My Kitchen Garden

How To Grow Bitter Melons in Containers from Seeds

Bitter melon (Scientif name: 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, cerasee, Saint Cajetan's Melon and goya. It belongs to the family of cucumbers, watermelons and squash and grows vigorously on a vine. Bitter gourd is used as vegetable curry.

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


BITTER MELON PLANT INFORMATION

Types of Bitter Melon / Bitter Gourd


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.

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 container or any pot. It is an annual plant, so the life span of the plant is 3-4 months only.

Bitter Melon Growing Seasons

Bitter melon is a summer growing vegetable. I, in Sydney, plant bitter melon in spring and get lots of bitter melons throughout during summer. The bitter melon grows during December to March in New South Whales and Victoria, whereas it is produced during March to September in the Northern Territory. The bitter melon plants do not withstand the hot summers of Perth, so they can be grown there in autumn or in spring depending on the weather.

The following step-by-step instructions will show you how to grow and take care of your bitter melon plant in pots or garden beds

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. Picture of 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. Bitter Melon Plant Spacing: 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 bitter melon plant produces both the male and female flowers of yellow color. The picture on the left shows both male and female bitter melon flowers. 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 of Bitter Melon Flowers
  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 melon 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.

Causes of Less or No Flowers and Less Fruits

Sometimes the bitter gourd vine fails to produce female flowers or the 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. The new growth will produce more flowers.

Bitter Melon Fertilizer Requirement

At the time of seed sowing, you can mix some slow release complete fertilizer in the soil. When the vune is grown up, a fertilizer high in nitrogen will produce vegetative growth with very less number of bitter melon flowers. Feed the bitter melon vine with a fertilizer high in potassium such as comfrey tea (how to grow comfrey tea) or seaweed solution.
Picture of Bitter Melons
Bitter Melons. 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.

Bitter melon Plant 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.

Picture of 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.

Toxicity of Bitter Melon Seeds

Eating the the red layer that covers the seeds of bitter melon can cause vomiting, diarrhea and possibly death, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. However, bitter melons are beneficial in diabetes and cancer treatment.br />

Harvesting Bitter Melons

  1. Now the question is when you should harvest the bitter gourd. It is important to harvest bitter gourds at correct time, as bitter gourds both young and overripe fruit can taste very bitter.
  2. If the gourds left on the vine for long, they will over-ripen, changing their color to yellowish orange.
  3. Bitter melons can be harvested about 14 weeks after planting when the fruits become about 5 inch long with light green skin. Note taht the darker the color of the bitter gourd the more bitter will be the taste of the fruit.
  4. The more you pick the gourds, the more fruits will form.

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, treatment of cough, respiratory diseases, wounds, ulcer, gout etc. ( Pharmacological actions and potential uses of Momordica charantia)

Video on growing bitter melon From Seeds in a Pot

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18 comments

Mira March 13, 2016 9:08 AM

My bitter gourd vine is producing many male flowers and hardly any female flowers, so there are no fruits. What should I do?
Reply

P. Mehta March 15, 2016 8:41 AM

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.
Reply

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.
Reply

mohan1948 July 11, 2016 4:43 PM

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

LifeStudent July 20, 2016 8:04 AM

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
Reply

mohan1948 July 25, 2016 11:10 AM

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

Padma August 08, 2016 4:00 PM

You can make stuffed bitter melon vegetables. It tastes very good. Try as given here
http://www.fatfreekitchen.com/vegetables/stuffed_karela.html

Reply

Unknown August 14, 2016 4:28 AM

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.
Reply

Kishor Manji Butani August 14, 2016 4:30 AM

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

P. Mehta August 14, 2016 7:39 AM

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.
Reply

P. Mehta August 14, 2016 7:41 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sudha October 16, 2016 1:24 PM

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

P. Mehta October 17, 2016 7:08 AM

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.
Reply

Isom April 30, 2017 5:47 PM

Sudha, I found that the not-quite-ripe seeds from both karela and Chinese butter melon would sprout and grow if there was some red showing on the seed arils (the fleshy part surrounding each seed). They needed to be sown the same day though. If you wait, the seed coat isn't hard enough yet and the entire seed will dry out and die.

Reply

P. Mehta May 01, 2017 7:03 AM

Thanks Isom for sharing your experiences on growing bitter melons. The information would be very useful to the visitors.
Reply

Unknown June 23, 2017 11:30 AM
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Partha Reddy August 15, 2017 3:13 AM

Dear Mehta , I learnt the art of growing Bottle guards from your articles last year and this year also I am very successful . First time I Tried reaching Y. Pls cal when y get chance now " Ridge Gourds " . I have planted 4 plants . They are generating 100's of male flowers and Not seeing one Female flower so far in all the 4 plants . Initially I did a mistake of not cutting the main lip when they are 3 ft but later cut and see good lateral growth . It is more than 2 months since planted in US(Eastern Time ) and pretty much I have September month in hand before winter comes in . Please advise what is the problem I do not have Female Buds so far ? I have somewhere wrong on this "Ridge Gourds " ?
Reply

P. Mehta August 15, 2017 7:24 AM

Thanks Partha Reddy for using my articles for growing vegetables. Basically, growing bitter melons, ridge gourds and long melons need the same care. You may feed your ridge gourd plant with a liquid fertilizer high in potassium like that is good for tomatoes. The liquid fertilizer will immediately be taken up by the roots, you may apply in soil as well as on leaves. Secondly if the plant has more than one long branch, then cut of their tips. Last week, I was in Ohio and it already started to be cold in night, so you don't have much time left this year for your ridge gourds. Any way good luck!
Reply