A fast-growing member of the gourd family, bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is related to cucumber, watermelon and squash. Bitter melon is a trailing or climbing vine that is grown primarily for its immature fruits, which are used in many Asian dishes. In addition to its use as a culinary ingredient, bitter melon may offer health benefits. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, "Bitter melon has traditionally been used as a remedy for lowering blood glucose in patients with diabetes mellitus. Preliminary clinical studies have indicated that bitter melon may decrease serum glucose levels." It is not difficult to grow bitter melons.
Build a trellis or teepee to support bitter melon and keep the fruit from contacting the ground. Lay three 8 foot by 1 inch poles on the ground. Tie the poles together with twine or baling wire approximately 6 inches from the top. Arrange each leg 36 to 48 inches apart in a triangular shape. Push the legs into the ground for stability.
Sow seeds directly into light, well-drained soil when the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. Cover seeds with ½ inch of soil. Thin the seedlings when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.
Encourage the vines to spiral and twist around the trellis. During the first few weeks of growth, lightly tie the vines to the structure with soft cloth strips.
Water bitter melon regularly. The vine is not drought tolerant and low moisture will limit fruit production. Water early in the morning to inhibit fungal growth and apply a 3-to-4 inch layer of straw mulch to retain moisture.
Harvest bitter melon fruits when they are 4 to 6 inches long and still firm and light green. Store them in the refrigerator and use within two weeks.