Bitter gourd, which is known in the Philippines as ampalaya, is an annual plant that is native in this country. It is botanically known as Momordica charantia L. It can be grown anytime of the year for its edible shoots and fruits and offers a good supply of vitamins and minerals.

ampalaya varieties
Image: a) Sta. Rita b) Jade star and
c) Native bitter gourd.
(Photos from East-West Seed Company.)

The fruit contains the hypo-glycemic principle charantin, which is used to treat diabetes. Bitter gourd is profitable when grown in small or large scale either in lowland or upland rice-based areas.

Site Selection

Bitter gourd grows in well drained soil. However, the best soil texture for the crop is either sandy loam or clay loam with pH ranging from of 6.0-6.7.

Growing Season

Although the crop can be grown throughout the year, the most profitable growing seasons are from October to December and from May to July because most of the areas are being planted to rice during these periods. Only the “tumana” or the fertile hilly-upland areas are being planted with bitter gourd, hence, production is limited. Plant the crop once every two years in the same area. Since bitter gourd is a heavy consumer of nutrients, the soil is depleted on the second year and thus needs soil amendments.

Recommended Varieties

The recommended varieties of bitter gourd are: the Sta Rita Strain with fruit length of 20-35 cm, and Jade Star and the Native with fruit length of 10 to 15 cm. Sta Rita Strain and Jade Star are preferred by Bulakeños and Pampangeños in cooking ginisa and sautéed recipes, while the Ilocanos preferred the native variety in cooking pinakbet because it easily shrinks when cooked as pinakbet, and the bitter taste is neutralized by equal proportion of tomato and fish sauce. Fruits of Sta Rita Strain have thicker flesh and don’t easily shrink when cooked as pinakbet.

Land Preparation

Plow and harrow the field twice. After the second harrowing, construct trellis at a distance of 2.5 x 2.5 m and with a height of 1.5-2 m. Fix one layer of GI wire no. 14 at the top of each row and column. Fix two layers of GI wire # 18 at a distance of 3 ft below the upper layer of the row only. Fix a layer of plastic string on top of the trellis foundation at 20 cm apart, then fix abaca string or dried banana bracts string vertically from the upper wire layer to the bottom wire layer for the vines to crawl on.

Crop Establishment

Break the seed coat lightly and soak the seeds in water for 24 hours, then wash. Incubate for 24-48 hours until the radicles appear. On the first day, plant the seeds with uniform germination to have a uniform stand of plant in the field.

Plant the second flush on the second day then throw all the slow germinating seeds since these are suspected to be infected with barako or other viral diseases. Incorporate organic fertilizer at the rate of 50 g per hill before planting. Plant one germinated seed per hill at a depth of 2 cm and spaced at 50 cm along the row.

 

Nutrient Management

Bitter gourd responds well to soil rich in organic matter and inorganic nutrients. For soils without soil analysis, the recommendation in Table 2 must be followed. The organic fertilizer must be broadcasted before plowing or at final harrowing.

Bitter gourd is a heavy consumer of fertilizer. If the recommended frequency of application at 28 DAE will show yellowish leaves after 2 weeks, adjust the application to 2-3 times/month or every 14 days for 3 months.

Table 2. Fertilizer requirement for ampalaya production
Kind of Fertilizer Rate of Application
per 1000m2
Time of Application Method of Application
Organic Fertilizer 300 kg At furrowing Basal
14-14-14 8 kg At planting Basal
(1 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate   mixed At 28 DAE Sidedress
+ 16-20-0 8 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate 8 kg mixed At 56 DAE Sidedress
+ 14-14-14 8 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate 8 kg mixed At 90 DAE Sidedress
+ 16-20-0 15 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate 8 kg mixed At 120DAE Sidedress
+ 14-14-14 8 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Foliar 1 L At 127 DAE and
even 7 days
Foliar spray
10 tbsp/16 L
Source: Gajete, T.D. 2004

 

Water Management
Bitter gourd is a flood-tolerant crop. It can withstand water logging for 48-72 hours. In dry season, irrigate the field by flooding at 14 DAE and repeat irrigation every seven days throughout the growing season in October to December and as the need arises for May to July planting. For leaf or shoot production, irrigate twice a week for faster shoot development, and to minimize the bitter taste of shoots and fruits.

Pest Management

The advent of pests and diseases of bitter gourd depends on the season, weather condition and the cropping pattern in the surrounding areas. During wet season, aphids, fruit fly, leaf footed bug and leaf folder are destructive.

During the dry season additional pests such as leafhoppers, thrips, white flies and leaf worms are equally destructive. Damping-off, bacterial blight and Barako are common diseases of bitter gourd during wet and dry seasons. It is regarded as nutritional deficiency by some soil scientists since it responds to fertilizer application. However, pathologists claim that Barako is caused by a mycoplasma – like organism because of the abnormal development of leaves, shoots and tendrils.

Farmers under the palayamanan scheme can try the suggested management in Table 3. In cases of insect pests and diseases outbreaks, integrate chemical control measures presented in Table 4 to reduce the insect pests population.

