Winter melon, also known as wax gourd and ash gourd, is getting a lot of attention right now because it aids in digestion and provides a ton of nutrition. The Chinese winter melon is an essential part of many East Asian cuisines.
It’s becoming more common in the U.S. among people following Keto diets, where the fruit is a low-carb option. Winter melon plants are grown all over Asia, and the large fruit is common in specialty supermarkets, and it’s easy to grow in most parts of the U.S.
We are going to discuss the steps gardeners need to take to grow nutritious and delicious ash gourds. While Asian winter melon will quickly grow in many soil types, a little preparation will ensure a healthy crop free of diseases and pests.
We’ll also tell you how and when to harvest your winter melon squash, how to use and store it, and even what you can do with the leaves and flowers.
What is a Winter Melon?
People call the ash gourd a vegetable because it’s similar to cucumber, which is also a fruit but treated in the kitchen as a vegetable. Every part of the winter melon plant is edible and primarily used in cooked meals and medicinal preparations.
People confuse the winter melon with the Chinese hairy gourd because they are very similar in cultivation, harvesting, taste, and texture, but winter melon gourds are much larger.
What Does a Winter Melon Look Like?
Winter melon gourds grow very large- sometimes they can weigh 30 lbs or more. The trailing vines are hairy and can grow to a length of six feet. Leaves have five or seven lobes around a heart-shaped center, similar to many trailing gourd vegetables. Blossoms are large and bright yellow, and you can harvest them from July to September.
Winter melons are typically oblong and are light green when immature. Maturing fruit develops an ashy appearance, which gives the plant both the WInter Melon and Ash Gourd names. A winter melon gourd can reach 40 lbs when fully mature.
Nutritional Information about Winter Melon Squash
One of the reasons that the Chinese winter melon is in the news these days is its enormous nutritional benefit.
Winter melon is high in potassium and numerous other beneficial minerals. The gourd is approximately 96% water and is perfect for weight loss diets. Chinese winter gourd is high in amino acids, Vitamins B1 & B6, and Vitamin C.
The vitamins and minerals in winter melon squash help your body with healthy cell function. Many people’s diets lack proper minerals like iron and potassium, and winter melon is high in these essential nutrients. People on diets sensitive to carbohydrates will find winter melon to be a delicious way to get important nutrition without adding large carb loads.
Traditional Uses of Winter Gourds
Traditional Chinese medicine and numerous other cultures in South East Asia use the winter melon. The Chinese often use the fruit to treat kidney problems, swelling, hypertension, and weight loss. The leaves are sometimes crushed and used to treat bruising and swelling. Many cultures use winter melon to treat a wide variety of digestive ailments.
Winter melon provides tons of antioxidants, and many traditional medicine providers know it to provide cleansing and detoxifying. The nutrients and vitamins the winter melon contain may help in cognitive function and eyesight and boost immunity to viral and bacterial infections. Some people may even experience boosted energy levels and improvements in circulation when they eat winter melons regularly.
How to Grow Winter Melon
Winter melons are enormous and take a long time to mature, so it’s important to plan. The winter gourd plants need 110 days of frost-free weather and grow ideally well in climates with an average daytime temperature below 90 degrees. Winter melons prefer full sun and require a fair amount of water.
When to Start Winter Melon Seeds
Winter melon seeds can be direct sown in a prepared garden two weeks after the last frost. Gardeners can get a jump on the season by starting seeds indoors six weeks before planting. Winter melon seedlings are ready when four to six leaves have appeared, and the ground is above 60 degrees F. You will have the most success using biodegradable seed starting pots as it’s easy to damage the delicate roots of young seedlings.
How to Plant Winter Melon
Sow four to six seeds 1-inch deep in mounds or depressions 24 inches in diameter. Use a 6-12 inch mound if you plan to irrigate or if you live in a climate with summer rainfall. A depression helps provide plenty of water in dry climates. Make a depression about two inches deep and create a rim around the depression.
Thin the seedlings when they have developed 2 or 3 true leaves so that you have 2 or 3 of the strongest plants growing. Clip the thinned seedlings off at the ground with shears. If you are transplanting, you can place one to three plants in each mound.
Soil and Water for Winter Melons
Chinese ash gourds will grow in various soils but will do best when planted in loose, well-draining soil that has been turned with compost. An ideal soil pH for winter melons is 6.0-6.8. Aged manure added to the soil during the autumn previous to planting will produce strong winter melon plants. Use an organic fertilizer tea every two to three weeks during the growing season.
Ash gourd vegetables require frequent and consistent watering. Inconsistent watering will lead to reduced yield and growth of plants. Watering should be done on a set schedule so that the soil stays moist but not wet. Avoid spraying water on leaves to prevent mildew and bacterial growth.
