Chayote (Sechium edule) is a squash like vegetable grown on vines. It is often called the vegetable pear by North Americans, the christophine or mirliton to Caribbeans, chocho to Madeirans, pipinella to Italians, and pipinola to Hawaiians. These fruit originated in Mexico and were a staple of the Aztecs. They are still grown by many people in Mexico. They have now spread to many tropical and subtropical areas around the world. They are grown in the Southern United States.
Chayotes require a 150 day growing season between hard frosts. Light frosts will destroy the greenery, but the root will put out new vines in the spring. The chayote seed will not grow if dried and saved for later. It only germinates inside the fruit. This means you must sacrifice one fruit to get a vine to plant.
The first step in growing chayotes is to buy one in the market in late fall. Many Spanish speaking markets carry them. Buy five or six even if they have been in cool storage and wrapped in plastic. They will still germinate. Place them in a dark, cool, place and leave them there until February. By this time you should have about a six inch vine from each fruit.
If you live in a climate where it freezes in February or past that, put the chayotes in a pot with just the end of the vine peaking out after you plant them. Water and set in a sunny window. Keep it moist but now swampy wet and let it grow until the date of your last frost.
Chayote vines will cover any vertical surface. They need to be planted where they can climb on a trellis or up a building. Do not put them in the garden as they will spread all over everything.
Plant chayote vines after all danger of frost is past. Plant them so that just the tip of the vine shows and the rest is buried under the ground. Water them in and then let them grow. In October, the vine will suddenly be covered with fruits. Each plant will have 50 to 100 of the fruits.
Chayote can be eaten green or ripe. When one to two inches in diameter, the young chayotes make good relish. When two thirds grown, you can slice them like a cucumber and eat them in salads. Early ripe fruit can be sliced and boiled for ten minutes then salted, peppered, and spread with butter and eaten that way. When fully mature, the fruit can be steamed like potatoes or cut in half and baked like winter squash.
When the first light frost hits, the plant will die. However, the chayotes can be picked and spread on newspapers in a cool place and they will store until well after Christmas.
Pull down the dead vines and compost them. Mulch the roots heavily to protect them from the cold. In the spring, they will produce another vine and the cycle will start over.