Bitter Gourd Overview Farming — An Introduction
Can you imagine a single vegetable that carries an array of health benefits, is rich in vital nutrients, and thrives remarkably in various climates? If your mind draws a blank, let us introduce you to the Bitter Gourd. Also known as Karela in India, this unique vegetable is a treasure trove of benefits. Read on to understand why we consider it a superfood and how you can cultivate and care for it in your own garden.
Bitter Gourd Overview
1.1 What is Bitter Gourd?
Bitter gourd, scientifically known as Momordica charantia, is a tropical and subtropical vine belonging to the family Cucurbitaceae. It is widely cultivated for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all vegetables. Despite its bitter taste, it is highly valued for its numerous health benefits, which include blood sugar control, improved digestion, and enhanced immunity.
1.2 Bitter Gourd Varieties
There are numerous varieties of bitter gourd, each with its unique characteristics. The most popular varieties include the Indian variety, known for its rough, bumpy skin, and the Chinese variety, which is longer, lighter in color, and has a slightly milder flavor. There’s also the wild variety, which is smaller but carries a more potent bitter taste.
Bitter gourd preferences can differ based on size, color, the presence or absence of tubercles/ridges, and bitterness. Here are some varieties grown in different regions of India:
- Arka Harit: This variety has short, green fruits that are spindle-shaped with smooth, regular ribs. It has moderate bitterness and yields 9-12 tons per hectare.
IARI, New Delhi
- Pusa Vishesh: This variety, chosen from a local collection, is suitable for summer cultivation. It has glossy green fruit which are medium in size and thickness.
- Pusa Do Mausami: Recognizable by its dark green, club-like fruits with 7-8 continuous ribs. Each fruit weighs 100-120 grams, and the yield is 12-15 tons per hectare.
- Pusa Hybrid 1: These fruits are medium thickness, long, and gloss green. The yield is 20 tons per hectare in 120 days.
Kerala Agricultural University
- Priya (VK1): This variety has extra-long, green, spiny fruits with a white tinge at the stylar end. The average fruit length is 39 cm, and the weight is 235 grams. It can produce 24.5 tons per hectare.
- Preethi (MC 4): This variety has medium-sized, white fruit with spines. The average fruit length is 30 cm, fruit girth is 24 cm, and weight is 0.31 kg. It can produce 15.0 tons per hectare.
- Priyanka: This variety has large white spindle-shaped fruits with smooth spines, thick flesh, and fewer seeds. The fruit length is 25 cm on average, with a girth of 20 cm and a weight of 0.30 kg. It can produce 28.0 tons per hectare.
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University
- CO.1: This variety has dark green fruits of medium length (20-25 cm) and weight (100-120 g). It yields 14 tons per hectare.
- Coimbatore Long Green: This variety has extra-long fruits (60 cm) that are dark green.
- MDU.1: This induced mutant variety has long (30-40 cm), greenish white fruits. The fruit weight is 300-450 grams, and it yields 15-18 tons per hectare.
- Coimbatore Long White: This variety has extra-long fruits (60-65 cm) that are white. It yields 15 tons per hectare.
- COBgH 1: This F1 hybrid is developed by crossing MC 84 x MDU1. The fruits are light green, plumpy with more warts, each weighing 200-300 grams. It yields 44.40 tons per hectare in 115-120 days and is rich in momordicin (2.99 mg per 100g).
Konkan Krishi Vidya Peeth, Dapoli
- Konkan Tara: This variety has green, prickly, medium-long (15-16 cm), and spindle-shaped fruits. It yields 24 tons per hectare.
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana
- Punjab 14: This variety has bushy plants that bear light green fruits. Each fruit weighs on average prickled fruits. It is tolerant to downy mildew and yields 23 tons per hectare in 160-180 days.
CSAUA &T, Kanpur
- Kalyanpur Baramasi: This variety has long (30-35 cm), light green, thin, and tapering fruits. It is tolerant to fruit fly and mosaic. The yield is 20 tons per hectare in 120 days.