When to Harvest White Gourds
Winter melon gourds take a long time to grow. You should be ready to harvest after about 110 days of growth. Winter melons are ready to harvest when the mature fruit has an ashy appearance, and the stem has withered and turned brown. The ripe melon will smell sweet on the stem end and will be large and heavy.
You may want to harvest immature winter melons, too. The flavor is somewhat sweeter from younger melons. As your winter melon plant grows, pluck off some of the yellow flowers so that each vine has no more than four ash gourd vegetables growing on it. The winter melon flowers can be cooked and eaten.
Pests and Diseases Common to Winter Gourds
Winter gourd melons are susceptible to many types of pests and diseases, many of which are easy for the home gardener to prevent and avoid. Once your winter melon plants begin showing signs of illness or disease, you’ll need to act quickly to save the plant and prevent problems from spreading to other plants in your garden.
The most common pests that impact winter melon cultivation are aphids, spider mites, and caterpillars. Of particular importance, winter melon plants attract cucumber beetles. Cucumber beetles will eat little holes in the leaves, but the biggest problem is their role in transmitting wilt to other plants. Wilt is a bacterial disease carried by cucumber beetles that can quickly kill large areas of your garden.
The best way to treat your garden for pests like aphids and cucumber beetles is to use diatomaceous earth sprinkled lightly over the crops between waterings. You must remove infected plants carefully, and you should make an effort to prevent spreading pests to other plants. You can also use a 70% neem oil and water mixture sprayed on plants to kill spider mites, aphids, and hundreds of other pests attracted to winter melon plants.
The most common cause of diseases that impact winter melon plants is improper watering. Plants like the winter melon are highly susceptible to mildew caused by leaves getting wet when conditions don’t allow them to dry quickly. You should always avoid wetting the leaves of trailing vine plants like the winter melon.
Overwatering increases the likelihood of creating perfect conditions for root rot. Plants suffering from root rot will look sickly, yellow, and will have bloated vines and leaves. Once root rot has become a problem, you will need to remove the plant from your garden, taking care to avoid spreading soil to other plants. Do not compost plants that show signs of root rot because the fungus will spread through your compost and continue to infect crops for several years.
How to Use Winter Melon
Most winter melon is cultivated for the large fruit used in many soups, stews, curries, and other Asian dishes. The rind of the winter melon is thin and is easy to peel. Cut winter melon into chunks before using it in dishes. Because winter melon doesn’t have much of a flavor on its own, many dishes use it to enhance seasonings that the fruit’s meat picks up while cooking.
Winter melon blossoms can be plucked when fully developed and excellent when stuffed with rice or chorizo and fried. The flowers have a flavor similar to spinach and add important nutrition to your diet. Flowers can also be sauteed to add color and texture to many dishes.
Tender young shoots and tendrils can be snipped and used cooked or raw in salads. Many recipes that use mature vines call for the cook to remove the hairs with a vegetable peeler. Vines and tendrils can be sauteed for a unique addition to many stir fry recipes.
A popular snack in many parts of Asia is dried and candied winter melon. The fruit’s natural sweetness is enhanced by the drying and candying process, making for a delicious snack that still packs a nutritious punch. You can use a food dehydrator at home to dry winter melon to make candied melon slices.
How to Preserve Winter Melon
When you harvest winter melon, avoid the temptation to wash the fruit. Unwashed, a winter melon will remain edible for up to five months when kept in a cool, dark place.
Sliced winter melon must be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator, where it will last five to seven days. Flowers and young tendrils should be used immediately after harvest.
- Winter melon is also called wax gourd or ash gourd, and it’s often confused with the Chinese Hairy Melon.
- Ash gourd is an essential nutritional food that is high in vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients. It’s become popular as a dietary aid to help people lose weight.
- Practitioners of traditional medicine use winter melon for a broad range of reasons.
- Gardeners can grow winter melon in any area with 110 or more frost-free days during the growing season.
- Winter melon prefers well-draining soil and the addition of manure and compost for healthy growth.
- Even and consistent watering is vital to a healthy winter melon crop.
- Common pests include aphids and cucumber beetles, which must be treated to prevent spreading.
- Winter melon is typically harvested when the fruit is ripe and is most often used in soups, stews, and stir fry recipes. Flowers and tendrils are also edible.
- Winter melon should be stored whole and unwashed to preserve freshness.
Growing winter melons in your garden are easy. The most important thing to remember is that the winter melon plant is a large, sprawling plant that needs plenty of room.
Gardeners who prevent the plants from having more than four melons per vine will have the best success rate and will grow delicious winter melon fruits.