Growing Chayote

Growing chayote is a great option if you live in a warm or tropical climate. Once established, a single plant can bear 50 to 100 fruits a season.

| November/December 1980

  • 066 growing chayote
    Growing chayote is fun and provides you with a savory, squash-like treat.
    PHOTO: J. CARROL O’NEILL

  • 066 growing chayote

Any home gardener who likes to experiment with new and unusual varieties of vegetables should try growing chayote vines. They’re easy to grow, have a high yield of savory and nutritious fruit, and really aren’t new at all, but were a favorite crop of the ancient Aztecs and are still grown by many present-day Mexicans.

I had assumed — when I was introduced to the squash-like treat while on vacation in Mexico — that the chayote was a tropical product to be enjoyed only south of the border. Therefore, I was delighted, upon my return home, to find the fruit in our California supermarket. (It’d probably been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed it.)

I found out, too, that these Mexican fruits, which the Aztecs called chayotli, are now widely grown in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. They are known as christophine or mirliton to Caribbeans, chocho to Madeirans, pipinella to Italians, and pipinola to Hawaiians. (The plant’s scientific name is Sechium edule, but most North Americans call them “vegetable pears.”)

Being a home gardener myself, I wanted to grow my own “patch” of chayote, and wondered if they’d survive in California’s central valley. A little research soon told me that my area’s climate would suit the import well. The vine requires a 150-day growing season (between hard frosts) and is planted occasionally in gardens across the southern United States. (A light winter frost kills back the greenery, but doesn’t destroy the roots, which — come spring — send up new plants. And in even more northerly areas, the vegetable pear can sometimes be grown as an annual, or be wintered over in a greenhouse.)



In the course of my studies, I also discovered that almond-sized chayote seeds can’t be dried and saved for planting: It germinates only inside the fruit — and will often do so while still on the vine — so the seed must be planted with its fleshy “shell” intact. The vegetable pear grower’s first step, then, is to locate a market (try an area with a large Spanish-speaking population) where chayote is sold in late fall. (It doesn’t matter if the fruit has been in cold storage and plastic-wrapped.) Buy several ... put them away in a dark, cool (not frosty) place ... and wait. The seed sprout will emerge and lengthen in the darkness. By February it should be approximately six inches long.

Then, if your area — like most parts of North America — isn’t yet frost-free, put the sprouted chayote in a pot with the tip of the new growth just peeping out of the soil. Set it in a sunny window, keep it watered, and plant it outdoors once the weather is warm enough. (Should you live in a zone, like ours, that usually stays above freezing in February, you can simply plant the germinated fruit wherever you want it to grow.)

spinny
10/2/2017 7:31:00 PM

V Barnett -- yes you can grow it in southern BC -- I live in Vancouver and grow it in my yard, as do many of my neighbours. My landlord has been growing one for many years using a horizontal trellis, and it comes up like magic in the late summer, bearing fruit in September. It's popping now! I'm looking at it and there are probably 2 dozen fruit ready or almost ready to pick, and I've been picking a dozen or so each week for the last few weeks. It grows incredibly fast. Also note that you can eat the shoots and smaller leaves, and use the bigger leaves to make tea or mulch. Apparently you can even eat the roots (like potatoes) but as we only have the one plant I wouldn't want to do that. I grew a second chayote plant this spring from a fruit I picked last year -- I did exactly what this article said: I put the chayote in my dark cool pantry over the winter on a piece of cardboard so it wouldn't moulder, and then presto, in Feb or Mar it had a little sprout and I planted it in a pot as described in the article in March; I let it enjoy the sunshine but brought it inside in the evening. I planted it in the garden in April or May and waited. As it's younger than our other chayote vine, and planted in a less sunny spot with a vertical trellis, it started bearing fruit about a month later than the older one, and so far we've only got a half dozen fruit. I plan to mulch it in December depending on the weather to help the root survive frost. You should go for it! They're wonderful plants and super prolific.


iamlachance
10/2/2017 7:30:20 PM

V Barnett -- yes you can grow it in southern BC -- I live in Vancouver and grow it in my yard, as do many of my neighbours. My landlord has been growing one for many years using a horizontal trellis, and it comes up like magic in the late summer, bearing fruit in September. It's popping now! I'm looking at it and there are probably 2 dozen fruit ready or almost ready to pick, and I've been picking a dozen or so each week for the last few weeks. It grows incredibly fast. Also note that you can eat the shoots and smaller leaves, and use the bigger leaves to make tea or mulch. Apparently you can even eat the roots (like potatoes) but as we only have the one plant I wouldn't want to do that. I grew a second chayote plant this spring from a fruit I picked last year -- I did exactly what this article said: I put the chayote in my dark cool pantry over the winter on a piece of cardboard so it wouldn't moulder, and then presto, in Feb or Mar it had a little sprout and I planted it in a pot as described in the article in March; I let it enjoy the sunshine but brought it inside in the evening. I planted it in the garden in April or May and waited. As it's younger than our other chayote vine, and planted in a less sunny spot with a vertical trellis, it started bearing fruit about a month later than the older one, and so far we've only got a half dozen fruit. I plan to mulch it in December depending on the weather to help the root survive frost. You should go for it! They're wonderful plants and super prolific.


norman
8/10/2013 10:32:25 PM

I planted a whole fruit last year in northern california it grew very quickly and I got a half dozen fruit from it before the frost killed of the leaves of the plant, not to worry in the spring this year it started growing again as good or even better than last year.I treat it just like I would a squash plant pinch out the growing stems to encourage side shoots where flowers will grow and produce fruit, the fruit swell and grow very quickly. last year before the frost I picked off some leaves and dried them and made a kind of green tea with dried leaves which although it tasted kind of bland made me feel better as I had been feeling a little bloated after meals, so I reckon it is true that it seems to have a medicinal value as well.







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