“I’m not sure if you have grown pigeon peas? They grow nicely in southern Florida (probably ok up north also?) and last a few years. They fix nitrogen and grow in sandy soils. Although they do better in rich organic soil. They don’t transplant very well, have to be careful with the root system or they go into shock and die. They are very easy to grow, prolific and produce a lot of edible seeds. I believe the amino acid profile is pretty good. This plant is a good addition to the survival plant list.”
Yes, I agree – so let’s make this a fully-fledged survival plant profile!
In North Florida I attempted to grow pigeon peas multiple times and they always succumbed to frost before making more than a few peas. They’re day-length sensitive, which means they won’t flower until the fall and winter… and that spells doom for your crops.
In South Florida or anywhere with frost-free winters they’re a very good option as they fix nitrogen and can handle lousy soil.
Dry pigeon peas are found at Indian grocery stores. They grow readily. Sow them a couple of inches deep and wait a week or two. You can literally hack chunks out of your lawn and plant pigeon peas… and they’ll thrive.
As a further bonus, the hard wood of pigeon pea shrubs fuels rocket stoves like a boss.
Heck, this is another Swiss-army knife plant, so let’s make a list of its attributes.
Pigeon Pea Uses
Storable dry peas
Green peas good as a vegetable
Drought-resistant source of calories
Good chop-and-drop for establishing food forests/mulching
Wood useful for firewood
Great forage for animals
Breaks up hard soil with its strong roots
Can be used to suppress weeds
Good road-side hedge
Impressive, eh? Yeah. They’re awesome.
How to Plant Pigeon Peas
In January Luis Quinones commented on one of my previous pigeon pea posts:
“In Puerto Rico mi grandma use to plant in the same hole at the same timeof planting bush beans sweet corn and pigeon peas. Both the bean and the pea will benefit the corn by fixing the nitrogen in the soil. Plus she fertilize one time only. 1. First to harvest was the beans. Feeding the plants and husk to the goats. 2. Second came the corn. Also feeding the leftovers to the goats and pigs. 3. Last one the pigeon pea. She will do 2 harvest one for green peas and last one for dry peas. Which she store in old one gallon milk only for later use that will last for a year. Then feeding the pigeon pea bushes to the goats. This is like the 3 sisters system that the American Indian use to do. The difference is they used pole beans, corn and squash. With the squash you don’t have to weed. Find your 3 sisters combinations where one plant will benefit from the others.”
I like that idea. I just planted another round of pigeon peas in a new location and am thinking of adding squash/pumpkins to the plot to increase the overall yields. Pigeon peas are a perennial which will produce for a few years, long after the corn and pumpkins are gone.
You can see how I planted the new patch in the video I posted yesterday:
I’m not sure how the corn will do as we really didn’t loosen up much ground and the grass here is tough; however, I know the pigeon peas will take off.
You don’t need to interplant them, either. You can plant them alone. Got a rough patch of ground? Get it going with pigeon peas.
3-4′ spacing is perfect for pigeon peas, as they get big and branch out.
Pigeon Pea Allelopathy
You might not want to grow pigeon peas too close to some other crops, though. A local farmer told me that pigeon peas make other plants around them unhappy and that trees don’t like them.
I thought this was strange as pigeon peas are often recommended by permaculturalists as a great nitrogen-fixing species.
After a little research I discovered they are allelopathic.
“As with many other legumes, pigeon pea has been shown to have Allelopathic properties which may inhibit the growth and performance of the following season’s crop. This should be taken into account if large fields are planted.”
I planted pigeon peas around some trees in my North Florida food forest but am unsure whether or not they had an effect on growth, positive or negative.
More tests are obviously needed, but for now I wouldn’t shy away from planting them in developing food forests. They certainly don’t seem to dampen the growth of corn.
Worries about allelopathy aside, I grew pigeon peas in an area of dead sand which had been rendered a mini-desert by goats. The peas thrived and the area was restored to a good gardening spot.
There are plenty of reasons to grow this excellent staple survival crop. It meets the test of being useful for many things, plus it tastes good and provides a good amount of protein unlike many other staples.
Name: Pigeon Pea, gunga pea, sometimes just “peas” Latin Name: Cajanus cajan Type: Shrub/small tree Nitrogen Fixer: Yes Medicinal: Some uses claimed Cold-hardy: No Exposure: Full sun Part Used: Peas, leaves for forage and mulch, stems for cooking wood Propagation: Seed Taste: Good Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled. Dry peas boiled until soft. Peas can also be sprouted and used. Storability: Dry peas, very good. Green peas, frozen. Ease of growing: Totally crazy easy Nutrition: Good. High in protein. Recognizability: Moderate Availability: Moderate
Digging in sandy soil with a broadfork is easy. In rocky clay, it’s not nearly as easy. It’s basically an extreme sport in clay.
It’s not impossible, though. That bed took me perhaps 45 minutes to prepare, mostly because it takes more stomping on the broadfork than I’m used to, plus I had to bust up the big clods.
Sure, it’s work – but it’s work that needs to be done, especially for root crops.
Why Dig a Garden Bed?
The major reason: loose soil. If the soil structure is open and crumbly, plant roots do a lot better. They can dig deep and get the minerals and water they need without having to force their way through hard earth. You’re doing the hard work first to make their lives easier.
Digging garden beds even works well in sand, as I discovered back in Florida.
When your plants have easier lives, they’ll spend more time making delicious things for you to eat.
The Initial Feeding
When I prepare a garden bed I rake in compost right at the beginning. In the past I’ve also used amendments such as lime, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal and kelp meal – all of which are excellent additions to the soil.
