How to Plant, Harvest, and Cook Ampalaya (Bitter Gourd)

Updated on June 27, 2018
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Roselyn and her husband purchased a farm lot. They didn't plan what to plant, but they dreamed of putting up a food forest and fruit trees.

Ampalaya, or bitter gourd, can be cooked into delicious dishes or made into a tea. It has numerous vitamins and health benefits.
Ampalaya, or bitter gourd, can be cooked into delicious dishes or made into a tea. It has numerous vitamins and health benefits. | Source

Also known as bitter gourd, ampalaya is a plant that produces long, green melons with many beneficial properties. I plant ampalaya in our garden because its folate and vitamin C promote cardiovascular health. It also boosts vitamin A intake, which promotes red blood cell growth and healthy vision. My favorite herbal property of ampalaya, however, is that it contains vitamin K, which speeds the healing process of wounds.

In this article, I'll show you how to plant, care for, and harvest ampalayas. I've also provided some recipes at the end for delicious meals to make with the gourd, including directions on how to brew bitter tea by using the plant's tops.

How Do You Plant the Seeds?

Planting ampalaya seeds is pretty much like any other vegetable. First, you'll need to prepare the soil for sowing. For large-scale planting, plow the soil thoroughly three times before putting the seeds in the ground.

In my case, I had 12 seeds that were waiting to be planted. I let them grow in a large black bag until it was time to transfer them.

Once the soil is ready, go ahead and sow the seeds. If you like, you can do this directly into the wet soil. Alternatively, you can soak the seeds in water overnight before sowing them.

In addition to being used for growing the full plant, ampalaya seeds can also be used as an alternative to coffee.
In addition to being used for growing the full plant, ampalaya seeds can also be used as an alternative to coffee.

Give Them Room to Climb

After two weeks, or if the young plants are at least three inches tall, transfer them into a place where they can climb. I made a crude framework out of plastic straw, tying a string around the plant base and pulling the string upward. I then secured the twine to a post and let the plant climb as it pleased.

It's important to water your ampalayas every day. During the summer, I watered mine every day, once in the early morning and again in the late afternoon.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
I put together this makeshift trellis out of plastic straw to provide support for the ampalayas. That way, they had something to latch onto as they climbed.Here's a look at one of my ampalaya plants a little further along in the process, growing mightily up the makeshift trellis I made.
I put together this makeshift trellis out of plastic straw to provide support for the ampalayas. That way, they had something to latch onto as they climbed.
I put together this makeshift trellis out of plastic straw to provide support for the ampalayas. That way, they had something to latch onto as they climbed. | Source
Here's a look at one of my ampalaya plants a little further along in the process, growing mightily up the makeshift trellis I made.
Here's a look at one of my ampalaya plants a little further along in the process, growing mightily up the makeshift trellis I made. | Source

Transfer Your Plant in the Late Afternoon

Always transfer plants during the late afternoon. They will have time to recover during the night. You may also transfer during rainy days, because there is very little sunlight, and the soil is already wet.

How to Feed Your Growing Plant

Once your plant has spent a week recovering from the transfer, it's time to apply organic fertilizer. I used dried chicken manure.

Cultivate the soil around the plant beforehand, then mix three scoops of manure (or your desired fertilizer) into the soil. Sprinkle the area with water so that the manure will get wet. Repeat this entire process by adding more manure every two weeks.

As you periodically water your plants, be sure to inspect your ampalayas for signs of potential diseases or insect infestations. It's always best to catch them early.

Note: I tried using plastic bags to wrap the fruits, but found that this caused them to sweat too much. But I saw significant improvements when I switched to wrapping the struggling fruits in paper bags and stapling them shut, which allowed the ampalayas to grow in peace.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This picture shows one of my ampalaya fruits that I had to cover with a paper bag. I secured the bag with a stapler.Here's a fruit that's shrunken due to not getting enough sunlight and nutrients. Here's that same fruit after I wrapped it in a paper bag to protect it from insects, hoping that it might recover and reach full maturity.
This picture shows one of my ampalaya fruits that I had to cover with a paper bag. I secured the bag with a stapler.
This picture shows one of my ampalaya fruits that I had to cover with a paper bag. I secured the bag with a stapler. | Source
Here's a fruit that's shrunken due to not getting enough sunlight and nutrients.
Here's a fruit that's shrunken due to not getting enough sunlight and nutrients. | Source
Here's that same fruit after I wrapped it in a paper bag to protect it from insects, hoping that it might recover and reach full maturity.
Here's that same fruit after I wrapped it in a paper bag to protect it from insects, hoping that it might recover and reach full maturity. | Source

Inspect the Fruits Frequently

I checked on my young fruits regularly. When I noticed a hole on the body of a fruit, I covered it with a paper bag, securing it with a stapler.

I wanted to stay organic and not use pesticides. So instead of using dangerous chemicals, I diligently checked in on my fruits and bagged them whenever necessary.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This young fruit has been chewed up by insects.Here's an even bigger fruit that has been feasted on by a fruit borer.
This young fruit has been chewed up by insects.
This young fruit has been chewed up by insects. | Source
Here's an even bigger fruit that has been feasted on by a fruit borer.
Here's an even bigger fruit that has been feasted on by a fruit borer. | Source

How Do You Tell the Difference Between a Healthy Fruit and an Infected Fruit?