- Hirkani: This variety has dark green fruits that are 15-20 cm long, with warts and prickles. The yield is 14 tons per hectare in 160 days.
- Phule Green: This variety has dark green, 25-30 cm long prickled fruits. It is tolerant to downy mildew and yields 23 tons per hectare in 160-180 days.
It’s important to note that the selection of a bitter gourd variety should be based on the region’s climate, the grower’s preference, and the market demand. The mentioned varieties have different features and yield capacities, so choose the one that best meets your specific requirements.
1.3 The Many Names of Bitter Gourd
In English-speaking countries, it’s commonly referred to as Bitter Gourd, Bitter Melon, Bitter Cucumber, Balsam Pear, or Leprosy Gourd.
In India, it is famously known as Karela (करेला) in Hindi.
The French call it Margose or Concombre Amer, while in Portuguese, it is known as Melão de São Caetano or Balsamina Longa. Spanish speakers refer to it as Melón Amargo, Caigua Amarga, or Cundeamor Chino.
Cultivation and Care of Bitter Gourd
Cultivating bitter gourd is not as demanding as it may seem. The plant thrives in a well-drained loamy soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. It prefers a warm, humid climate with a temperature range of 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. It is also important to note that bitter gourd plants are climbers, and therefore, require a trellis or a similar structure for support.
Growing Bitter Gourd – A guide for Indian Gardeners
Ideal Soil and Weather Conditions for Bitter Gourd
Bitter gourd thrives best in sandy loam soils with a good mix of organic matter. The soil should have good drainage and maintain a pH balance within the range of 6.5-7.5. Furthermore, a moderately warm temperature is optimum for the growth of this crop.
Planting Seasons for Bitter Gourd
The best times to sow bitter gourd seeds in India are in July and January. The seeds (about 3 seeds per pit) should be treated with Trichoderma viride @ 4 g or Pseudomonas fluorescens @ 10 g or carbendazim @ 2 g/kg of seeds. After about 15 days, thin out the seedlings, leaving only two per pit.
The amount of seed you’ll need per acre differs based on the type of bitter gourd you’re planning to grow. For traditional varieties, you’ll need approximately 0.89 kg of seeds per acre. If you’re growing hybrid varieties, you’ll need around 0.61 kg per acre.
Your field should be ploughed to fine tilth. Then, dig pits that are 30 cm x 30 cm x 30 cm in size, spaced at 2 x 1.5 m. After that, form basins for planting.
When sowing, use five seeds per pit that have been treated with Trichoderma viride (4 g), Pseudomonas fluorescens (10 g), or Carbendazim (2 g/kg of seeds). After about 15 days, thin out the seedlings to two per pit.
Before dibbling the seeds, irrigate the basins. Following that, ensure the field is irrigated once every week.
Per pit, apply about 4.05 kg of FYM (equivalent to about 8.09 tonnes per acre), along with 40.5 g of NPK 6:12:12 as basal. Around 30 days after sowing, apply 4 g of Nitrogen per pit. Along with FYM, apply Azospirillum and Phosphobacteria (810 g per acre), and Pseudomonas (1.01 kg per acre), and neem cake (40.5 kg per acre) before the last ploughing.
Quality Seedling Production
While bitter gourd is typically directly sown, using a polythene bag nursery can offer advantages, such as early marketing and avoidance of gap filling. Use 200 gauge poly bags of 10 cm diameter x 10 cm height for sowing seeds. After about 15 days, transplant the seedlings to the main field.
Install a drip irrigation system with main and sub-main pipes, placing the inline lateral tubes at intervals of 1.5 m. The drippers should be positioned in the lateral tubes at intervals of 60 cm and 50 cm, with capacities of 4 LPH and 3.5 LPH respectively.
Field Preparation for Drip Irrigation
Form raised beds of around 120 cm in width, and spread the lateral tubes in the centre of each bed. The beds should be irrigated by operating the drip system continuously for 8-12 hours. Just before planting, apply a pre-emergence herbicide like Pendimethalin @ 1 Kg a.i/ha. Planting or sowing is carried out at holes made at 2 m intervals.
