How to grow bitter melons
IN TEMPERATE CLIMATES the vines can make an unusual greenhouse climber. In warmer sub-tropical climates, it’s a striking summer hedge or ornamental fence, with deeply indented leaves and small yellow fragrant flowers. The foliage resembles cucumber, but with thinner and woodier stems. The young, leafy shoots and leaves are also edible, and all parts are highly nutritious, though Western palates may struggle with the strong, okra-like taste (or think eggplant, asparagus). • well. BitterIt has melon zero needsfrost tolerance,a warm, humid doing climatewell in similarto grow conditionsand fruit to cucumbers.stages of growth, Temperature sandno lessof aroundthan 10° C .18° Care preferred in the early • Seeds need even higher temperatures (round 27-29°C) to germinate well. • Seeds lose viability quickly – it is recommended to pre-soak, and pre-germinate in damp towelling, at the required temperature, before sowing. • Sow germinated seeds in pots or modules, keeping them well spaced so the developing vines don’t entangle. • Plant out in early summer, about 60cm apart. The vigorous vines need training and will cling naturally to supports. Either train up strings or mesh netting (15-20cm square) from the greenhouse roof, or train horizontally so the fruit hangs down and is more accessible. • Pruning will be needed to keep wandering growth in check. • Like cucumber, bitter melon tolerates a range of soil types, but does require copious water. • Vines will do best if plenty of organic matter is dug in before planting, and an occasional liquid feed is beneficial. • Plants bear separate male and female flowers. If bees or bumble bees can’t get access to plants in a tunnel house, you will need to hand-pollinate by rubbing male flowers against female flowers – the stem of the female flower looks like a smaller version of the fruit, whereas the male has a straight stem. • Fruit grows rapidly and the first fruits can usually be harvested 8-9 weeks after planting. They can be picked at anything from 5cm length to full size, around 20cm or longer. • Pick before they ripen, while still firm, and bright green, without any orange colouration. The flesh should be crunchy and watery with tender edible skin. Pick too early and they will be soft; more mature and they will taste very bitter. • Once they are fully grown, they will ripen rapidly and continue ripening after picking. They are very sensitive to ethylene produced by ripening fruit, so it is important to pick very regularly.
The bulbous stem of a female flower, which looks like a tiny version of the fruit it will later produce. Males have a straight stem.