By: Lien Hahn, Vietnam
When I was working for an international NGO project, I was surprised at the fact that most indigenous people in the project sites chose chayote as their livelihood plants. Now, I know that is because chayote is really an easy-going plant in my home province.
In my opinion, an ‘easy-going’ plant is a plant that grows well in the given conditions with less time, inputs, and experiences. For permaculture beginners, easy-going plants can provide them yields quickly and encourage them to go ahead. Chayote is one of the easy-going plants I started with and has paid me off. Why is chayote an easy-going plant on my site?
My site is slightly sloppy with loose and well-drained soil. pH balance is from 4.5 to 5.5, a bit acidic. I put some compost made from chicken manure, kitchen scraps, sawdust and rice husks to make the soil more moisture retentive.
The weather on my site is cool from October to March (10 – 25 degrees centigrade on average) with much rain and high humidity. Chayote can grow surprisingly fast on the under-20-degree days. I could see its shoots more than ten centimeters longer after one night. But it nearly stopped growing on too hot days (above 25 degrees).
With the soil conditions and weather, I did not spend much time taking care of chayote. It really grew very well on the site. The only thing I had to do is giving it a trellis. There are some big old Lichy trees and old brick walls on my site. I made a low bamboo trellis under these trees and walls. The low trellis is good for taking the rays of sunshine in the morning and afternoon. It also helps to avoid bees from stinging the chayote fruits.
My strong chayote plants seemed not to have any pests and diseases. Except for some bee stings which sometimes appeared on the fruits but do not make them rotten, trees grow well with green leaves, many fat sho0ts, and uniformly smooth fruits. I have been harvesting their fruits for more than 2 months. They have brought many benefits to my site. What are its benefits?
Of course, chayote has brought a rich source of safe food for my family. We eat chayote fruits and shoots. In common, Vietnamese people like frying chayote fruits or shoots with beef, pork, or chicken viscera. Vegetarians like eating boiled chayote fruits with peanut salt (salt with ground fried peanuts) or fried chayote shoots with eggs.
Under the chayote trellis, my new seedlings are kept safe from heavy rains and too hot sun rays. There, I also planted some shade-like herbs such as coriander (Eryngium foetidum) and wild pepper (Piper sarmentosum).
In autumn and winter, fewer flowers bloom. Chayote flowers also provide a good source of nectar that makes good honey. I haven’t kept any bees, but more and more have come to my site. This shows that my site is totally chemical-free and feasible to keep some hives.
The last but not least, chayote has brought sources of nutrients for the soil on my site. According to the USDA food data center, chayote has some nutritional values, especially vitamins (C, K, B) and minerals (Calcium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium). For example, chayote shoot contains 6,350 ppm of phosphorus, chayote fruit contains 21,430 ppm of Potassium and 57ppm of Iron; and chayote leaf contains 3,345ppm of Calcium and 10ppm of Copper. I have been using all chayote leaves, shoots, and fruit which are not used for food to make compost and mulch on the site.
When I am writing this story, chayote is still shooting and blooming on its trellis. It has been paying me off more than I expected. It has been encouraging me to seek all ‘easy-going’ plants for my site and improving the quality of the soil before I could have difficult plants that I prefer.
Lien Hahn is a Permaculture Designer and Teacher in Vietnam. She leads the Permaculture Asia program for Permaculture International College and Permaculture Education.