|Scientific Name : Momordica Charantia L.|
|Family : Cucurbitacea|
|Colour : Light Green|
|Common names : Bitter gourd, Bitter melon, Bitter cucumber, Karela (Hindi), Balsam pear, Balsam apple|
|Best Season : Throughout the year|
|Nutritional Value : 44 kcal, 5.6 g protein, 290 mg calcium, 5 mg iron, 5.1 mg vitamin A, 170 mg vitamin C per 100 g serving.|
Bitter gourd is a fast growing warm seasonal climbing annual, native to South Asia. Considered one of the most nutritious gourds, the plant has medicinal properties. A compound known as 'charantin' present in the bitter gourd is used in the treatment of diabetes to lower blood sugar levels. The plant also has a rich amount of Vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, phosphorus and carbohydrates. There are several varieties available, having fruits 3-4 inches to even 12inches in length.
This vine has a slender hairy stem with numerous branches and dense foliage. The plant grows up to 6 feet tall and develops small, yellow flowers both male and female, on the same plant. The fruits are green usually oblong, has an irregular surface with warts and 8-10 vertical ridges. When ripe, the fruits turn yellowish orange in colour.Propagation and Planting :
Mainly a warm season plant, bitter gourd thrives in hot and humid climates. Propagation is through direct seeding and transplanting. The best medium for the seeds is a fertile, well drained soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.7, enriched with organic matter, such as compost or dried manure. But it will tolerate any soil that provide a good drainage system. The soil must be prepared well by adding organic matter before planting.
Two or three seeds can be sown together in a pit 1/2 inch deep. Water lightly. For better results soak the seeds in water 24 hours before sowing. The seeds will germinate in 2-3 days. The germinated seeds can be replanted on raised beds 18-20 inches apart. Transplants should be done in such a way as to avoid disturbance to the root system. As the plants grow, place poles 2m.high and give wire or twine supports in rows across the poles.
Regular watering with plenty of water is essential for its growth. Flowers will start appearing in 5-6 weeks and fruition will occur between two to four months. Mature fruits are ready to be picked within3 months from planting and they will be light green and juicy with white flesh but bitter. Pick the fruits every 2-3 days when they are still at the tender stage. Regular picking is important as fruits will become more bitter as they mature and it can also hamper the growth of new fruits.
Leave some fruits to reach full maturity if they have to be reserved for subsequent crops. When fully mature, the fruits will break open on its own and release brown or white seeds which can be collected.Problems and Care :
Vines should be pruned at the tips when female flowers start developing to encourage branching and fast bearing. Regular fertilizing is essential for its growth. Water immediately after applying fertilizers.
Bitter gourd is susceptible to many diseases and insect pests. It is susceptible to watermelon mosaic virus, other cucurbit viruses and powdery mildew, which can be controlled by sulfur dust. Rust disease is controlled by spraying foliage with oxycarboxin. The fruits are subject to attack by various fruit flies and fruit rots. Pests attack on fruits can be prevented by wrapping fruits with newspapers, when they are about a few centimetres long.
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