Bitter gourd (pavakka in Malayalam) - that name itself is enough to scare off many kids and even adults from the dining table. Most of them only include this vegetable in their diet for the sake of it's medicinal value and health benefits (especially for countering diabetics). But there are certain people, including me and N, who just love the pungent taste of this gourd. I sometimes feel that it is a kind of acquired taste, eat it more often without any pre-conceived notions and you will gradually forget the reluctance to have this vegetable.
Growing bitter gourd is not at all difficult and it will thrive in Indian climate, especially during the summer season. Before going into the article, let me clarify one thing about the word 'tips' in the title. I am not a gardening expert to give away tips :) and it is just the end result of my struggles to come up with a good blog post title. So this article is basically all about what worked well and what didn't in the case of the bitter gourds in our garden..
Providing a little help to remove the seed coat:
If you have noticed, bitter gourds have a tough seed coat, thicker than the seeds of bottle gourd. Sowing such seeds directly to soil or coco peat will not prevent them from germinating, but the success rate will be low and the seeds will take more time to germinate. To avoid such situations we either immerse the seeds in lukewarm warm for overnight or 24 hours (have to change the water twice). There is one more tip that works well to loosen up the seed coat and that's by lightly rubbing the seed on a rough surface for a few times. Don't over work this tip, else it will cause seed damage.
|1.Female flower 2. Male flower 3. Hand pollinating the flowers|
Don't always depend on the bitter gourd visitors! The best way to ensure a good harvest is by hand pollinating the female and male flowers. Both flowers are very distinct in appearance and normally a cluster of male flowers appear before the female ones set. A small brush can also be used to collect the pollen, but hand pollination works well in this case.
Like the other gourds, bitter gourds also grow vigorously, if provided with adequate nutrients. But, if your main aim is to get a nice harvest, then pruning should be done instead of letting the climber go wild. This includes removing damaged plant parts, yellow leaves and stems. The side branches can also be pruned, resulting in a healthy gourd.
Support + sunlight + nutrients + water:
Being a climber, bitter gourd needs support so that the tendrils can attach to and grow vertically. Pipes, ropes, wooden extensions, walls or trellis can be used for providing support to the tendrils. Sunlight is another factor which helps in the plant growth. Keep the gourds under bright, full sun always. Daily watering (twice in a day, but not on the leaves) and nutrients (high Nitrogen till flowering, then increase Potassium and Phosphorous, along with micro nutrients, especially Magnesium) are also essential for growing better bitter gourds.
Protecting the gourds before harvesting:
Following the above tips are not enough, but for a good harvest it is very vital to protect the vegetables from preying insects and birds. Bitter gourds take sometime to mature and during this period they have to be very loosely covered with paper wraps. While doing this, ensure that the gourds can breathe easily :) Sometimes, plastic wraps are also used but we used brown paper cuttings to cover the vegetables.
These are our tips (again, from our gardening experience)for growing better bitter gourds. Hope these tips work well for your bitter gourds as well :)