Wednesday, February 28Food Security Matters

Ampalaya Farming in the Philippines: How to Plant and Grow Bitter Gourd for Profit

Ampalaya farming is one of the most profitable agribusinesses that many Filipinos enjoy during the summer season.  With an average yield of 8 tones per hectare, an ampalaya farmer can make at least ₱ 280,000 in one hectare in one planting season alone.

Known in the Philippines as ampalaya, bitter gourd is an annual plant that is native to this country. Its scientific name is Momordica charantia L. In addition to providing vitamins and minerals, it can be grown at any time of the year for its edible shoots and fruits.

In lowland or upland rice-based areas, bitter gourd is profitable on small or large scales due to the presence of the hypoglycemic principle charantin.

Harvesting Ampalaya

Selection of Ampalaya Farming Site

The bitter gourd grows best in well-drained soil. However, it prefers sandy loam or clay loam with a pH between 6.0 and 6.7. Ampalaya farming is done all over the country but as of 2021, Ampalaya (bitter gourd) output rose 2.7% to 31,494.92 MT led by Central Luzon with 42.2% or 13,289.67 MT followed by Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon), 12.7% and Ilocos Region 11.4%.

Ampalaya Farming Season

Throughout the year, bitter gourd can be grown but it is during the periods from October to December and from May to July when production is at its most profitable. These are the times when most of the areas are planted for rice, with only the “tumana” – or fertile hilly upland – dedicated to this crop. Planting should occur once every two years in the same area, since bitter gourd uses a lot of nutrients and will deplete soil during its second growing season, requiring amendments.

Ampalaya Varities to Choose From

When preparing ginisa and sautéed recipes, Bulakeños and Pampangeños usually prefer the Sta Rita Strain or Jade Star due to their longer fruit lengths of 20-35 cm. For pinakbet, Ilocanos typically utilize the Native variety with a much shorter fruit length of 10-15 cm. This is because the bitterness is effectively neutralized with an equal parts mixture of tomato and fish sauce as it cooks, and also due to its tendency to shrink easily. However, Sta Rita Strain fruits have a much thicker flesh that makes them less prone to shrinking when cooked as pinakbet.

Land Preparation and Structure

Plow and harrow the field twice and then build a trellis that measures 2.5 x 2.5 meters with a height of 1.5-2 m. Lay a single layer of GI wire no. 14 at the trellis’s summit and two layers of GI wire # 18 3 ft lower on the rows. Cover the base with plastic string 20 cm apart and for vertical support, place either abaca or dried banana bracts string between the topmost and bottommost wires. This will provide footing for vines to climb on.

Seed Preparation and Planting

On the first day of planting, break the seed coat lightly and soak the seeds for 24 hours in the water, then wash them. Incubate for 24-48 hours until radicles appear, then plant them uniformly in the field.

When the second flush is planted on the second day, throw out all the seeds that do not germinate because they may be infected with barako or other viruses. Before planting, incorporate 50 grams of organic fertilizer per hill. Plant one germinated seed per hill at a depth of 2 cm and spaced 50 cm apart.

Management of Nutrients

In soils without soil analysis, the recommendation in the table must be followed. Organic fertilizer must be broadcast before plowing or at final harrowing. Bitter gourd tolerates soils rich in organic matter and inorganic nutrients well.

If the recommended frequency of application at 28 DAE results in yellowish leaves after two weeks, adjust the application to 2-3 times/month or every 14 days for three months.

Kind of Fertilizer Rate of Application
per 1000m2
Time of Application Method of Application
Organic Fertilizer 300 kg At furrowing Basal
14-14-14 8 kg At planting Basal
(1 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate mixed At 28 DAE Sidedress
+ 16-20-0 8 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate 8 kg mixed At 56 DAE Sidedress
+ 14-14-14 8 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate 8 kg mixed At 90 DAE Sidedress
+ 16-20-0 15 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Ammonium sulfate 8 kg mixed At 120DAE Sidedress
+ 14-14-14 8 kg
(2 tbsp/hill)
Foliar 1 L At 127 DAE and
even 7 days
Foliar spray
10 tbsp/16 L

Water Management and Irrigation

Ampalaya can withstand water logging for 48-72 hours. In the dry season, flood the field at 14 DAE and repeat irrigation every seven days from October to December and when planting occurs from May to July. For leaf or shoot production, irrigate twice a week for faster shoot development, and to minimize the bitter taste of shoots and fruits.

Management of Pests and Diseases

The presence of pests and diseases in bitter gourd depends on the season, weather conditions, and cropping patterns in the surrounding areas. During wet seasons, aphids, fruit flies, leaf-footed bugs, and leaf folders are destructive.

During the dry season, leafhoppers, thrips, white flies, and leafworms are also destructive. During wet and dry seasons, bitter gourd is susceptible to diseases such as damping-off, bacterial blight, and Barako. Despite responding to fertilizer application, some soil scientists consider Barako to be a nutritional deficiency. As a result of abnormal leaf, shoot, and tendril development, pathologists believe that Barako is caused by a mycoplasma-like organism.

In cases of insect pests and disease outbreaks, farmers can use the chemical control measures presented in Table 4 to reduce the population of insect pests.

Harvest Management

For the Sta Rita variety, harvest the first batch of immature fruits at a deep green stage. They are approximately 25-30 cm long. Repeat harvest every three to five days in the morning to maintain their freshness. For varieties with small fruits, harvest immature fruits when the rinds are already prominent. Do not harvest the shoots because it will reduce the fruit-bearing performance of the plant resulting in fewer fruits.

To prevent withered fruits, pack the harvested fruits immediately after harvesting in polyethylene bags of 10 kg capacity.

As soon as the vines reach 1 m long, harvest a 1-foot long shoot if the crop is intended for leaf/shoot production. When the lateral vines are 2 feet long, harvest succeeding shoots, leaving a 1-foot-long vine for new growth. Depending on the retailer’s preference, tie the shoots together with rubber bands. Pack the leaves in polyethylene plastic to prevent them from wilting.

Questions Related to Ampalaya Farming

Is ampalaya farming profitable?

Ampalaya farming is very profitable compared to other crops and in fact, ampalaya is the most profitable crop to grow compared to other common vegetables consumed daily like eggplants, pole sitaw, squash, and the like.

How long does it take to grow ampalaya?

45 days after transplant it will start to flower and after 60 to 70 days you can start your harvest. Fully developed fruits are thick green & Juicy. Harvest frequently with an interval of 2-4 days since ampalaya ripens easily.

What is the best month to plant ampalaya?

Ampalaya can be grown in any type of soil. However, for optimum profit, grow ampalaya in sandy loam or clay loam soils with good drainage, high organic matter, and pH ranging from 6.0 to 6.7. The crop can be planted any time of the year but is best from October to February.

What is the lifespan of the ampalaya plant?

Ampalaya dies after its fruits are all harvested so its life span is less than a year.

How much is ampalaya per kilo in the Philippines?

Ampalaya retail price in the market can range between P60 to P130 per kilo depending on demand and location.

How much is ampalaya Farm Gate in the Philippines?

12 per kilogram. The lowest was in September with a reported average farmgate price of P59.52 per kilogram. In 2021, the highest price was in April with an average price of P75.

What kind of fertilizer for ampalaya?

Organic fertilizers are the best for ampalaya plants because they are completely natural and contain no chemicals. These are safe for ampalaya plants because they are made of organic matter such as grass, vegetables, leaves, and animal manure.

What is the distance between two amplaya plants?

Plant one pre-germinated seed per hill along the furrows at a distance of 1.5-2.5 meters. It requires three (3) kg of ampalaya seeds to plant a hectare.

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