Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Unusual Vegetables - The Chayote
Are you looking to try something new and unusual
for the vegetable garden? The chayote - a pear shaped relative of
the squash might be the thing for you.
The chayote (Sechium edule) is a tender tropical American member of the squash family - Cucurbitaceae. The name chayote is derived from the vine's Indian name, Chacha. It was a common vegetable among the Aztecs prior to the Spanish conquest. While native to southern Mexico, Guatemala, and much of Central America, it is now popular throughout tropical regions and has been grown to a limited extent in Florida for many years. The chayote is known by a variety of names including cho-cho, christophine, vegetable pear, mirliton, and mango squash.
Chayote is a tender, perennial rooted cucurbit, with climbing vines and leaves resembling those of the cucumber. The light green, pear shaped fruit may weigh as much as 2-3 pounds, but most often is from 6-12 ounces. The chayote fruit differs from its multi-seeded relatives, in that it contains only a single, flat edible seed. While fruits may be slightly grooved and prickly, those grown in Florida are usually smooth.
While an edible tuberous root forms below the crown, it is the fruit for which the plant is grown. Since it is perennial, the best production is obtained 2-3 years after the plant is established. The main varieties include `Florida Green,' `Monticello White,' and various imports. Particularly good varieties of chayote may be vegetatively propagated by means of cuttings taken from the crowns of old plants near soil level.
Some type of trellis or support for the climbing vines is required. The vines are quite susceptible to attack from variety of fungal diseases and will usually succumb unless grown up off the ground and provided with ample air flow. Most trellises in Florida are constructed about head high to facilitate walking beneath the vines for harvesting and other operations. For the home gardener, single plants may be planted along fences or under the open shifting shade of trees such as pines and allowed to clamber up the tree.
The whole fruit is planted as a seed. Each fruit has a single large seed that sprouts as soon as the fruit reaches maturity unless placed in cool storage. Fruits stored at 50°F remain in good condition for planting for as much as 6-8 weeks, although shriveling and decay are common.
Plant one fruit per hill in hills spaced 9 - 12 feet apart and in rows spaced 12 feet apart. Place the fruit on its side with the smaller stem end sloping upward. While the stem end is usually left slightly exposed, in colder areas growers have found that the fruit should be completely covered with soil to protect the bud from early cold damage. Chayote should be planted in the early fall in South Florida.
Although any reasonably fertile soil is suitable for the cultivation of chayote, they will profit from additional fertilizer. Fertilizer should be applied in three applications: at planting time, 6-8 weeks later, and when fruits are small. Fertilizing at more frequent intervals might be necessary when conditions warrant. Well rotted animal manure or composted materials are also beneficial. Excess nitrogen can promote vine growth over fruit production.
Good drainage is important to avoid root rots which can destroy plantings. Planting on a mound is a useful technique to ensure adequate drainage. Insect and disease problems are similar to those of squash and other vine crops.
Long day length in the spring and early summer
tends to inhibit flowering. Both male and female flowers occur on
the same vine. These flowers are visited by insects, both wasps and bees,
which facilitate pollination. Fruits mature about 35 days following pollination.
Harvest generally begins 3 -5 months after planting and may continue for several years if plants are maintained in good condition and unaffected by frost or disease.
Following harvest, the fruits may be stored in edible condition for several weeks if wrapped in newspaper and kept cool (50-55°F). At room temperature, the fruit will shrivel and sprout.
Chayote is often used as a substitute for summer squash and may be served in many ways: creamed, buttered, fried, stuffed, baked, frittered, boiled, mashed, pickled, in salads, or in pies. Not only does the chayote provide good eating, it is certain to provide a unique conversation piece in your garden as well. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - email@example.com or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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