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My Chayote Squash Journey

 
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I have been wanting to try out Chayote for several years now. I decided that this is the year to experiment with it. So I searched far and wide for a source… The only sources I found only want to sell to people who can pick up locally, to them... In Florida.

Then I happened on it at, of all places, Walmart. Who knew? I got all kinds of excited! Yay, perennial food! So I went about researching how to get the things to sprout. Happiness screeched to a halt. These things may have trouble sprouting if they were refrigerated. These were found in the refrigerated section. Bummer. I set them aside, in my refrigerator. A week passes, I need more room in the refrigerator, so I pulled them out and put them up on top, they are supposed to keep okay for a while. This was about mid-February. Fast forward 2 weeks…

Ooooh! Look! Roots!


I threw them in a pot where they grew more roots in a darkened room and sprouted actual greenery! It was too early to plant out yet. So I put it in the sun on warm days and hauled it back in if the weatherman said it would be lower than 40* F. I exercised great caution. We were a week out from the last average frost date for us when the plant started to vine. Yikes! In the ground, it went. Surprise! two nights below 36* F. They survived under a three-gallon bucket each. Yay!!!

It's time to build that trellis! Here's the plan...



 
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We bought three from the supermarket a few weeks ago and gave them to Serra, my plushy earth-dragon, to look after.

She promised she'd soon teach them to poke their tongues out and set about demonstrating how it's done.



She was as good as her word, too!



We call them chuchu here.

 
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I admire your interest in growing chayote (mirlitons in Louisiana). It is unlikely that you will get the chayote sold as produce to flower and fruit.  The USDA tried that over a century ago in Florida and concluded that high-altitude varieties don't grow well at or about sea level.  All chayote that you find in grocery stores and markets in the U.S. are imported and most are high altitude varieties. They all will sprout and send up a vine but fail to flower and fruit. They also may introduce new chayote diseases.  The good news is that we have identified a tried and true heirloom U.S. variety that has grown here for almost two centuries.  You can read about the history of chayote in the U.S. and connect with Louisiana heirloom mirliton growers and see sellers at www.mirliton.org.  You can obtain viable seed and plants there.
 
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Lance Hill wrote:It is unlikely that you will get the chayote sold as produce to flower and fruit.  The USDA tried that over a century ago in Florida and concluded that high-altitude varieties don't grow well at or about sea level.  All chayote that you find in grocery stores and markets in the U.S. are imported and most are high altitude varieties. They all will sprout and send up a vine but fail to flower and fruit. They also may introduce new chayote diseases.



Lance, as I very incompletely tried to suggest when you expressed these opinions in your chayote thread a couple of months ago, here at Permies we value the input, experience, and research of people with subject-matter expertise in growing a particular plant, but it's important to recognize how permies people do things.  Armed with the knowledge of research done a hundred years ago, and armed also with a variety of insights and perspectives that the USDA did not bring to its market-focused research, it's possible that fifty different permies will try 150 different growing experiments at dozens of different altitudes in dozens of different bioregions trying dozens of different microclimates, irrigation regimes, soil types, polycultures, and so forth.  We do not discourage this sort of experimentation; in fact, encouraging and documenting it is a huge part of why the Permies forums are here!  In the final analysis, we may all learn something that the USDA did not discover.

Your concern about introducing disease is fine to note, but I know from our previous discussion you're already aware that not everybody here at Permies shares them.  One of our publishing-standards threads is "Leaving room for other people's ideas and a thing we often see here is somebody asking "Did you just 'should' on me?"  I mention this not because there is anything wrong with you expressing your predictions and concerns about Chayote experimentation, but because your recent post is very similar to the one we discussed a couple of months ago, and I wanted to be sure you understand that people may be disagreeing with you and cheerfully continuing their experiments, rather than simply not being aware of the arguments you have to offer.  
 
Dan Boone
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Then I happened on it at, of all places, Walmart. Who knew? I got all kinds of excited! Yay, perennial food!  ... I set them aside, in my refrigerator. A week passes, I need more room in the refrigerator, so I pulled them out and put them up on top, they are supposed to keep okay for a while. This was about mid-February. Fast forward 2 weeks…

Ooooh! Look! Roots!



Joylynn, I was inspired by your mention of this in that other thread, sufficiently to include three chayotes in our weekly Walmart curbside pickup order.  I just left them in their little individual ventilated plastic bags in a fruit bowl on our kitchen counter, and in about ten days they put out the little roots with no problem at all.

We had late cold weather and the last frost here was only about ten days ago, and anyway I decided to treat them like other heat-loving plants and not expose them at all to temperatures in the 40s.  So they went into quart pots of soil at the edge of my indoor plant area.  They have vined up and are climbing about three feet up the wall, extending tendrils "hand over hand" to the various nails and screws that used to be used for hanging things on that well.  I am now ready to plant them out but I am planting EVERYTHING out just now so I haven't gotten to them. I'm excited to see what they will do this year.  Don't actually care very much if they fruit, I just wanna see.
 
