Bitter melon is a plant that has been grown in China and other parts of Asia for centuries; it is used not only as a vegetable, but also medicinally. Several parts of the plant are used for a variety of ailments and are being studied as potent medicine sources in the scientific community. The green immature fruit is the part most commonly used. It can be easily grown as an annual vegetable in any area that has at least 3½ months of growing season.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Bitter melon seeds
- Plant pots
- Potting soil
- Garden space
- 6-foot trellis
Purchase your seeds from a reputable seller. They have been distributed in other countries for centuries but have not been as available in the United States. Thanks to the Internet, bitter melon seeds can now be easily ordered online. Three companies have been listed in "Additional Resources," below, for your convenience.
Germinate the seeds by soaking them in water for 24 to 48 hours or until they swell up. Peel off the outer coating with a sharp paring knife and plant the seed about 3/4 of an inch deep into moist potting soil. Keep the soil most until a green shoot or cotelydon pops through the soil, which should take about five to seven days.
Prepare a garden site that has good rich soil with lots of compost worked into it. Bitter melons can be a host to fungal diseases, so it helps to keep the ground surface dry. Form a mound of soil about 2 feet high and tamp it down well. This will ensure good drainage. Place a strong trellis or support system into the ground that will allow the bitter melon to grow about 6 feet high.
Transplant the plant once it has grown at least two real leaves and when the temperature outside has reached an average of 15.6 degrees Celsius. Do not disturb the soil around the roots when transplanting it, if at all possible. Place the plant into a hole the same size as the dirt ball. Gently pat the plant into the soil.
Water the bitter melon vine in the mornings until the vine gets established. This will allow the heat of the day to dry the soil after watering. Another technique used in growing gourds and cucumbers is to place straw or hay around the base of the plant. This will help retain moisture in the soil without the vine resting in damp conditions.
Train the vine to grow up your support system, using cotton string or plant ties if necessary. The fruits will grow straight if they are hanging as opposed to laying on the ground. Typically the growing time for melons is 80 days, but it may vary for your area and growing conditions.
Tips and warnings
- Grow in a well-watered pot outside and train up an arch for a showy plant
- The fruit can be very bitter and is often soaked to remove the bitterness before cooking
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