Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Chayote (page 2 of 3)

by Jim Wilson

How to Grow Chayote

Gardeners can harvest chayote as far north as USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Plants thrive at lower elevations in California and the Southwest, and in the warmer valleys of Oregon and Washington. In its native tropical climate, where the days and nights are nearer to the same length year-round, chayote bears fruit for several months. Here in the United States, it usually doesn't flower until the first week of September, when nights begin to lengthen perceptibly, and at least a 30-day period of frost-free weather is needed from the time first flowers appear to ripen the fruit. Here in zone 7, I've harvested a dozen fruits from one vine. Where frost comes later, gardeners can expect to harvest two to four dozen fruits per plant.

You can start a couple of chayote vines by sprouting fruits from the grocery store. Select ones with few wrinkles or spines, and the more mature, the better -- small, immature fruits may just rot. A few mail-order companies offer chayote, and in Florida you can sometimes find plants of Florida Green and Monticello White, two cloned varieties, at upscale garden centers.

Lay the fruit on its side in a one-gallon pot of soil and tip the stem up about 45 degrees. Cover the fruit with potting soil or sand until only the tip of the stem shows. Keep the pot in a warm spot (80&deg to 85&deg F), and water it occasionally. In about a month, the fruit should begin to split and a sprout will emerge. Move the pot to a sunny area. Let three or four sets of leaves develop, then pinch the tip out of the runner to make it branch.

Prepare a hill for planting by mixing 20 pounds of manure deeply into a 4- by 4-foot area that gets full sun. If you have heavy clay, also mix in a bushel of compost to improve drainage and aeration. In zones 9 and 10, and in low desert areas of the West, choose a spot that give the vines some afternoon shade and protection from drying winds. Don't transplant until all danger of frost is past.

Provide a strong trellis or fence to support the heavy mass of vines that will form during the summer. Vines from old perennial roots can grow 30 feet in a single season. Water your plants deeply every 10 to 14 days during dry weather to avoid excessively stringy fruits. Chayote vines respond especially well to a dose of fish emulsion every two to three weeks. In high-rainfall areas, top-dressing with manure or compost every month will keep the vines growing vigorously. The vines are susceptible to the same insec that attack squash plants, and provide good hiding places for whiteflies. Frequent sprayings with insecticidal soap or neem will minimize insect damage.

Gardeners in zones 8 and warmer can overwinter chayote vines by cutting them back to near ground level and mulching them deeply with a loose material such as pine needles. Root-knot nematodes will probably weaken the vines after two or three years -- just sprout a new fruit. To lessen nematode damage, apply a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of pasteurized cow manure in the spring and replenish it during the summer.

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