“Of this summer fruit, I can never be bitter,
I eat lots of it, to live long and fitter”
There are various types of gourds. This page has information relevant to bitter gourd/karela, a fruiting veggie that is as pretty to grow as it is interesting to eat! Click here for info on ivy gourd/tendli or other common gourds (snake/padwal, sponge/gilki turai, ridge/turai and smooth/lauki).
SEASONS: Bitter gourd is a seasonal plant. Its seeds are best sown in mid-January or August so they can germinate in warmer temperatures, be planted out, and grow fruit through the hot months of summer. They are prone to fungus attacks during the monsoons, and tend to produce less fruit in winter.
PROPAGATING: This plant is propagated from seed. Buy seeds from your garden shop, or prepare them from scratch. Scoop out the gelatinous center with seed, of an orange, fully ripened bitter gourd, and spread on a rack to dry in the hot sun. It may take several days for thorough drying. Once dried, brush off dried pulp residue, clean the seeds and store in a cool, dark place.
GERMINATING: Bitter gourd is best germinated directly in the ground. Its seeds are large, hard shelled and highly temperature-sensitive so they can be difficult to get started. It’s a good idea to scarify the seeds (file very gently with a nail file or sand paper) and/or soak them for 24 hours before placing in the ground. Either wait until daytime temperatures are around 35 degrees, or place in compost/manure – media that will generate sufficient heat around the seed to kick-start the germination process (See also: The Art of Propagation!).
PLANTING OUT: Plant seeds 1/2 inch below soil surface and at least 2 feet apart in acidic, compost and manure-rich, well-drained soil. Bitter gourd plants need full, strong sunlight to grow well. They also need plenty of space, so choose a large container, at least 15 liters in capacity or grow on open plots.
NURTURING: Place mulch around the soil to reduce evaporation and water deeply each day, twice a day in peak summer. Bitter gourd plants need consistent moisture to prevent drying out. As your plant grows, it would need support for its outreaching tendrils. A vertical trellis or grill, at least 6 feet high, would provide support through its growth. Female flowers grow off lateral branches while male flowers grow off main branches. Since you need a mix of both for pollination to take place, prune your main branches when they are about 2 feet high, to encourage growth of lateral branches. Once lateral branches grow out, cross-pollination by insect vectors between your male and female flowers will produce fruit. Snip off yellowing branches and dead leaves to strengthen growth of your plant.
HARVESTING: Harvest your fruiting veggies when it grow to size and while they are still green in color. Your plants will produce for the entire season (4-5 months). When productivity declines at the end of season, uproot, compost, and replenish your soil. Use that space for growing leafing or rooting veggies next.
A newly pollinated baby bitter gourd growing on a rope trellis
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