Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?


How to Grow Chayote Squash

      
by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
October 10, 2020

What is a chayote squash, you ask? Bright green, spiny, pear-shaped chayote squash may just be a new reliable staple crop for BC coastal gardens.

A green pear-shaped spiny chayote squash hangs on the vine. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash

What makes chayote squash so unusual is that it has a mild taste like a summer squash and the texture of a cucumber, but is able to withstand cool fall temperatures. In maritime south coast British Columbia, chayote squash is hardy on the vine until early November.

Chayote Squash—Ancient Crop

Chayote squash typically grows as a perennial in tropical and subtropical climates, but is now adapting to northern locales as an annual. This bright green pear-shaped squash has long been cultivated throughout Mexico, Central and South America. The Aztecs called them chayotli. Other names include mirliton (Caribbean), choko, or custard marrow. In the southern U.S., some people call them vegetable pears.

How to Grow Chayote Squash

Chayote squash vines on a trellis. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash vines grow vigourously and require a sturdy trellis.

Chayote squash is easy to grow. This fast-growing vine is very productive, which makes it a perfect staple crop. Vines can grow 6 to 9 metres (20 to 30 feet) in a season, and produce as many as 50 to 100 squash per plant.

Chayote can grow as an annual as far north as plant hardiness zone 7. In zones 8 and warmer, it will overwinter if you cut the vine to ground level and apply heavy mulch. Chayote has a 150 day growing season between hard frosts.

—> To find your zone, visit Canada’s Plant Hardiness Zones or US Plant Hardiness Zones.

The seed of the chayote squash is viviparous, which means it sprouts while still inside the fruit. So, unlike most garden squashes that grow in our area, you will need to plant the entire fruit, not just the seed.

Planting Chayote Squash from Seed

Start with two whole unblemished squash (often available from Asian markets). Put them in a cool, dry, dark place, such as a cupboard, and wait until they sprout (about 3–5 weeks). Continue to store them in the dark until the sprouts are about 5–8 cm (2–3 inches) long.

A chayote sqaush sends out a shoot from its seed inside the fruit. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash sprouts from inside the fruit. To start a new plant, you need to plant the entire fruit.

Now, place the entire fruit in a pot with the sprout facing upwards out of the soil. Set the pot in a warm, sunny place indoors and water it. Chayote squash does not like excessive water. Let the top of the soil dry out between waterings.

In May, once the weather is well above freezing, plant the squash outside. Amend the soil with manure or compost, and situate the chayote squash in full sun. Space the plants about 3 metres (10 feet) apart. Chayote will grow into a large vine, so it needs a sturdy trellis with overhead space for hanging fruit. The vine will grow all summer before it blossoms.

Once outdoors, chayote squash needs about 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water per week. Allow the top of the soil to dry completely before watering again. Chayote plants are very susceptible to rotting. Rather than watering frequently, they do best with a deep, even watering every one to two weeks.

When to Harvest Chayote Squash

Two spiny green pear-shaped chayote squash hang from the vine. Chayote Squash: A New Staple Crop for Northern Gardens?

Chayote squash on the vine.

In our south coast British Columbian maritime climate, chayote squash usually flowers around the beginning of September. From flower to fruit, it needs about a month of frost-free weather. Harvest the fruits in October and early November (before hard frost).

Chayote plants are cold hardy down to 0º C (32 F). Let your vines to grow until the first hard frost damages the leaves. Light frost kills the leaves, but not the roots or the fruit. Hard frost finishes off the entire plant—roots and fruit.

We’ve found that the roots do not survive the winter in south coast BC. Here, treat chayote as an annual and start your new plants indoors each spring. In areas without hard frosts, chayote roots can stay alive through the winter. If you live in a frost-free zone, mulch them heavily and look for them to send up new shoots the following spring.

Stored in a cool, dry place, the chayote squash harvest will last well into winter and provide delicious eating.

Cooking with Chayote SquashCooking with Chayote Squash


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