Florida gardening: Pigeon peas for Treasure Coast gardens – TCPalm


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Is your veggie garden done for the season? There are a couple things you can do; let the garden go fallow, unplanted, cover it up with clear plastic for 6–8 weeks of solarization or plant heat-tolerant species like okra and Seminole pumpkins, or plant a cover crop. This year I am trying a few Pigeon peas. Cajanus cajan, or Pigeon peas, are among the most valuable food, forage and cover crops globally. Also known as toor, Congo pea, grandul, red gram and Gunds pea, they are consumed as ripe and dried seeds.  The plants are used as green manure, fodder and soil-enhancing cover crop. It is thought the area of origin for this plant is Africa and/or India, though varieties are found throughout the world's tropical regions. An easy vegetable to grow successfully, Pigeon peas are bushy, tall short-lived perennials. They can grow 3- to 12-feet tall. The leaves are trifoliate (three-leaved) and are fuzzy or pubescent. The flowers are typical of peas or beans and are produced in loose clusters on upright stems above the foliage and are yellow and red. Plant these peas as a permanent part of a home food forest or integrated into the landscape. Pigeon peas are dense plants and make suitable buffers and barriers. They are attractive and terrific for adding plants for pollinators and human food to the traditional landscape. Pigeon peas are directly seeded because they do not transplant well. Planting depth is 1.5 inches and large varieties should be planted and/or thinned to 6- to 10-feet apart. Like many bean family members, they have a mutually beneficial relationship with a bacterium called Rhizobium, which allows plants to add nitrogen to the soil.  Germination can take up to two weeks, and the plants often stay small for two to three months, and then growth accelerates. They are usually planted in the spring on the Treasure Coast but can be planted anytime the weather is warm. The plants often grow and produce better if tossed in a commercially-available inoculum before planting, but this step is not essential for success. Full sun and soil with good drainage are needed for vigorous growth and fruit set.  Pigeon peas are highly drought-tolerant and once established, additional irrigation is not necessary. However, flowering and pod production and set will be better with additional water when it is dry. Harvest the pods for fresh, green peas when they have filled fully. Pods can be left to dry on the plant for storable dried peas. The plants can be pruned, which is best done after harvesting. The cut branches are used for mulch or animal feed.  Whole plants can be turned under to decompose about six to eight weeks before planting the fall/winter vegetable garden. This increases soil organic matter and nutrition. The plants typically grow and produce for about five years in this area if no frost occurs. Carol Cloud Bailey is a landscape counselor and horticulturist. Send questions to [email protected] or visit www.yard-doc.com for more information. 
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