Insect Pests

1. Aphids

Aphids gossipii is a sucking insect pest of bitter gourd and other cucurbits. It lays eggs even in the absence of male. It multiplies rapidly during wet warm condition of the environment either on wet or dry seasons. They also secrete toxicogenic substances that cause curling, resetting of leaves or dwarfing of the vines. Sometimes they are vectors of viral diseases of crops.

2. Fruit fly

Dacus cucurbitae (Coquillet) or Dacus cucumis Franch is the most destructive insect pest of cucumber and other cucurbits. The adult lays eggs on the female flowers and fruits. After hatching, the maggots enter into the growing fruit and feed inside. Damaged fruit becomes deformed and later turns yellowish with rotten flesh as a result of the feeding activities of the maggots.

3. Leaf footed bugs (Leptolossus sp.)

The adult hind legs are flattened like a leaf at the posterior part hence the name leaf – footed bug. The bug color ranges from brownish with marking. The nymphs and adults are destructive to bitter gourd by sucking the leaves and fruits. Damage fruits at early stage usually deformed. The bug emits unpleasant odor when disturbed.

4. Leaf folder Diahania indica (Saunders)

The moth lays eggs singly at the undersurface of the leaf. Larva at 4th to 5th instars damage the crop by folding the leaf of the plant using thread – like web. The destructive larva is greenish with two white stripes at the back. Damaged leaves become brownish with web bed and tapering edge.

5. Leafhoppers

Small 3-4m long nymph and adults are destructive with the common hopper burn symptom on the leaves sometimes shinny and brownish causing pre mature death of leaves.

6. Thrips (Thrips tabaci)

These pests are usually 1-1.3 mm long, grayish yellow to brown and lays eggs simply on the leaves. Thrips reproduce without male. The nymphs resemble that of the adult but without wings. Nymphs and adults cause silvering then browning of the leaves.

7. White fly (Bemicia tabaci)

This is a serious pest of other crops and acts a vector of viral diseases. This pest also attracts cucurbits including bitter gourd. Severe infestation causes malformation of leaves.

8. Leaf worm (Aulocophora similes)

This pest is also a common foliage feeder of bitter gourd. The damage is severe if they occur at seedling stage but are manageable if they infest bitter gourd at vegetative stage. Leaf worms also feed on the fruits when the leaves are already old, leaving scars on the fruit that lowers the quality.

Diseases

1. Bacterial blight

Characterized by yellowing of the older lower leaves then is progressing to the matured green leaves. Under severe condition, the leaves gradually turn brown starting from the leaf edge showing a blighted appearance. In resistant varieties, the leaves show slight yellowing then form angular leaf spots as a response to the pathogens infection. Bitter gourd infected with bacterial blight has shorter life span.

2. Barako

The disease is caused by a mycoplasma-like pathogen. Infected plants shortened vines and small leaves near the shoot that are visible when the plant has one meter long vine. The shoot grows slowly with smaller and malformed leaves compared with the healthy plant. The vines and fruits produced by the plant are greatly reduced.

Weeding

Uproot the weeds in between hills at 14 days after emergence (DAE) only. After 14 DAE do not uproot the weeds or cultivate in between the rows as this will harm the roots and consequently result in slow growth of the plants

After the first weeding, hill-up once only and cut the weeds close to the ground every 14 days or as needed. The remaining weeds will serve as alternate hosts of cutworms, army worms, and other insect pests.

Harvest Management

Harvest the first batch of immature fruits at deep green stage. These are approximately 25-30 cm long for Sta Rita variety. Repeat harvesting every 3-5 days preferably in the morning to maintain the freshness of the fruits. For the varieties with small fruits, harvest the immature fruits when the rinds are already prominent. Do not harvest the shoots because it will lessen the fruit-bearing performance of the plant resulting to reduced fruit yield.

Pack the harvested fruits in polyethylene bags of 10 kg capacity immediately after harvesting to avoid withered fruits.

If the crop is intended for leaf/shoot production, start harvesting 1 foot long shoot when the vines reached 1 m long. Harvest succeeding shoots when the lateral vines reach 2 feet long, leaving 1 foot long vine for the development of new shoots. Tie the shoots with rubber band with 10 or 20 pc per bundle depending on the retailer’s preference. Pack in polyethylene plastic to prevent the leaves from wilting.

References

Bitter Gourd Production. July 9, 2008. Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture. http://www.openacademy.ph/.

Ampalaya Production Guide Technology Option 2

Land Preparation

1. Plow the field 2-3 times, each time followed by harrowing.
2. Make furrows 3m apart.
3. Apply 2-3 tons dried animal manure per hectare while preparing the land to incorporate it well with the soil.

Planting

1. For direct seeding:

1. Soak the seeds in water overnight. Seeds can also be wrapped in a moist cloth.
2. Plant 2 seeds per hill 30 cm apart in the furrows 3m apart (30cm x 3m).
3. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and water immediately. Mulch with rice straw.
4. Remove weak seedlings leaving behind the healthy ones 3-4 weeks after sowing.

