Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hand Pollination did wonders in my vegetable garden for bottle gourd plant.

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
 But all the baby fruits on the bottlegourd plant appeared to be rotting or dying on the vine or falling off the plant before developing into a fully grown fruit. I did a lot of search on Google and found out why the baby fruits were dropping off.
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.

  1. 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.
  2. Do the same technique with a cotton swab.
  3. Pluck the male flower, remove all the petals and just brush it on the stigma of the female flowers.
  4. 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 

The first bottle gourd from my garden.  More than a feet long... :)

Happy Gardening and hand pollinating!

Please do comment if you tried hand pollination and had success!


  1. oh my gosh.. Hand Pollination.. wow!! Your vegetable garden looks lovely!! :-)

  2. @Patricia: Thanks for visiting my blog. I am glad you liked my vegetable garden.

  3. lthnx it waas use ful 4 my assignment

  4. I have a bottle gourd plant but for some reason, there are not enough female flowers, do you know what could be the reason. I already got one bottle gourd fruit, already cooked it, but after that no luck. I live in south australia and weather here at the moment is ending summer temperature around 20 - 30C

    1. Thanks a ton....hav been bugged by the same problem...will def give this a try...will get back soon...Vijendra

    2. Bottle Gourds fruit more during Rainy seasons , The more it Gets Rain Water more Fruits you get .

  5. I have a in-house garden (very small) and this week I saw my bitter guard creeper flowering. Should I do hand pollination? I don't see male/ female flowers... should I leave them as is?

  6. You please wait for some more days. If there is no fruit set or fruit drop do the hand pollination in the early hours of the day

  7. Dear Ms.Poonam,
    I dont get much yield from my terrace guarden.
    Your write up gave me some ideas.
    Let me try this
    Thanks a lot in advance
    with regards

    1. I am glad that helped! Please let me know if hand pollination worked for you!

  8. Helpful information.. I am having problems with getting my karela plant to bear fruits, though it is full of flowers. Will try out hand pollination.

  9. Dear Ms. Poonam

    Thanks for the useful and informative article. I have this in my column . please do visit for more articles on farming and farming related topics.
    regards & thanks

  10. Thanks for helpful information. I have start to pollinat by hand. Waiting for results but it seems that it is working

  11. Thanks for the info. I too had this same problem. So I did not plant any this year. My pomegranate seems to have this problem of falling flowers. As also my Fig tree....The first year when I bought them...they fruit had set and I managed to get one fruit from each...Thereafter...there has been nothing...absolutely nothing. My plants are in drum containers. Even planting them in amrit mitti and adding kitchen waste, mulching has not helped. However, I am keeping the hope that some miracle will happen. I have a lot of bees/big black bumble bees visiting my garden as also the other tiny wasps which pollinate my lemon and drumstick and I have received a bumper harvest of drumsticks...and it looks like it will be the same for lemon too!...even the smallest branch has flowers and the tiny lemons are peeping after the flowers have fallen...lets wait and many I'll get!

  12. Thanks , Poonam. I did hand pollination a few days ago and they have turned into gourds.


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