The bitter gourd is a vigorous vine that is native to the tropics and Asia. Also known as “balsam pear” and “bitter cucumber”, the fruits look rather like like bumpy cucumbers. If you’re looking to grow something a little bit “different” then you could do a lot worse than these unusual gourds.
The odd-looking fruits of the bitter gourd are fascinating as they change color throughout the growing season. Bitter gourds start out as green, then turn a faint yellow, before becoming a bright orange towards the end of the season. While the orange shade symbolizes the fruits ripeness, people most commonly eat the fruits while still green, helping to give them their rather bitter taste.
If you’re interested in growing bitter gourd from seed then here’s everything you need to know…
Remove the Coating Around the Seeds
Bitter gourd seeds tend to have a red coating wrapped around them. This coating can hold back germination, as it keeps water from entering the seed. Therefore the first step is to chip away some of the coating.
Soak the Seeds
While bitter gourd seeds can be planted straight into compost, many gardeners find better results from first soaking the seeds overnight. This “kick starts” the germination process, allowing the seeds to immediately absorb large volumes of water. Once planted in soil, such seeds tend to get off to a better start.
Plant in a Pot
Bitter gourd seeds are best started indoors in a pot of sandy, well-drained compost. Once germinated, the plants grow rapidly, so try to choose a rather more generous pot than you might for other plants or you risk having to repot them continually.
Plant the seeds roughly 1 cm deep in the compost. Water the pot thoroughly, while simultaneously avoiding soggy, waterlogged conditions which can stunt growth. When it comes to bitter gourds, excellent drainage is vital.
Transplant to a Different Pot or to Your Garden
After a few weeks you should start to see the seeds slowly start to sprout. They can initially take some time to become established, so patience in these first few weeks is important. As the plant develops, so the rate of growth will accelerate.
As your bitter gourd seeds mature into a young plant, you can then transplant them to a larger pot or into your garden. Like all gourds, these can be thirsty, hungry, sun-loving plants, so aim to plant them in well-drained soil where they can benefit from plenty of sunshine.
It’s also important to appreciate that bitter gourds grow into vigorous vines, so some support is likely to be necessary to prevent damage to your plants. A great example is to train your bitter gourds up an existing piece of trellis or an arbor.
Harvesting Bitter Gourd Fruits
The right time to harvest your gourd is when the fruit’s skin is green with slight specks of yellow, at which point they are normally around 15cm (6”) in length. Once fruiting begins, it can become a routine job to keep on picking, which helps to avoid the plant becoming overwhelmed.