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How to Start a Profitable Bitter Gourd Cultivation Business

Do you want to start Bitter Gourd Farming? Here in this article, you will find the different steps related to bitter gourd or karela farming including health benefits, varieties, and cultivation process.

Bitter gourd or bitter melon or karela (Momordica charantia) is one of the most popular vegetables for its medicinal properties. It is popular in Southeast Asia and has become popular worldwide. Depending on location, bitter gourd is also known as bitter melon, karela, or balsam pear. Furthermore, it can be successfully grown at elevations from sea level to about 1200m. It can be cultivated in the low country and mid-country during both seasons. Bitter gourd cultivation is profitable even with a small piece of land.

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Globally, major bitter gourd-producing countries are China, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. In India, the key growing areas are Maharastra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal.

Bitter ground cultivation in a greenhouse is also practiced in many countries across the globe. Access to quality seeds, improved technology, and extended growing seasons are some of the reasons that have made bitter gourd cultivation a profitable venture even for small farmers.

Bitter Gourd/ Karela Farming Guide Process

Health Benefits of Bitter Gourd

  • Bitter gourd has multiple health benefits. It is mostly consumed for triggering the blood sugar level. Furthermore, regular intake of bitter gourd juice helps prevent the rise of blood sugar levels.
  • Bitter gourd is an excellent natural antioxidant.
  • It helps cure chronic cough and breathing problems by removing the sputum that accumulates within the lungs and the respiratory tract.
  • It helps to remove the fine lines from the upper surface of the skin. Having this juice will also prevent premature aging.
  • Bitter gourd is excellent for weight loss. Karela’s benefits to weight loss are attributed to its high fiber and low carbohydrate and calorie content.

Best Varieties

Numerous hybrid and open-pollinated varieties are available. Hybrids usually produce higher yields, but their seeds are relatively expensive and must be purchased for every planting. Open-pollinated varieties have the advantage that their seeds may be saved and used for future plantings. There are some varieties of bitter gourd viz. Pusa Domousmi, Coimbatore, Long, Arka Harit, Long Green, etc.

1. Hirkani: It is developed by selection from local germplasm and released in 1991 for western Maharashtra Fruits are dark green, 15-20 cm with prickles. Duration is 160 days. The average yield is 138 quintals per hectare.

2. Phule Green Gold: It is developed by selection from cross Green Long x Delhi Local and released in 1996. Fruits are dark green, 25-30 cm long, and prickled. The crop duration is 150-180 days. The average yield is 230 quintals per hectare. It is tolerant- to downy mildew.

3. Phule Priyanka: It is an F1 hybrid released by MPKV, Rahuri, suitable for both the Kharif and summer seasons. Fruits are dark green, fruit surface is highly prickled. The fruit length is about 20 cm. The average yield is 200 quintals per hectare. It is tolerant to downy mildew.

4. Konkan Tara: It gives a fruit yield of about 15-20 tonnes per hectare. Fruit possess dark green prickles, medium-long and spindle-shaped having good keeping quality and suitable for the export purpose.

5. Phule Ujwala: Foliage is dark green and the stem is green in color. The average fruit weight is 84 g. The fruit length is 18 cm and the diameter is. 4.5 cm. Duration is 180 days. The average fruit yield is 174 quintals per hectare.

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Agro Climatic Requirement

It is a warm-season crop. Hot and moist weather is favorable for its growth and development. Bitter gourd grows well under the same conditions preferred by other cucurbits. It is normally grown as an annual crop but can perform as a perennial in areas with mild, frost-free winters.

The plant thrives in the tropics from lowland areas to altitudes of up to 1,000 m. Bitter gourd requires a minimum temperature of 18° C during early growth, but optimal temperatures are in the range of 24–27° C. It is more tolerant to low temperatures compared to other gourds, but cool temperatures will retard growth and frost will kill the plant.

Suitable Soil for Karela Farming

Bitter gourd or karela tolerates a wide range of soils but prefers well-drained sandy loam soil that is rich in organic matter. The optimum soil pH is 6.0–6.7, but plants tolerate alkaline soils up to pH 8.0.  Thorough land preparation and a well-prepared bed are required. Plow, harrow, and rototill the field. Form 20- cm-high beds during the dry season and 30 cm or higher during the wet season using a plow or mechanical bed shaper.