Burra Maluca
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Dan Boone wrote:
I'm excited to see what they will do this year.  Don't actually care very much if they fruit, I just wanna see.



I'm just as excited about trying the leaves and the shoots as I am about the fruit.

What I didn't mention in my previous post is that I tried to grow them last year, twice.

The first attempt was a total failure as each fruit was damaged and the ants ate every single bit of every one.

The second attempt was too late in the year and the plants were knocked back by frost before they really got going. BUT...

Look what popped up in the veggie beds a week or two back!



Just look at it!



I'm also a 'develop-your-own-landrace' sort of person rather than a 'let's-preserve-old-heirlooms-and-just-assume-they're-perfect' sort. Though as chuchu are so widely grown around here I'm not too concerned and expect pretty much anything I can buy locally to be fairly well adapted to the local climate and soil conditions.
 
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Many folks in my area grow these not for the fruits, but for the growing tips. So if northern gardeners are successful in getting their plants to survive and thrive, they could test taste the tips as a green vegetable.
 
Lance Hill
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Plant viruses are carried by the sap and seed of the plant.  An insect feeding on the leaves of an infected plant can spread it to other plants.  This is how Chayote Mosaic Virus (CMV) is spread.  
 
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Su Ba wrote:Many folks in my area grow these not for the fruits, but for the growing tips. So if northern gardeners are successful in getting their plants to survive and thrive, they could test taste the tips as a green vegetable.

Su's comment got me thinking to check other squash greens on the web and sure enough I quickly found this short entry: https://ourpermaculturelife.com/7-ways-eat-zucchini-greens/  

I don't want to hijack this thread, but do any of you know if:
1) *all* the squash family young leaves are edible?
2) some varieties are likely to be yummier than others?
3) some recipes are likely to be more universally accepted than others? (taste, texture?)

Or if you just know this is discussed elsewhere on permies and have a link you like, that works too. I will check myself later...
 
Lance Hill
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Squash leaves are all edible; it just depends on your tastes.  Chayote leaves and tendrils are eaten in stir fries.  The leaves are usually the most nutritious  part of the plant.  See international recipes for chayote at https://www.mirliton.org/international-mirliton-chayote-recipes/
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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I have read that pumpkin vine ends are edible. I have not tried it yet. I think pumpkin is a description of the shape of the fruit, not a designated taxonomy group. So, I've been hesitant. I've read accounts that say somebody knows somebody who eats the tendrils of edible gourds. But which ones?
 
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I never knew that chayote tips are edible! Useful info.

I know these as chokos from growing up in Sydney, where most suburban gardens had one running riot, and in fruiting season most front gates had a basket full of chokos with a sign reading "Free, please take!" Like zucchini, in the right place they'll produce prolifically. I haven't tried growing them here in the UK as the growing season is too short, and I've never seen them in the shops tp plant one, either.

I'll be very interested to know how the experiments growing them outside their usual climatic range works out. May be something to add to my Bulgarian garden (zone 7b). When I finally get to start planting anything there, that is!

 
Lance Hill
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Chayote were quite popular in England at the end of the 19th Century. They were primarily imported from Madeira.  They can be grown to fruition in cooler climates by forcing early flowering or with a makeshift greenhouse.  The trick is to give the plant 120 days to flower and fruit before a frost. On early flowering see: https://www.mirliton.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ForcingEarlyFloweringMirlitons.pdf
 
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I remember reading an article years ago about how to prepare pumpkin leaves. The main thing I remember was the description of how to pull the strings out, but the magazine I read that in went out of business and none of the articles I can find have as good a description.

Have to ever pulled the strings out of a plantain leaf? The plantain that grows in lawns, not the one related to bananas. If you have, use the same technique removing the strings from squash leaves. Take a bit of stem, peel back on it until you see the strings, then gently peel those out of the leaf.

I'm sure there are some squash varieties that were selected for better tasting leaves, but I've never seen it mentioned in any descriptions. Squash leaves are eaten more in African cuisine, so varieties from that continent are probably more likely to have tastier leaves.

I've only ever met one person who has eaten the leaves and stems from a pumpkin plant, and it was a traumatic enough memory that she refused to eat them again. Not because of the taste, either. She was a child in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. Most crops refused to grow in the irradiated soil, and the few that did were often deformed. Pumpkins were among the few things that grew at all, and they were so hungry that they would eat every part of it.

(I realize that's not exactly an advertisement for pumpkin leaves, but the fact that she survived so long on pumpkin-vine soup tells you that it at least has some nutrition!)
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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That's awesome Burra!

Here's the finished trellis and my babies.



 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Well, there are two of them.  They haven't grabbed hold of the trellis yet.