Caring for Bitter Gourd
Caring for bitter gourd plants involves regular watering, especially during dry periods, and protecting the plants from pests and diseases. It’s also crucial to prune the plants for better air circulation, which aids in preventing fungal diseases. Regular application of organic compost or manure ensures the plants receive adequate nutrients.
Fertilization schedule for Bitter Gourd
For the hybrid Bitter Gourd cultivation, you will need certain amounts of three main nutrients per acre: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K). The recommended dose is about 81 kilograms of Nitrogen, 40 kilograms of Phosphorus, and 40 kilograms of Potassium per acre.
The fertilization schedule is divided into four stages:
- Crop Establishment Stage (10 days): During this stage, you’ll need to use three types of fertilizers. Use about 11 kilograms of 19:19:19 + MN, 4.5 kilograms of 13-0-45, and 12 kilograms of Urea per acre. This will supply about 2 kilograms of Nitrogen, 2 kilograms of Phosphorus, and 2 kilograms of Potassium, covering 10%, 5%, and 10% of the plant’s nutrient needs respectively.
- Vegetative Stage (30 days): Use about 5 kilograms of 12-61-0 fertilizer, 27 kilograms of 13-0-45, and 44 kilograms of Urea per acre. This will provide about 0.6 kilograms of Nitrogen, 3 kilograms of Phosphorus, and 12 kilograms of Potassium, satisfying 30%, 7.5%, and 30% of the plant’s nutrient requirements respectively.
- Flower Initiation to First Picking (30 days): Apply about 5 kilograms of 12-61-0 fertilizer, 18 kilograms of 13-0-45, and 47 kilograms of Urea per acre. This delivers about 0.6 kilograms of Nitrogen, 3 kilograms of Phosphorus, and 8 kilograms of Potassium, meeting 30%, 7.5%, and 20% of the plant’s nutrient needs respectively.
- Harvesting Stage (45 days): Use about 11 kilograms of 19:19:19 + MN fertilizer, 32 kilograms of 13-0-45, and 40 kilograms of Urea per acre. This provides about 2 kilograms of Nitrogen, 2 kilograms of Phosphorus, and 14 kilograms of Potassium, fulfilling 30%, 5%, and 40% of the plant’s nutrient needs respectively.
At the end of these stages (total of 115 days), the total nutrients applied should be about 81 kilograms of Nitrogen, 40 kilograms of Phosphorus, and 40 kilograms of Potassium per acre.
Phosphorus is applied as superphosphate, with 75% of the recommended dose equalling 190 kilograms per acre. The total amounts of each fertilizer grade required per acre are 21 kilograms of 19:19:19, 81 kilograms of 13:0-45, 10 kilograms of 12:61:0, and 142 kilograms of Urea.
Bitter Gourd – Pest and Insect Management
- Red Pumpkin Beetle (Aulacophora foveicollis, A. lewisii) Nature of Damage: The red pumpkin beetle adults feed on the foliage, buds, and flowers of plants, while the grubs feed on the roots.Control Measures:
- Take preventive measures such as burning old creepers and ploughing and harrowing the field after crop harvest to destroy the pest’s life stages.
- Collect and destroy the beetles in the early stages of infestation.
- Spray with 0.05% malathion or dust with 5% malathion dust at a rate of 10 kg/ha.
- Melon Fruit Fly (Dacus cucurbitae) Nature of Damage: The melon fruit fly, active from March to May, attacks fruits.Control Measures:
- Practice clean cultivation by removing and destroying fallen and infested fruits daily.
- Deep plough the soil to expose hibernating stages of the fruit fly.
- Apply spray baits to attract and eliminate the fruit flies.
- Spray with 0.05% malathion or 0.2% carbaryl during flowering.
- Aphids (Aphis gossypii) Nature of Damage: Aphids, both nymphs and adults, form colonies and attack the leaves and tender shoots of plants, sucking the sap.Control Measures:
- Remove infested leaves and shoots at the initial stage of infestation.
