The Q&A Archives: Growing Chayote in the North

Question: I was given two chuchus by a friend. All I know is how good they are!!! I have them in 2 1/2 foot patio pots because I was told the yield is up to 100 fruit per plant at maturity. Do I fertilize them on a regular basis? How much water and sun do they need. Should they be pruned or trellised?

Answer: Native to Guatemala, chayote (Sechium edule) is a tropical vegetable know by many names including christophene (French), vegetable pear, mirliton (Cajun), mango squash, cho-cho, and chuchu. It is a tender, perennial-rooted cucurbit, with climbing vines and leaves resembling those of the cucumber. The light green, pear-shaped fruit, which contains a single, flat edible seed, generally weighs 1/2 to 1 pound. Its thick skin may be slightly grooved and prickly or smooth, depending on variety. The mild flavor is reminiscent of both cucumber and summer squash.

In its native tropical habitat chayote is a perennial vine; however, in cooler regions it is sometimes grown as an annual. However, the plant requires a long season--about 220 frost-free days--to produce fruit, so unless you can mimic its tropical habitat by moving the plants to a greenhouse once the weather cools, it's unlikely you'll harvest ripe fruit in your relatively short growing season.

Where it can be grown as a perennial, the best production is obtained 2-3 years after the plant is established. In its native tropical climate, where the days and nights are nearer to the same length year-round, chayote bears fruit for several months. In more temperate zones, it usually doesn't flower until the first week of September, when nights begin to lengthen perceptibly. Then, and at least a 30-day period of frost-free weather is needed from the time the first flowers appear until the fruit is ripe. So, although chayote is a heavy producer in the tropics, the shorter the growing season, the fewer the fruits. Don't count on getting 100 fruits per plant! A more realistic number would be a dozen.

Chayote is a vigorous vining plant and will need sufficient support before flowering and fruiting. Provide a strong trellis or fence to support the heavy mass of vines that will form during the summer. Water your plants deeply during dry weather. An application of fish emulsion every two to three weeks will be needed. The vines are susceptible to the same insects that attack squash plants, as well as whiteflies. Use insecticidal soap to minimize insect damage.

Harvest the fruits before the flower end (bottom) of the fruits begin to split open. Following harvest they may be stored for several weeks if wrapped in newspaper and stored in the refrigerator (50-55 degrees F). Chayote is served in many ways: steamed, boiled, sauteed, roasted, fried, stuffed, baked, pickled, or baked in pies, but not raw. The large seed is also edible, with many of the vegetable's proponents insisting that the seed is the best part. Second year roots can also be harvested and used as potatoes.

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