Bitter Melon

(Momordica charantia) A native of India, bitter melon can be stewed, curried, steamed, braised, pickled or cooked with scrambled eggs. Cooking tempers the bitterness, as does serving it with yogurt on the side. It's not for everyone, but many people who try bitter melon for the first time love the flavor. It is rich in iron, contains twice the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, and twice the potassium of banana. Bitter melon is also used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir fries, soups, dim sum, and herbal teas. Bitter melon thrives in heat and humidity but is very cold sensitive, so do not start seeds until after all chance of frost has passed. Direct seeding is best if your season is long and hot, however some northern gardeners will prefer to start indoors and transplant out. Be aware, however, that the plants dislike transplanting, so be gentle and grow them in a large enough pot to avoid becoming root bound. Soaking seeds overnight and nicking or splitting the tough outer seed coat may improve germination. Ideal germination temperature is 78-88F. Germinates in 7-21 days. Plant one inch deep, 24 inches apart. Grow these vining plants up a trellis or fence. Harvest fruit when green or allow to split open and eat the red "pulp," or arils, around the seeds. Be sure not to ingest the seeds as they are toxic.

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