- Spray with 0.02% pyrethrins or 0.05% malathion or dichlorvos (DDVP) to control aphids.
- Powdery Mildew (Sphaerotheca fuligine) Nature of Damage: Powdery mildew, favored by high humidity, tends to occur first on older leaves.Control Measures:
- Spray with carbendazim (1ml/litre of water) or karathane (0.5 ml/litre of water) immediately after the appearance of the disease. Repeat the spray 2-3 times at a 15-day interval.
- Downy Mildew Nature of Damage: Downy mildew is caused by the fungus Pseudoperonospora cubensis and thrives in areas of high humidity, especially during regular summer rains.Control Measures:
- Achieve excellent control by using Ridomil (1.5 g/litre of water) in combination with a protectant fungicide like Mancozeb (0.2%) to prevent the development of resistant strains.
- Bitter Gourd Mosaic Nature of Damage: Bitter gourd mosaic is a virus disease that primarily affects the leaves.Control Measures:
- Spray the crop just after germination with Monocrotophos (0.05%) or Phosphamidon (0.05%) at 10-day intervals to prevent aphid vectors.
Remember, maintaining good cultural practices, such as regular field clean-up and proper sanitation, is crucial in preventing the establishment and spread of insect pests and diseases.
Harvesting Bitter Gourd
Patience is key when it comes to harvesting bitter gourd. The fruit is typically ready for harvest 12 to 16 weeks after planting. The best time to pick bitter gourd is when they are young and tender, usually when they are bright green in color and about 4 to 6 inches long.
Harvest and Post-Harvest Tips
- The Perfect Harvest TimeBitter Gourds, a staple in Indian kitchens, generally reach their prime for plucking about 60 days after you’ve transplanted them. The trick is to pick these fruits when they are almost full-sized but still haven’t started the colour transition from green to yellow or orange.
Harvesting is best done during the day’s cooler periods, usually in the early morning or late afternoon, and preferably on a dry day. Use sharp shears to carefully cut the fruit from the plant, ensuring it does not come in direct contact with sunlight post-harvest as this can cause wilting. Once harvested, transfer your bitter gourds to a shaded, airy temporary storage space.
- Cleaning and Categorizing Your HarvestFirst, remove any fruits that are either not ripe enough or have over-ripened, as well as those with noticeable fresh wounds or infestations such as fruit-fly perforations.
Clean your bitter gourds gently using a moist soft cloth, or if they are dirt-contaminated, rinse them under potable water and allow them to air-dry. If potable water is unavailable, use sodium hypochlorite (150 ppm, 15g/L) as a cleaning agent. The water should have a pH level of 6.5 for effective sanitization.
Once cleaned, sort your bitter gourds based on size, shape, firmness, skin color, and glossiness.
- Packing for the Trip to the MarketBefore placing them in the transport container, wrap your bitter gourds in paper to prevent latex contamination. Pack these wrapped gourds into robust and ventilated containers such as wood, plastic, or bamboo boxes. You can use natural liners like banana leaves for added protection.
Ensure that the containers are not overloaded, with a maximum weight limit of about 15 kg per container. This limit helps avoid damage due to compression.
- Journey to the MarketArrange your packed containers on shelves during transportation to prevent them from being stacked on top of each other. Cover the top of the containers with a moist cloth or banana leaves to shield the fruits from heat and dirt.
If possible, use a refrigerated vehicle for transportation. In the absence of refrigeration, ensure the vehicle has a protective roof to shield the fruits from direct sunlight.
- Storage TipsYour bitter gourds should be stored in a cool, shaded area with good ventilation, such as under your house. They are prone to water loss during storage, so it’s advisable to cover the storage baskets with a damp cloth to maintain moisture.
An alternative storage method is to use an evaporative control wooden cupboard. Here, you’ll frequently sprinkle water on a jute sack where the bitter gourds are stored.
For the best storage duration of 2-3 weeks, the ideal storage conditions are a temperature of 10-12°C and a relative humidity of 85-90 percent.
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