How to grow bit­ter mel­ons

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Plants With A Purpose -

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.

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