Hey! Let’s do a list post! How about “8 Reasons Why You Should be Growing Chayote Squash?”
Oh shoot. Now I have to come up with eight reasons, which is a number I picked arbitrarily. That shouldn’t be hard, though, as chayote really is an excellent addition to the garden. Also known as christophine and mirliton, they are a Mesoamerican crop which is now available around the world. Costa Rica exports tons of them to the EU and the US every year as the taste for this tropical squash-that-doesn’t-taste-like-a-squash has grown.
Ready? Let’s see if I can come up with eight reasons for growing chayote squash… here goes…
1. Chayote is Productive
No lie! This squash is likely to be the star of your garden in 2017 if you get them planted this spring.
Here’s a photo-manipulated shot of a bag of them I picked in my North Florida garden at the beginning of 2016, just before the first frost of the winter (which was a very late one – January!):
It looks artistic, doesn’t it? I added an “artistic” filter in Photoshop!
You can see me harvesting these squash in this video (along with a few other goodies):
They are a wonderfully productive plant – but don’t think this productivity lasts for only one gardening year. Oh no – the story gets better!
2. Chayote are Perennial
That means they come back year after year. Look at this one growing back:
I love perennial vegetables. (You might be surprised at how many great ones there are – if you want to dive down the perennial rabbit hole, Eric Toensmeier’s excellent book Perennial Vegetables will get you dreaming.)
If you live in a colder climate, mulch over chayote’s roots to make sure they don’t freeze in the winter. My bet is you’ll be able to keep them going all the way into zone 7 if you’re clever with frost protection.
3. Chayote Taste Good
There is a highly productive vegetable that starts with a “z” which I don’t wish to mention, as it is a hateful and vile thing.
People grow this, then throw them away.
Unlike that abomination, chayote are good enough that you’ll want to eat them. They are much like a dense cucumber and some call them a “vegetable pear.” If you play pretend, they are somewhat like a mild pear but without the grittiness.
How do you eat them? I need to make a another point, obviously, or I won’t hit eight. So…
4. Chayote are Versatile in the Kitchen
Chayote can be sliced and eaten raw like their cousin the cucumber, or they can be peeled and cooked. we discovered through experience that if you don’t peel them the skins get quite tough in cooking.
Chayote can be made into pickles and relish and can also be sauteed. One of my favorite ways to eat them is right off the vine, like a fruit.
They are denser than a cucumber and hold up better in cooking. They’ll also absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so they’re a good filler for the pot.
5. Chayote Shoots are Delicious
This is something I discovered while I was visiting the H.E.A.R.T. gardens in Lake Wales and touring the plants with my friend Josh Jamison.
“Have you ever eaten the shoots?” he asked, when I recognized chayote growing on a trellis.
“No,” I said, “I heard they were edible but never tried them.”
“Here,” he said, breaking one off. “You have to try one.”
I did. “These are amazing!” I said.
He grinned. “They really are good – I’m growing this trellis just for the shoots!”
I was impressed. They’re good in the way asparagus is good. Chayote shoots are a mix of subtle flavors, nutty, fresh, green, sweet, delicious.
6. Chayote is Easy to Grow
Some vegetables – like tomatoes – are technically a perennial but practically speaking are an annual. Unlike these fair weather perennials, chayote sticks around happily. I’ve had few problems with insects, disease or nutritional deficiencies… they just like to grow. Strangely, though, I have had multiple chayote rot when they were planted, instead of grow. I found out what I was doing wrong, however, and now plant them differently.
In a video I posted yesterday, I show you how to plant chayote to give them a better success rate from the beginning.
Planting them on their side, not all the way in the ground, seems to be the best way to do it.
7. Chayote are Novel
There is such a thing as garden bragging rights. In fact, once you reach Super Elite Gardener Status(TM), you start competing with other gardeners to see who has the wildest and weirdest things growing.
Super Elite Gardener #1: “So… did you see my mouse melons?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: (yawns) “Oh yeah. I grew those, like, five years ago.”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Of course. Everyone grows them. But I know you used my guest bathroom earlier… notice anything… interesting… in there?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “Uh…”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “You did, didn’t you? Yes, you did. Tell me what it was.”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “It was… a… 30-foot…
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Yeeeeeeeessssss?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “…or maybe longer…”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Say it.”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “…vanilla orchid with pods on it.”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “Which you wouldn’t think was anything, would you, if it were just a NORMAL vanilla orchid, right? Why is this one so special? Tell me.”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “I’d rather not say.”
Super Elite Gardener #1: “That’s because I win, don’t I?”
Super Elite Gardener #2: “Fine!” (sobs) “You win! It was a VARIEGATED 30-foot-plus vanilla orchid with pods on it growing 1200 miles from the tropics! You win! I hate you!”
Chayote may not be at that level, but it will put you ahead of the typical backyard vegetable gardener.
8. Chayote Vines Will Climb on What’s Available
Unlike some vegetables that need to be tied up carefully and supported well, chayote will happily cover whatever is available.
I’ve seen them growing 40 feet up in oak trees. They’ll climb towards the sunshine and put fruit way up in the air. This is good and bad, of course. It’s great that they are so scrappy, but it’s hard to harvest fruit that high in the air.
If you have a chain link fence, a small tree you don’t care about or a rotting garden shed… plant chayote next to it and let them run. They’ll turn that support into a beautiful green mass of vines in a season. Growing chayote squash over eyesores isn’t a bad idea, actually. Got a burned-out car? Grow chayote on it! An ugly spouse? Chayote!
My chayote vines quite happily grew over an unproductive pomegranate tree and covered it with fruit… albeit not pomegranate fruit.
They make good shade, too, so you could plant them on an arbor over a sitting area for summer shade.
Actually… I could add a 9, too. Let’s do it!
9. (A BONUS! EXTRA POINTS!) Chayote is a Solid Survival Crop
Because of the list above, chayote is a very good addition to a survival gardening plan. Their nutritional profile is good, though they are unfortunately low in calories. The productivity makes up for low caloric yield, though, and they’re a good break from MREs, spam and canned beans!
Now that I made it to 9 of 8, let’s take a minute and look at growing chayote squash in your backyard (or front yard, if you’re hardcore).
Growing Chayote Squash
Growing chayote squash is easy.
First, get a few chayote from a grocery store, a fellow gardener or a farmer’s market.
Leave the fruits out on your counter for a few weeks. Eventually some of them should grow shoots out of the blossom end. (Chayote do not grow from proper seeds. Instead, the fruit surrounds a single embryo in the middle.)
Once they sprout and the vines are a few inches long, I plant them as shown in the video above.
Make sure you have something sturdy for them to climb where you plant the sprouted fruit. They’re not picky, as I said, but they are vigorous.
Chayote like full sun but will take half shade. Morning sun is the most important.
Chayote like compost, nitrogen and mulch. I fed mine with diluted urine (and sometimes undiluted) poured at the base of the plant. My bet is they’ll also appreciate calcium.
My plants produced in the fall after growing vigorously all through the spring and summer.
Have fun growing chayote squash – it’s a worthwhile vegetable to add to your survival garden.