Fri 2 Jan 2009
This perennial member of the squash family from the tropics can be eaten raw or cooked like squash. Fruits are usually pale green, oval, smooth skinned, and furrowed; but some plants produce fruit that’s darker green, round, or spiny. The vines climb tall by tendrils -sometimes to 50 feet. The tops of the vine will die back in winter, but the roots send up new growth each spring for many years. This is a plant for mild winter climates. Cold weather slows growth and production and frost kills plants to the ground.
How to plant
Buy the fruit in the winter for planting and store in a cool place (the refrigerator is too cold) until the soil warms up in the spring. Plant the whole fruit (at least two for cross-pollination) slanted in the planting hole, with the seed end down and the small end exposed (see photo). If the fruits have sprouted before planting, cut back the shoots to 1 or 2 inches at planting time. If they haven’t sprouted, the broadest end will usually show the seed tip peeping out of the fruit. Barely cover fruit, or leave stem end barely exposed. The planting site should be in the sun and in well drained soil.
Be careful not to over water at first; over watering causes the fruit to rot. Once the vine starts to grow, it needs occasional fertilizer and ample water. Commercial growers use well rotted manure in the planting mix supplemented with additional high nitrogen fertilizer.
Plants begin to bloom when days start to grow short usually in late August. First fruits are ready for harvest about a month after bloom begins. In warm weather, plants may bear through December and January and produce as many as 50 to 100 fruits to the vine.
You can start chayotes in containers placed next to a fence or other large support, but growth is so rampant that roots will escape from the pots into the ground.