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.
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.
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 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.
Come grow with us!