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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This picture shows one of my ampalaya fruits that I had to cover with a paper bag. I secured the bag with a stapler.
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 and secured 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.
This young fruit has been chewed up by insects.
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.
This picture shows a fruit that isn't ripening in a healthy way.
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.
This ampalaya fruit is looking healthy and almost ready to be harvested.
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.
Now that you know how to cut the ampalaya, you're ready to make one of my favorite dishes: Guisado Ampalaya.
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.
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.
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.
Wash the tops thoroughly. Put the tops in a cup, and pour hot water over them. Steep for 10 minutes. Add honey if desired.
© 2018 EC Mendoza
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on September 11, 2018:
I love ampalaya. Very delicious. I have not tried planting this vegetable but I will try in my tropical garden. Thanks for sharing.
David B Katague from Northern California and the Philippines on June 14, 2018:
I enjoy reading this article. The guisado ampalaya is one of my favorite Pinoy dish.