I planted bitter gourd (karela) and bottle gourds this year in my vegetable garden. The vines are creeping in all directions and bearing lovely flowers.
|Bitter gourd and Bottle gourd|
|Bottle gourd creeping everywhere|
I am getting a very nice produce from the bitter gourd plant starting with small pretty yellow flowers and converting into pretty spiky karelas. One of my colleague at work even described it as "kind a like dinosaur" due to its spike.
|Spiky Karela - Bitter gourd|
The reason for this disaster was inadequate pollination. The bottle gourd plants produce both male and female flowers and are not self pollinating. They need help from pollinators to carry pollen from male flowers to the female flowers.
So may be my garden does not have enough bees to get them started. So now what?
Solution : Hand Pollination.
What is hand pollination?
According to a wiki article on hand pollination
"Hand pollination (also called "mechanical pollination") is a technique used when natural, or open pollination is insufficient or undesirable. The most common techniques are for crops such as cucurbits, which may exhibit poor pollination by fruit abortion, fruit deformity or poor maturation." Hand pollination is only an option on a small scale. "
How to differentiate between a male and female flower?
So how do you differentiate between a male and female flower in the bottle gourd plant. A male flower will have a longer, skinny stem as seen in this picture.
|Male bottle gourd flower|
But a female flowers will have a tiny "fruit" at the base as you can see in this picture below. These will rot and drop off if not pollinated.
|Female bottle gourd flower|
How to hand pollinate these flowers?
There are several ways found on the web that many gardeners have used to hand pollinate the flowers.
- Dab an artists brush on the pollen on the male flowers and then brush it against the stigmas on the female flowers. Dark colored bristles help here to see the pollen gathered from the male flower.
- Do the same technique with a cotton swab.
- Pluck the male flower, remove all the petals and just brush it on the stigma of the female flowers.
- There is a very nice tutorial on hand pollination which can be used if you want to avoid cross pollination and preserve the seeds.
I first tried it out on a single flower.. and yes I was amazed on its wonder. Then I did hand pollinate several flowers.
Hand pollination still does not guarantee 100% success.But you will definitely see the fruits of your labor. I