Gardening with Bitter Melon
Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia), while relatively new to growers in Florida, is a tropical and subtropical crop that is widely cultivated in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Bitter melon has two varieties: Chinese and Indian. Chinese bitter melon is oblong-shaped, 8 to 12 inches long, 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and has a smooth, light green skin with a warty appearance. The Indian variety is smaller, has pointed ends, and a rough, dark green flesh. Both varieties are excellent sources of vitamin C, folate, zinc and potassium. For a complete list of nutritional content, refer to the reference listed.
A trailing member of the curcurbitaceae family, this fresh fruiting vegetable can be direct seeded or transplanted in north Florida for both spring and fall growing seasons. A six foot trellis support system is recommended for quality production and high yields as vines can reach 16 ft in length. Since bitter melon bears male and female plants separately, it requires a cross pollinator, such as bees, in order to set fruit. If pollinators are lacking, they can be manually pollinated by transferring the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. Harvested when fruit is green or slightly yellow, the melons are frequently cooked into a stir-fry dish. Preparation includes cutting the melons in half, removing the seeds and slicing the fruit into smaller pieces before cooking.
Bitter Melon Production:
Direct seeding dates for north Florida: Feb. to April; July to early Aug.
Distance between rows: 5 to 6 feet
Spacing between plants: 3 to 5 feet
Harvest time: 50 days after sowing
Bitter Melon– an Asian Vegetable Emerging in Florida: