Please Pass the Pigeon Peas

I ate the exact same lunch every day of my senior year in highschool… a Jamaican gungo pea patty.  I lived in the Cayman Islands then.  Recently, I found out that my beloved gungo peas are also called pigeon peas.  I’ve been growing them in my yard over the past year and have become extremely fond of this little tree. 

I had no idea that the tiny little pea I planted in my garden was going to turn into a small tree.  I knew it was a legume and would fix the nitrogen in my soil, but…a tree?  It’s not what I expected, but I adore my pigeon pea tree and have been planning where I’m going to plant more of them in my yard. 

A young pigeon pea plant.

A teenage pigeon pea plant.

A mature pigeon pea plant with lots of pods all over it.

I noticed that Epcot had quite a few of them growing in pots at their Flower & Garden Festival this year.  I tried growing one in a large pot too.  It looked healthy for a while and then went into a steady decline.  I didn’t worry about it too much though because the one I planted in the ground was thriving.

A young pigeon pea plant in a pot.

Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan) grow in warm climates and will not tolerate frost.  They can be grown as a perennial in warm areas and will live from 2 to 5 years.  In my zone 9b, I have to grow them during the warm part of the year.  This isn’t a problem in SW Florida. If I time it right, I can get plenty of frost-free growing time and get a prolific crop of pigeon peas… and I did this year. 

My kids don’t like them cooked.  They like to stand at the tree and eat them fresh out of the pod when they’re green.  The goats do too.  They break out of their pen just to go stand at the pigeon pea tree and eat as fast as they can before they get caught.  I always break off a branch to give them.  This might be why the chickens chose this tree to hang out under too.

My tree has pods all over it.   Some of the pods have dried peas in them and some have green peas.  The green peas can be eaten fresh off the tree.  My kids and I find them to be delicious this way.  They’re extremely nutritious when they’re green too. The dried peas need to be soaked and cooked or saved to plant again.  My kids might not like them cooked, but my husband and I do.  Jamaican rice and peas are delectable.

Pigeon pea pods on the tree.

Dried pigeon peas in the pod.

Dried pigeon peas with some green ones thrown in.

A closer look.

Pigeon pea leaves and branches make great  fodder for animals.  They’re very nutritious.  The leaves are edible for people too, but I think they taste bad.  I tried stir-frying some real quick to see if it tasted better and it didn’t.  The leaves also make an awesome mulch for the garden.  Click here for a really great article on the pigeon pea plant  and its uses in  permaculture (in warm areas).  The variety I have has taken 7  months to develop peas, but it’s been a gorgeous plant and I’ve enjoyed all it’s stages of growth.  The honeybees love it too.

Pigeon pea leaves.

There was a stage where the tree was red with young blooms. Lovely!

Come grow with us!

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18 Responses to “Please Pass the Pigeon Peas”

  1. Since you got your pigeon pea seed from ECHO, what is the variety name on the packet? Also, what is the maximum number of seeds per pod in your variety? And, are the green seeds sweet tasting? And one last thing. How tall did your plant grow?

    Thanks.

    • We did get our pigeon pea seeds from Echo, but not from a packet. A volunteer was cleaning the seeds from the pods and stuck some in my son’s pocket. So, I don’t know the variety. We have been removing seeds from the pods for about 2 days now (it is prolific) and so far the maximum number of seeds per pod is 5. I wouldn’t describe the green seeds as sweet. They taste very fresh and lovely. My plant is about 10 feet tall. I was still able to harvest the pods from the top with ease though. The branches are very flexible.

  2. Ann Amador Welch Says:

    I grew up in Puerto Rico and loved eating Gandules with rice. I now live in Savannah, Georgia and planted some 30 seeds in my small organic plot in a community garden. About 8 germinated. so if they grow 10′ tall it will be too much. The Gandules I remember in Puerto Rico were small plants about 3′ tall…I got my seeds from Victory Seed Company of Molalla, Oregon. I hope they do as well as yours. The tallest one is now 2 feet. I planted them June 1.

    • I just bought a bag of “gungo” peas from the Jamaican market. I’m going to plant them to see if they’re the same variety. Hopefully they’ll germinate. It’s always an experiment for us. Good luck with yours. Sounds like yours are going to give you a lot of peas… nice!

  3. This is a great blog, thank you so so much. My mom planted some seeds that have been a lovely little tree. I’m so glad I found your blog about pigeon peas because I’ve only ever eaten them from a can!

    Do you know why some of the pods would develop red stripes? I think my little tree is sick or perhaps missing nutrients, but I don’t know.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment!

      I’ve learned that there are a few varieties of the pigeon pea. I think one variety has a smaller pea. Some of my pods get red stripes too. I don’t believe my trees are unhealthy though and the peas are delicious. Does your tree look unhealthy? If it does, try giving it some tender loving care to revive it.

      The pigeon pea is quite a hardy little tree. I don’t even water mine and they survive our spring droughts with no problem. They re-seed themselves like crazy and I now have an orchard of pigeon pea trees. But, we did have a mild winter. They can handle some cold even though it does stress them. (I’m talking Southwest Florida winters with a short freeze or two.)

      I planted sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds underneath my pigeon pea trees this year. I’m just going to let them grow wild through the summer and hopefully shade out the weeds a little. When the pigeon pea trees get to about 4 feet, I’m going to start thinning them out by cutting some of them down and feeding them to my goats. They go crazy over them because they’re a legume. ONE tree gives my family plenty of pigeon peas to eat, so an orchard of them will feed the goaties too.

      Happy gardening!

  4. I love pigeon peas! I grew up eating it as a staple food from our country. I found one in can from Fred Meyer’s one time and I’d go panic buying for I havent had it for almost ten years since I came to Canada. My parents will just grow it as hedges and legume source at the same time, and often they reserve one tree for seed planting for the next season. My dad recently sent me a packet of it because I want to experiment if it can thrive in our z0ne 8 area. i’ve googled around if some have already tried it, i am somehow in doubt because I live in BC and we get winters here. I’d love to hear suggestions from you. Many thanks!

    • Hello Len. I would recommend you grow your pigeon pea in a big pot. Be sure to keep it watered and feed it. Pick a plastic pot (not ceramic) and pack the bottom with styrofoam (for drainage) to keep the pot light and use a high quality potting soil over the bottom layer of styrofoam. If you do this, you’ll be able to bring it indoors when you get unexpected freezing weather. However, doing this gets tedious for me sometimes with some of my cold-sensitive plants in pots.

      Or, you could grow the pigeon pea in the ground and keep it a seasonal plant. Keep in mind that they do grow into small trees and when it dies in the cold, you will have quite a trunk left to contend with. One tree would be all you need for a serious crop of pigeon peas. They make beautiful trees with their red flowers.

      I hope this helps.

  5. venkatesh Says:

    Can you please share the material and pot size used for this pot?

  6. Michael Corbett Says:

    I have been trying to obtain Jamaican pumpkin seeds to plant in my garden. Where did you get yours? Thanks.

  7. I bought 4 ozs of Pigeon Peas from Reimer seeds before finding out they become a tree… Looking forward to starting my own forest! Thanks for showing me how big they get. this could have been a disaster… I think they should do well here in Southern California. We do get a little frost in the winter, but it’s always gone by 9AM and never enough to damage my Citrus.

  8. Luis Godinho Says:

    Hi everyone, thank you for this wonderfull blog! I’m starting to grow pigeon peas in Portugal. I have two different type of peas. One is red and the other is cream colour. It’s the same cajanus cajans? Thank’s

  9. Hi! Very nice post. I wanted to know if the peas can be eaten raw with their pods. I have one plant at home.

  10. Thanks for info, just received a gallon bag of pea pods from a friend, guess we may have to plant some in front yard for turkey and deer also. Great Blog.

  11. Muriel Browne Says:

    Great blog. I am in zone 6-8 and will attempt to grow the pigeon pea tree in a pot and take indoors when the weather is not conducive for its growth. If this fails, I will grow it as an annual instead of a perrenial.

  12. great read! i’ve been growing them for a few years, probably about as long as you. i keep bees and they definitely love them! now, i’m going to go see about this pea patty. happy growing!

  13. This was a very helpful article. I want to grow these. With little information on their size, I was in the dark. Thanks.

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