2. For transplanting:

1. In planting hybrid ampalaya because of the high price of seeds or when the seeds are few, let the seeds turn into seedlings first.
2. Sow 1 seed per hole of the nursery tray with a mixture of 2 parts garden soil, 1 part burned rice hull and 1 part compost.
3. Irrigate and mulch.
4. 1 week after sowing, apply starter solution (1tbsp Urea (46-0-0) dissolved in 1 gal of water).
5. To strengthen the seedlings, reduce watering and gradually expose the seedlings to sunlight 1 week before transplanting.
6. 3 weeks after sowing, transplant 30cm apart in the furrows 3m apart (30cm x 3m)
7. Transplant late in the afternoon so that seedlings will not wilt.

Fertilization

1. Before planting, apply 1 tbsp 14-14-14 per hill as basal application.
2. 30 days after planting or if the seedlings have produced branches, apply 1 tbsp Urea (46-0-0) per hill 10 cm away from the seedlings.
3. Every 3 weeks, apply 1 tbsp of a mixture of 1 part Urea and 1 part Muriate of Potash (0-0-60) per hill.
4. Cover the fertilizer with soil.

Irrigation

1. Irrigate the field every 7 to 10 days for furrow irrigation during dry season. Construct a canal for furrow irrigation.
2. During wet season, irrigate only when necessary. Construct a drainage canal.

Trellising

1. Before the vines creep, construct vertical and overhead trellises.
2. Layout 2.5m long and 2-2.5cm wide ipil-ipil, bamboo, or kakawate poles 2 m apart within the rows
3. Connect the poles horizontally by wire (#16) at the top, middle and bottom portions in every row.
4. Tie the top wire to the stakes at the end of the rows to make the poles stable.
5. Cut abaca twine or synthetic straw, and tie them vertically from top to bottom wires, and criss-crossing overhead.
6. Allow 1 plant to grow around a vertical string.

Vine Training

1. Train the vines by spreading them evenly across the trellis until they reach the top.

Pruning

1. Remove the lower lateral or branches to facilitate vine growth at the top of the trellis.
2. Harvest as fresh vegetable the lower leaves.

Weed Control

1. Remove the weeds around the plants
2. Cut-off the weeds in between the rows by using a scythe.

Mulching

1. Mulch with rice straw or black plastic sheet to control the weeds and conserve soil moisture.
2. Layout the mulch in the soil before planting.

Insect Pest Management

1. Fruitfly is the most destructive insect pest. Controlling it is not easy because the adult fruitfly lays its eggs in the fruits. The hatched egg becomes a larva which destroys the fruit from the inside.

2. In order not to multiply the fruitfly:

* Remove and bury the damaged fruit.
* Wrap the fruits with paper while they are still small.
* Use attractant.

Disease Management

1. Remove the diseased leaves immediately.
2. Pull-out and burn or bury plants with virus, nematode or bacterial wilt.
3. Spray the plants with chemicals only when necessary.

Harvesting

1. Harvest the fruits 16-19 days from full bloom of the flower (anthesis) or when the rough skin of the fruit becomes shiny.
2. Cut the fruit together with its stalk using a sharp knife or scissor.

Seed Production

1. Pollination/Isolation

* Male and female flowers are borne separately on the same plant.
* If population of pollinators (bees) is low, employ hand pollination early morning from early flowering to peak flowering to increase seed yield.
* Female flower opens early in the morning and remains receptive 36 hours from opening, while male flowers opens either 10 am or fall off.
* Due to the highly cross-pollinated nature of ampalaya, an isolation distance of 500 m radius for certified seeds and 1, 200 m radius for basic seeds is necessary.

Roguing/Field Inspection

1. Remove off-types.
2. Conduct field inspection at early vegetative stage, flowering stage and fruiting stage.
3. At vegetative stage, check the leaf size, shape, color, vigor and vine trailing habit.
4. At flowering and early fruit development, observe for shape and color of the ovaries, shape and color of fruits, and general appearance.
5. Do the final rouging when fruits are maturing for fruit shape and color.

Harvesting

Harvest when the fruits have turned yellow-orange in color or when portions of fruit have yellow streaks, which is about 23-25 days from flower opening.

Seed Processing

* Cut off the apical portion or peduncle end of the fruit and split open the fruit to scoop out the seeds.
* Mash or rub the seeds unto a sturdy screen under running water to remove the red mucilaginous seed coat.
* Put clean seeds in a pail of water and allow the white, unfilled immature seeds to float. Pour the seeds out together with the water leaving normal seeds at the bottom of the pail. Repeat many times until seeds are free of mucilaginous coating and immature seeds.
* Air dry the seeds for 2-3 days.
* Sun dry the seeds gradually for 4-5 days.

Packaging

1. For home use, pack the seeds in thick plastic or paper envelopes and place them in large aluminum cans or large-mouth jars lined at the bottom with charcoal, lime or silica gel.
2. Seal the package well.
3. Place the seeds in a cool, dry place.
4. For large volume, pack the seeds in thick plastic or aluminum foil and seal well.
5. Keep in a cool and dry place or storage area. The drier the stored seeds and the cooler the storage area is, the longer is the life of the seed.

Source: Fliers. September 2008. Ampalaya. Institute of Plant Breeding, University of the Philippines, Los Baños, Laguna.

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