Read: How To Take Soil Samples For Analysis?

Bitter Gourd Farming Basic Steps

1. Sowing of Seeds

Optimum plant density differs with variety and usually ranges from 6,500 to 11,000 plants per ha. In some intensively managed plantings, a closer spacing of 50 x 50 cm is used resulting in 40,000 plants per ha. On raised beds, sow two or three seeds per hole at a depth of 2 cm. Space holes 40–60 cm apart in rows spaced 1.2–1.5 m apart. Plant density using this spacing will range from 13,600 to 17,300 plants per hectare. When planted in warm soil, seedlings will emerge in a week or less.

2. Irrigation

The bitter gourd will not tolerate drought. Maintain good soil moisture in the upper 50 cm of soil where the majority of roots are located. Irrigate the basins before dibbling the seeds and thereafter once a week. During the rainy season, drainage is essential for plant survival and growth. In a water-limited environment, trickle or drip irrigation is an efficient method of supplying water and nutrients to bitter gourd plantings.

3. Manuring

Bitter gourd requires a balance of nutrients from organic and chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer application rates depend on soil type, fertility level, and soil organic matter. Apply 10 kg of FYM per pit (20 t/ha) 100 g of NPK 6:12:12/pit as basal and 10 g of N/pit 30 days after sowing. Apply Azospirillum and Phosphobacteria at 2 kg/ha and Pseudomonas @ 2.5 kg/ha along with FYM at 50 kg and neem cake @ 100 kg before the last plowing.

4. Pollination

Flowers of bitter gourd are first developed 45 to 55 days after sowing and vines will bloom for about six months. Flowers are cross-pollinated by insects, especially bees. Pollination can be a problem during the wet season since bees are less active during overcast conditions.

5. Weed Control

Mulching is commonly used for bitter gourd crops grown on raised beds. Use organic or plastic mulch depending on availability. Organic mulch such as dry rice straw or grass is usually available and cheaper than plastic mulch.

Plant Protection System For Bitter Gourd Cultivation

Bitter gourd is susceptible to many of the same diseases that affect other cucurbits.  It is a host of watermelon mosaic potyvirus and is infected by downy mildew, Cercospora leaf spot, bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, and root-knot nematode. Fungal infections often occur during prolonged wet periods. Fungicide sprays may be used under such conditions to prevent infection. The use of resistant varieties is the best defense for most of these diseases.

The fruit fly is the most destructive insect pest of bitter gourd.  Beetles, thrips, cutworms, bollworms, aphids, and mites are other common pests of bitter gourd.

Harvesting & Storage For Bitter Gourd Farming

Harvesting is done when the fruits are still young and tender every alternate day. The fruits develop rapidly and must be harvested frequently to keep them from becoming too large or too bitter. Normally it takes 15–20 days after the fruit is set or 90 days from planting for the fruit to reach a marketable age.

However, bitter gourd can be harvested at earlier stages depending on the purpose for which it will be used. Picking should be done carefully so that the vine may not be damaged.

Fruits of bitter gourd do not keep long and should be sold in the market immediately. Remove damaged and deformed fruits. Carefully arrange fruits in bamboo baskets or boxes and store them in a cool place at 12–13oC with 85–90% relative humidity. Under this condition, fruit storage life can be extended for 2–3 weeks.

Things To Consider In Bitter Gourd Cultivation

  • You must choose the right variety. High-yield varieties are always recommended.
  • Arrange a proper irrigation system. Drip irrigation is preferred.
  • Proper soil preparation and manuring are important
  • Pest and disease management is very important in bitter gourd cultivation.
  • Start with a small piece of land. After getting adequate knowledge and experience, go for a large piece of land
  • Fix proper marketing channels.
  • You must have financial planning. Cost calculation and ROI are important in any farming business.

Domestic & Export Market

There is an export potential for mature fruits with a fresh appearance and dehydrated fruits (dry split or sliced fruits). Value addition of bitter gourd can be done by dehydration. Thin slices can be dehydrated and this technology is adopted on a small scale for domestic purposes. A better quality product can be prepared if driers are used for dehydration. In addition, slices of this fruit can be preserved in the brine solution. From bitter gourd cultivation, large farms and even small farm owners can get good profits.