Chayote is an exotic vine that produces large pear-shaped fruits that are very nutritious.
Chayote key facts
Botanical name – Sechium edule
Common names – Chayote, sayote, mirliton, choko, mexican cucumber
Family – Cucurbitaceae
Type – deciduous perennial
Height – 6 to 15 feet (2 to 5 m)
Planting distance – 3 feet (1m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – lots of humus, soft and light
Planting – February
Harvest – end of September, October
Chayote is a climbing perennial that is entirely edible, though most of us might only have encountered its pear-shaped fruits. Native to Mexico, it was quickly introduced in many countries like the West Indies, where it goes by the name “christophine”. As most tropical plants go, this one isn’t very hardy. Nonetheless, it’s still an option to cultivate it in more temperate climates as long as a few rules are followed.
To grow chayote, a few environmental requirements must be heeded:
- a full sun exposure;
- in places where Winters are cold, it should be protected from freezing;
- the soil must be humiferous (containing lots of organic matter) and tilled quite deeply.
You’ll have understood that whether you’re planting in a vegetable patch or in a garden, you’ll have to get to work on the soil long before planting a single specimen of this vine.
Preparing the soil
- Layer manure or very ripe compost on the surface of the growing bed during the Fall that precedes the planting. If you have any, you can also sprinkle clean wood ashes.
- With a spading fork, flip or loosen the soil over at least as deep as the blade is long, so that the soil layers mingle properly. Best is to avoid using a spade, since spades tend to slice worms in half and the soil structure is upended too much.
- In the following Spring, just before transplanting your seedlings, work through the soil again without adding any amendments this time.
The first planting step takes place in February. Take a large pot filled with soil mix and nestle an entire fruit in it (horizontally is the surest option). Bury it by two-thirds, leaving one third jutting out. Place the pot in a sun-filled space that will stay warm and where it won’t freeze.
Planting chayote in the ground:
Once a strong seedling emerges, it’s time to transplant it to the ground, usually not before May (it depends on when the last frost date is in your area). Around mid-May, risks of freezing are nil. After planting the sprout, immediately set up a treillis that is tall and strong enough to bear the weight of the all the leafage and fruits to come. Simply grow it along a fence, for instance.
Chayote in pots
The needs of chayote as a vine make it near impossible to grow in containers. However, if you have a spacy lean-in or a spot that’s protected from the cold, such as a greenhouse, it might still grow well enough it bear fruit. You’ll need a large pot or garden box, that’s voluminous enough to fit the entire root system and not tip over under the weight of all the leaves.
Growing and care
Chayote won’t need much attention. Since it’s vulnerable to drought, though, it’ll need regular and abundant watering. It isn’t necessary to prune or trim the choko vine. A good way to increase foliage density at the beginning is to pinch (or cut) young sprouts after the 3rd or 4th leaf.
Diseases and pests
Chayote is a very resistant plant. It seems invulnerable to sickness, and pests and parasites seem to disregard it altogether.
Harvesting and keeping chayote
Chayote fruits appear very late in the season (September). The harvest thus takes place in October, and sometimes even November if the climate permits. Once picked, the fruits will keep for a long time. Stored in a cool spot, they’ll hold for months after harvesting.
Cooking with chayote
As is the case for mashua, every plant part of the chayote vine is edible:
- young Spring shoots you can cook and pair just as you would asparagus;
- juvenile leaves do swell when they’re cooked similarly to other vegetables (such as spinach);
- the fruits are edible raw (in mixed salads for instance) and cooked (as a main ingredient for side dishes they are tasty when baked, stuffed, etc.);
- tubers can replace normal potatoes in every recipe.
Smart tip about Chayote
Spread thick mulch around the foot of your chayote. It’ll both reduce water loss due to evaporation in Summer, and protect the base of the vine from freezing in Winter.