An infected ampalaya fruit has dull skin, while the healthy fruit has glossy, robust skin. When you use a knife to cut through the skin of a healthy ampalaya, it should sound crunchy.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This picture shows a fruit that isn't ripening in a healthy way.Here's the rotten lower part of that same fruit.Upon opening it up, I found that this fruit tore easily, had a funny smell, and was full of small worms.
This picture shows a fruit that isn't ripening in a healthy way.
This picture shows a fruit that isn't ripening in a healthy way. | Source
Here's the rotten lower part of that same fruit.
Here's the rotten lower part of that same fruit. | Source
Upon opening it up, I found that this fruit tore easily, had a funny smell, and was full of small worms.
Upon opening it up, I found that this fruit tore easily, had a funny smell, and was full of small worms. | Source

Give Your Fruits a Chance to Bounce Back

You don't have to harvest and throw away infected fruits until they're done growing. They might only sustain minimal damage while growing to full maturity and wind up being salvageable.

How to Harvest Ampalaya

Using a pair of scissors, pick the ampalaya fruit while still green and a little unripe. The insides of the fruit should be cottony white and can be scraped by a spoon. The seeds should have a greenish filling.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This ampalaya fruit is looking healthy and almost ready to be harvested.This close-up shows a healthy, fully grown ampalaya fruit shortly after harvest. The skin bumps are nice and shiny.
This ampalaya fruit is looking healthy and almost ready to be harvested.
This ampalaya fruit is looking healthy and almost ready to be harvested.
This close-up shows a healthy, fully grown ampalaya fruit shortly after harvest. The skin bumps are nice and shiny.
This close-up shows a healthy, fully grown ampalaya fruit shortly after harvest. The skin bumps are nice and shiny. | Source

How to Cook Ampalaya: Preparing the Fruit

Now that you've grown and harvested your own ampalayas, it's time to take them to the kitchen and start making some delicious dishes.

In order to start cooking with the fruits, however, you need to know how to prepare them. Below you'll find a quick visual tutorial on how to cut and clean the melons.

First, cut off the ends off of both sides.
First, cut off the ends off of both sides. | Source
Then cut it down the middle, width-wise.
Then cut it down the middle, width-wise. | Source
Cut the halves into quarters, length-wise this time, and scrape the pith (the guts in the middle) out with a spoon.
Cut the halves into quarters, length-wise this time, and scrape the pith (the guts in the middle) out with a spoon. | Source
Flip the quarters down so that the skin is facing up and slice thinly.
Flip the quarters down so that the skin is facing up and slice thinly. | Source
Now you have sliced ampalaya!
Now you have sliced ampalaya! | Source

Easy Recipe: Guisado Ampalaya

Now that you know how to cut the ampalaya, you're ready to make one of my favorite dishes: Guisado Ampalaya.

Ingredients:

  • sliced ampalaya
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small onions, sliced
  • 4 small tomatoes, quartered
  • 200 grams of ground pork
  • 2 tbsp of oil
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 egg (optional)

Directions:

  1. Brown the ground pork in oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, and tomato and blend thoroughly.
  3. Cover the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add in the sliced ampalaya and egg (if desired). Mix well.
  5. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Start by browning the ground pork in oil.
Start by browning the ground pork in oil. | Source
Cut up the garlic, onion, and tomato.
Cut up the garlic, onion, and tomato. | Source
Add the garlic, onion, and tomato to the pan. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes.
Add the garlic, onion, and tomato to the pan. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes.
Add the sliced ampalaya (and optional egg if desired), and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Pair the dish with white rice for a delicious lunch!
Add the sliced ampalaya (and optional egg if desired), and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Pair the dish with white rice for a delicious lunch! | Source

Easy Recipe: Ampalaya Tops Salad

Instead of just going with the usual lettuce or spinach base, you can also make a great salad with the tops of the ampalaya plant.

Ingredients:

  • 15 tops or young leaves of ampalaya plant
  • 1 salted egg

Directions:

Wash the tops thoroughly. Place them in a bowl and serve with a salted, halved egg. It can be somewhat bitter, but the saltiness of the egg helps to overshadow the bitter taste.

Ampalaya tops are tender and make a great base for salads.
Ampalaya tops are tender and make a great base for salads. | Source
Adding in a salted, halved egg helps offset the somewhat bitter taste of the leaves.
Adding in a salted, halved egg helps offset the somewhat bitter taste of the leaves. | Source

Ampalaya Tea

In addition to its uses for cooking, ampalayas can also be used to make a vitamin-rich tea. I drink the tea from the bitter gourds to strengthen my bones and keep my vision healthy.

Ingredients:

  • 5 tops of ampalaya plant
  • honey (optional)

Directions:

Wash the tops thoroughly. Put the tops in a cup, and pour hot water over them. Steep for 10 minutes. Add honey if desired.

Make sure to wash the tops thoroughly before steeping them in the hot water.
Make sure to wash the tops thoroughly before steeping them in the hot water.
Adding a bit of honey can help combat the bitterness of the leaves.
Adding a bit of honey can help combat the bitterness of the leaves.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Roselyn Mendoza

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      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        8 days ago from Germany

        I love ampalaya. Very delicious. I have not tried planting this vegetable but I will try in my tropical garden. Thanks for sharing.

      • chateaudumer profile image

        David B Katague 

        3 months ago from Northern California and the Philippines

        I enjoy reading this article. The guisado ampalaya is one of my favorite Pinoy dish.

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