Bitter melon has a very bitter taste. Is bitter melon good for you? Yes, the health benefits of bitter melon are many like lowering blood sugar levels, lowering cholesterol, anti-cancer, good for digestion, helpful in skin problems, etc.
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  1. My bitter gourd vine is producing many male flowers and hardly any female flowers, so there are no fruits. What should I do?

    1. Try cutting the growing ends of the branches of the bitter melon plant. The new growth may produce both male and female flowers. You should also sow more than one plant so that the bees can pollinate the female flowers using the male flowers of any plant.

    2. Trace elements deficiency may produce only male flowers. Spray a very dilute solution of chelation during the fourth week

  2. The plants often tend to be male and female, this is advice from a professional grower, given to me, So best you have 3 or more plants for pollination.

  3. Thanks a lot for the great blog. Has anybody grown kankoda( Momordica dioca

  4. Bitter melon is best eaten raw (blend into juice with an apple or some strawberries or any sweet fruit to enjoy) or by adding to soups and stews to retain the health benefits from it! It is an amazing vegetable for diabetics to consume. Be careful if you are hypoglycemic

    1. You can make stuffed bitter melon vegetables. It tastes very good. Try as given here

  5. We love karela. Some questions...
    How long it takes to get karela from planting seeds?

    We live in Switzerland and I am afraid that it might be too late this year though we have beautiful sunny summer now.

    1. It takes about 2 months to get karela after sowing the seeds. The temperature will go down in Switzerland in a couple of months, but you can give it a try.

  6. Information shared are fantastic. Thank you all. Karela is extremely healthy food.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Thanks for the info. Can it be grown from seeds of unripe karela?

    1. Bitter melon can not be grown from unripe karela seeds. However, if the fruit has started turning yellow, place it in kitchen for a few days. Try (sow 4-5 seeds at a time) the seeds of this fruit to grow new bitter melon plants.


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