Growing ampalaya

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Sunday, February 20, 2011


IT IS known as bitter gourd or bitter melon because of its bitter taste. Scientifically, it is known as Momordica charantia. But Filipinos called it simply as ampalaya (among Tagalog speaking people) or paliya (as most Cebuanos and those from Mindanao call it).

In terms of nutritional contents, the fruits and leaves of the ampalaya are reportedly rich in minerals and vitamins, notably iron, calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin B. Filipinos prepared ampalaya into various dishes: it can be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. A very popular dish from the Ilocos region is the pinakbet, which consists mainly of ampalaya, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.

For those who want to grow ampalaya in their farm or backyard, here is a guide from the Department of Agriculture:

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Climatic adaptation. Ampalaya thrives well in all types of climates but high yield can be obtained during the cooler months because of more flower setting and bigger fruits. It grows in low elevation area anytime of the year. The crops grow well in any types of soil with a pH of 5.5-6.5. Higher yield, however, is attained on sandy loam soil. Soil analysis is a must for commercial planting.

Land preparation. The field should be well prepared, plowed and harrowed twice to remove weeds and other plant debris in the field. Furrows are then made 3 meter apart. Organic fertilizer is applied at the rate of 5 tons per hectare during land preparation or a week before planting.

Plastic mulching. An improved technology in the Philippines for ampalaya production is the use of plastic mulch to cover the beds. To use the plastic mulch, stretch it over the planting beds, with edges held down by thin bamboo slats, staple well into the soil every 20 centimeters. Punch holes at 50 centimeters between plants in the row and 3 meters between rows.

Planting. Ampalaya can be direct seeded or transplanted. When planted directly, a hectare of production area requires 2.5 to 3.0 kilograms of seeds. The seeds are soaked in water overnight or wrap in cheesecloth to facilitate water absorption. Seeds are planted the following day or as the radicle break.

Transplanting can also be done especially when the seeds are scarce and during off-season planting. Seeds are planted in small plastic bags (1 seed/bag with soil mixture of 1:1 garden soil and sand/compost/carbonized rice hull) and transplanted to the field when the vine starts to grow. Pre- germinated seeds result in good seedling and an even crop establishment.

Planting distance. The usual rate and distance of planting three meters between furrows and 0.5 meters between hills with 3 seeds line at 4 inches apart. Other recommended spacing: 30 meters by 30 meters with 1 plant per hill and 2.0 meters by 0.5 meter with 2 plants per hill.

Trellising. Ampalaya grows best with overhead (balag type) trellis about 6 feet high. A lining of bamboo poles with abaca twine as lateral supports is done three weeks after germination. Lateral support of bamboo poles are spaced three meters between furrows and two meters between hills and the side support is place after the bamboo poles are constructed. The horizontal support of abaca twine is place before the vine reaches the top with a 6-inch mesh.

Abaca twine is use as a lateral and horizontal support because it does not absorb too much heat however it is not reusable for the next cropping season.

For plantation, the use of big wooden posts (kakawate or ipil-ipil) is recommended. These are buried into the soil about 1.5 to 2 feet at the four corners of the field and the posts are interconnected with G.I. wire stronger enough as main frame. The side support is used to prevent breaking down of the trellis.

Vine training and pruning. The vines are trained on the vertical trellis regularly by tying the vines to the trellis. Lateral shoot/vine may be pruned every 4-5 days, leaving only the main stem. Initial pruning should be done one month after planting or when lateral vines appeared. All lateral vines are removed from ground level up to the top of the trellis and all ineffective lateral vines above the trellis at 15 to 20 days interval.

All female flowers below the overhead trellis are removed. Branching and fruiting are allowed on the overhead trellis. Fruits may also be allowed to form just above the 10th node.

Water and weeding management. Furrow irrigation is done twice a week during vegetative stage and once a week during the reproductive stage or before each application of fertilizer. Weeding is done when need arises.

Fertilization. The use of organic fertilizer such as manure or compost about 5 to 10 tons per hectare with inorganic fertilizer is recommended. Basal fertilizer is applied at about 25 grams/hill of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) or 5 bags per hectare. During dry season, 10-20 grams per hill of (urea 46-0-0) and muriate of potash (0-0-60) are sidedressed once a month. During wet season, 5-10 grams per of urea and muriate of potash are sidedressed every week.

Pest Management. The advent of pests and diseases of ampalaya 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 and bacterial blight 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.

Harvesting. The fruits are harvested when they are still green. Harvesting starts 45 to 50 days after seedling. It can be done twice a week. The fruits may be harvested early in the morning to protect harvested fruits against rain, sun, and mechanical damage. The fruits are sorted according to marketable standards; damage fruits should be removed. The fruits are packed in plastic or bamboo crates line with newspaper or bamboo leaves. Fruits can be stored for 2-3 days under this condition.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 21, 2011.

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