Vining plants covered with 6-8” long green bumpy fruits popular in Asian, African, and Caribbean recipes.
“You should grow some bitter melon” is what Aabir told me when we were catching up on the phone.
I’m a strong adherent to #bitteisrbetter so I was easily convinced.
Aabir sent me some seeds he’d kept from his own garden.
The original seeds came from his mother who got them from a cousin in India. They came with no name or specific story. They might be from a mass market source or be a funky local variety.
We planted the seeds in the Tourne-Sol greenhouse.
Bitter melon is in the cucurbit family - just like cucumbers, zucchini, squash and melons.
And they grow like cucumbers - happily climbing up a trellis or whatever is in their way. They didn’t take long to turn into a wall of green vines with yellow flowers and hanging green warty fruit.
If you’ve never eaten bitter melons, you can pick them when they are green. Open them like a pepper and core out the seeds. Next, slice into small pieces and fry with garlic. Add to whatever you’re eating.
Yes, they do have a bitter taste - the flavour reminds me of very strong green peppers. I love it. My family won’t touch it.
If you’re already familiar with bitter melon, then I’m sure you have better recipes than mine.
When you don’t harvest bitter melons in time, they overripen to a bright colour and the fruit will get soft. Kind of like a tomato or pepper does.
But unlike tomatoes or peppers, the fruit opens its jaw wide and regurgitates bright red seed capsules. A stunning sight and I’m glad they don’t have teeth because they look like they’d have quite a bite.
If you also think bitter is better, then bitter melon is an obvious addition to your garden.
Crop Species: Momordica charantia
Crop Family: Cucurbitacea
HOW TO GROW
Luminosity: Full Sun
Seed Depth: ½”
Germination Temperature: 24-30C
Days to Germination: 5-14 days depending on temperature
Earliest Planting Date: After risk of frost has passed. Killed by frost.
Latest Planting Date: mid June
Planting frequency: plant once in late spring
Days to maturity: 70 days
Harvest period: late July - late September
You can start Bitter Melons indoors or outdoors. Here are directions for both:
Directions To Start Indoors
- Harden plants 4-7 days before transplanting.
- Cucurbits are extremely sensitive. Handle transplants carefully.
Directions for Direct Seeding:
Direct seed once soil temperature outside has reached 2-C
- If using insect netting, remove once female flowers have emerged to allow for pollination
Pests and Disease:
- Cucumber beetles: Small yellow and black striped beetles that fly. They not only devour young leaves, but will spread bacterial wilt.
- Cover with insect netting until flowers emerge. Remove netting once flowers emerge to allow for pollination.
- During humid or wet years, they are affected by powdery mildew. Water soaked spots appear on top of leaves and purplish/grey spores appear on the underside of leaves in the morning.
- Avoid irrigating leaves
HOW TO KEEP SEEDS
- Bitter melons only cross-pollinate with other bitter melons
- Leave fruits on the vine until they turn bright orange and get soft. They will often split open and reveal seeds covered in bright red membranes..
- Submerge seeds in water and rinse off red membrane.
- Set seeds out to dry for 3-7 days.
- Store in airtight container with no humidity.