Here, though, I can’t get most of those things, so I stick to compost, biochar and sometimes seaweed.
You can see a recent bit of bed prep in this video:
You don’t need a ton of organic matter in the soil. A few percent is fine. I sprinkle perhaps a half-inch cover of compost on a newly dug garden bed and rake or turn it in before I plant. The plants really appreciate compost and it lasts longer and releases its nutrition over time, unlike chemical fertilizer.
When preparing this garden bed I used my Back to Eden chicken run compost, which is probably hotter than compost from a typical backyard pile. The plants don’t seem to mind, though.
Here’s how I made that compost:
Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes
This is easy as shoo-fly pie.
Just cut some vines and stick them in.
You can start your own sweet potato slips with store-bought sweet potatoes if you don’t have any vines currently growing on your homestead.
Use the toothpicks and a jar method – or – even easier – start potatoes growing by burying them shallowly in a pot of soil, then cut vines off of those to plant.
I use a stick to dig holes, then plant the sweet potato cuttings a few inches deep into them.
They’ll look like they’re going to die for a few days, then they’ll recover as the vines root. Sweet potatoes are tough.
Did you know you can use lemongrass as a firestarter?
I only found out about this use recently, thanks to my pastor here. He demonstrated how to roast a breadfruit and when doing so, lit the fire with a rolled up hoop of dried lemongrass. Awesome.
The grass hoop I burn at the end of the video wasn’t the best example as it was made from old grass I pulled from the edges of a lemongrass plant. If you cut and make your own loops, then dry them, they have more oil and burn stronger.
Lemongrass is a great herb – and it lights things on fire. Win-win.
Have a wonderful Lord’s Day, everyone.
* * *
Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.”
He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure: “Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.”
“I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break[a] them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’”
Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
It’s nice to watch the insects and birds and know they’re working on my behalf (most of the time).
A couple of weeks ago I met Eric via an online gardening consultation and he showed me his homemade bird feeder and insect hotel. I asked if I could share them here. He graciously agreed and sent me pictures.
First, here’s the bird feeder:
I love reclaimed materials.
Now check out the bee house / insect hotel:
And, just for fun, check out this nicely set up woodpile Eric also created:
I dig the door knob and latch.
At my old property I had places for toads and snakes, wasps and bees, beetles and butterflies… my yard was alive with life and my pest problems were minimal, unlike most suburban gardeners.
Now I live in the jungle so habitat is everywhere, but I do think I should probably pop in a few bird houses one of these days.
Eric is on the right track. Make a place for life on your homestead!
“Snail water was also known (counterintuitively to this writer’s tastes) to whet the appetite. In this recipe for snail water in the collection of the New York Academy of Medicine, snail water is fortified with ale: “Let the Ale this water is made of, be the strongest that can be Brewed, this exceeding good to cause an Appetite.”
Snail water as a cure may seem strange to modern sensibilities, but as Alun Withey points out, oral testimonies taken in rural Wales as late as the 1970s reveal evidence of the medical usage of snails, “including one involving skinning 12 black snails, putting sugar on them and leaving them overnight, before eating the gooey remains the next day!”
One could argue, in fact, that vestiges of humoral thinking remain to this day, particularly in the beauty industry. In the last couple of years, snail mucus has been marketed as a wonder treatment for wrinkles, acne, and skin texture. For example, through a company called Holy Snails, you can buy a hydrating serum that contains snail mucen extract. And even the big-box store Target has joined the trend, offering the “Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Skin Treatment” containing 30% snail slime extract.”
“Natural vegetative strips (NVS) are narrow live barriers comprising naturally occurring grasses and herbs. Contour lines are laid out with an A-frame or through the ‘cow’s back method’ (a cow is used to walk across the slope: it tends to follow the contour and this is confirmed when its back is seen to be level). The contours are then pegged to serve as an initial guide to ploughing. The 0.3–0.5 m wide strips are left unploughed to allow vegetation to establish. Runoff flowing down the slope during intense rain is slowed, and infiltrates when it reaches the vegetativestrips. Eroded soil collects on and above the strips and natural terraces form overtime. This levelling is assisted by ploughing along the contour between the NVS – through ‘tillage erosion’ – which also moves soil downslope. The vegetation on the established NVS needs to be cut back to a height of 5–10 cm: once before planting a crop, and once or twice during the cropping period. The cut material can be incorporated during land preparation, applied to the cropping area as mulch, or used as fodder. This depends on whether the farmer has livestock or not, on personal preference, and on the time of cutting. If the grass is applied as mulch or incorporated, the technology can be considered to be an agronomic, as well as a vegetative, measure.
NVS constitutes a low-cost technique because no planting material is required and only minimal labour is necessary for establishment and maintenance. Some farmers had already practiced the technology for several years before the intervention of the ICRAF (The World Agroforestry Centre) in 1993. ICRAF came to realise that farmers here preferred NVS to the recommended ‘contour barrier hedgerows’ of multipurpose trees – which land users viewed as being too labour intensive.”
How is the Practice of Natural Vegetative Strips Different?
Imagine hedgerows or alley cropping, then make it simpler.
All the farmer does is find the contour of their slope, then let the native vegetation grow. It’s rather like Inga Alley Cropping, but with grass and weeds instead.
According to FAO, over time, those strips eventually create terraces instead of a steep slope. This illustration from the .pdf shows how:
I never thought much about swales, runoff and hedges on contour back in Florida. Here in the tropical mountains, things are a lot different and I’m learning all over again.
I can see how this natural vegetative strips idea would work well here by stopping erosion, providing a place for beneficial insects and lessening the slope of the land over time.