I planted them at what I thought was just outside of the edge of shade of a tulip poplar fefore leaf out. Nope. They are in the shade.
Ooops. If a plant is under 18 inches tall, how much clay do I need to excavate if I want to move them to full sun? I want to give them the best opportunity to succeed, as I am pushing it's zone.
 
Jay Angler
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:I planted them at what I thought was just outside of the edge of shade of a tulip poplar before leaf out. Nope. They are in the shade.

Two things - 1) will the shade line change as we move towards the summer solstice by enough?
2) Could you/should you consider a little judicious pruning on the tulip poplar?
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Thanks, Jay, I checked them again. This morning I witnessed sunbeams kissing my babies! Yes, the sun does have further to travel, they will get sun for the needed 6 hours in a few weeks. I think one branch coming down will do it. Good idea. It's not as bad as I imagined. They will stay where they are. Yay! less work!

Thank you for holding my hand.
 
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They're looking great!!
I just put in 3 more this week, specifically for forage for the rabbits. When you prune them regularly you can get lots more tendrils, I've grown them that way in the past to make stir-fries (they are great that way).
Now sleep with an eye open, because they'll be trying to take over your yard before you know it.
 
Jay Angler
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Thanks, Jay, I checked them again. This morning I witnessed sunbeams kissing my babies! Yes, the sun does have further to travel, they will get sun for the needed 6 hours in a few weeks. I think one branch coming down will do it. Good idea. It's not as bad as I imagined. They will stay where they are. Yay! less work!

I live within seriously tall trees - Doug Fir and 100ft cedars. I'm *always* limited by sunshine, so I am always looking at where the sun will be when and how to maximize its yield. I figured it was worth suggesting you think about that aspect, and I'm glad to save you time and effort!
 
Burra Maluca
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Can anyone advise on their water requirements?

Can you overwater them? Do they rot if they get too wet?

How tolerant of under-watering?
 
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My case may not be indicative of others. but...

My chayote grow entirely on natural trellis (other trees, an evergreen we call kinmokusei (osmanthus fragrans). They grow on the east side of the trees primarily. I do not water them. In fact I do nothing but pick them. They grow like mad. They are mature plants, probably 10-15 years old at least. I believe they have self-propagated to some extent. They get a half-day's sun or so, maybe less. I live in zone 9b or rough equivalent. It rains like mad here when it rains. Our yearly rainfall average is 2547.5 mm or roughly 100 inches. They were mature when I arrived here.

Hope the information is useful in someway.
 
Tereza Okava
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they grow absolutely everywhere here, in many cases where they get no attention at all (the park where I walk my dog has a few that have gone probably 50 feet up in the air, and nobody is watering them).
In my garden they do not get watered. We get very irregular rainfall, the past few years have been very dry, but when it rains it rains buckets, and the chuchus just keep growing (I love that they are also chuchu in Portugal. Here chuchu is also a nickname like "sweetiepie", is that also the case there?). They get a bit wilty when it's dry, but no rotting when it's wet. They also appear to be ignored by the bugs that eat squash, bean, and nightshade foliage.
I've seen them grow amid rubble, in junkyards, on hillsides, etc. They are not very demanding.
The only thing I have noticed is that they start when they darn well please. I often buy them at the market when they're really cheap and hold onto them until they start putting out roots, then I plant them. They may take a really long time to start getting established, or break into exuberance right away. This may have to do with rainfall, season etc (remembering that I grow year round here in 9b).
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Tereza wrote:the past few years have been very dry



How much rain, yearly? I get about 62 inches per year, with nine weeks of very dry. Just a few showers then.
 
Tereza Okava
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We get a bit more than you, our yearly official mean is 1630 mm (64 inches). Last year it was a bit less (i`m having trouble finding a total, but we're rationing water since the reservoirs are all dry, if that gives you an idea), but when it rains it pours- in November 2020 we got 92 mm in a 24 hour period (3.6 inches pretty much in one storm over a few hours).
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Okay, that's close enough info for me, thanks. During my drought, I'll need to remember to plop some gallon jugs out there to weep some water. I can reach the area with a sprinkler, but that garden has been my 'dry garden' area with no water! I'm trying to get my seeds to work without irrigation. If my chayote survives to sprout next year, I assume that they would be okay left to the rain. I just want to be careful with them this year. My trellis is on the dinky side, I think, for second-year plants. That's a problem for next year.

Currently, my Chayotte is in danger of being engulfed by Creeping Charlie. But my Kale, Collard, and Mustard seed stalks are finally starting to dry down. After that, I can run the mower through there! Then it will be time to plant some pole beans!
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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Look! One plant found the trellis! Not pictured, I gave some help to the other plant using some stick stakes to guide it towards the trellis.

Chayote-found-the-trellis.jpg
[Thumbnail for Chayote-found-the-trellis.jpg]
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