Pigeon Peas: A Survival Plant Profile

Pigeon-peas-shelling

Pigeon peas aren’t your typical garden pea. They are a big plant – you could even call them a small tree.

On Saturday Rachel and I walked down to the big patch of pigeon peas we planted last summer and found to our delight it was finally time to start picking.

We stuffed two shopping bags with pigeon pea pods.

Pigeon peas in the shell

There are at least two different varieties of pigeon peas growing on our plot. Some have reddish-brown pods, the other has green pods with blotchy red-brown patches.

If you leave the pods on the pigeon pea plants, they mature to a very good dried pea. If you pick them a little earlier, they can be shelled and eaten like regular garden peas.

pigeon peas shelled

We ended up with a few gallons of green peas after shelling. We also got some dried peas from pods that had already matured on the plants.

dry pigeon peas

Last night we had green pigeon peas and rice mixed with saltfish for dinner. That was good. Hearty and healthy.

A Reader Interjects!

But… let me back up a bit. Reader James Paganacci wrote the following on my Survival Plant Profiles page a few days ago:

“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!

Pigeon Peas: An Excellent Survival Crop

I like having knowledge and success with a plant before I write a profile (though the recent survival plant profile I wrote on stinking toe trees was all based on research, not actual growing hours) which is why I waited for some time to write about pigeon peas.

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

Green manure

Drought-resistant source of calories

Windbreak

Erosion control

Good chop-and-drop for establishing food forests/mulching

Wood useful for firewood

Great forage for animals

Fixes nitrogen

Breaks up hard soil with its strong roots

Can be used to suppress weeds

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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.

According to everyone’s favorite agricultural company:

“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.

Conclusion

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.

If you can grow pigeon peas, do it!

You’ll find more info at Infogalactic.

And at Tropical Permaculture.

And at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

 

SPUDOMETER RATING:

SpudMeter51

 

 

 

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

Preparing and Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes

SweetPotatoes1

Planting a bed of sweet potatoes is easy.

Preparing a bed for sweet potatoes is a little harder. That takes some digging and loosening.

Fortunately, my trusty Meadow Creature broadfork is always up to the task.

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.

meadow-creature-broadfork

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.

DoubleDugAbundantBed

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.

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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:

Simple.

Planting a Bed of Sweet Potatoes

This is easy as shoo-fly pie.

Just cut some vines and stick them in.

planting a bed of sweet potatoes

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.

For more on growing sweet potatoes in Florida and why they’re one of my top crops for the Sunshine State, check out my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.

For more on sweet potatoes as a survival crop, plus an in-depth look at various garden designs and their pros and cons, get my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening.

I’ll post a video update on this bed soon – you’ll be amazed by how good these little pieces of vine look after a week or two.

Planting a bed of sweet potatoes takes some prep work, but do that preparation well and you’ll be rewarded with abundant harvests.

Trench-Planting Yams

trench-planting-yams

Let’s see if this works:

The clay here is very hard to dig, particularly near the house where the topsoil is thin and the clay and rocks are abundant.

A local told me to try planting yams in a trench filled with leaves and grass, so I decided to give it a try.

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We’ll see how it turns out. Yams are an EXCELLENT tropical staple crop and figure prominently in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening.

If you live in Florida and want a solid calorie crop that produces well and takes almost no work – give yams a try. The trenching isn’t required in a sandy soil.

Just pop bulbils or minisetts in the ground and wait.

When to Plant Jamaican Sorrel

when to plant jamaican sorrel

S.M. wants to know when to plant Jamaican sorrel:

“I was searching google on when is the best time to plant Sorrel seed and there seems to be much about the plant, its uses etc… However I did not find a satisfying answer as to when to plant this wonderful multi- use plant. I live in St. Lucie County. Could you suggest the best time for this area? I would appreciate your knowledge and any suggestions you could provide. I was introduced to this via friends from Jamaica and was given the flowers which I separated the leaves etc.. then dried, now I have my own start and wish to get it right and not waste time with “maybe” and guessing.
Thank you for any input and help you could provide.”
My response:
You can plant them right now – they’ll do well. They don’t start blooming in Florida until Fall, but by then you’ll have great big bushes and will get an abundant harvest if you start now. If you get any frosts (unlikely in your area!) protect the little seedlings. They can’t take the cold at all. I plant mine directly in the ground and give them compost. If you are afraid the seedlings will get lost, you can also start in pots and then transplant when they’re 6″ tall or so. Great plant – and you can eat the leaves as well. I wouldn’t plant any later than March/April.
Jamaican sorrel, AKA Florida cranberry, is a marvelous plant. The leaves and the calyxes are edible and the shrubby plants are very attractive. You can read my survival plant profile on them here if you want more details.

When to Plant Jamaican Sorrel and Why

Because they are day-length sensitive, Jamaican sorrel doesn’t bloom and fruit until fall, no matter when you plant it. That means if you plant seeds in August, they’ll start blooming at just a foot or two tall and they won’t bear much.
If you start them early, they get a lot more time to grow plenty of branches and height and will give you much better harvests.
If you live in frost-prone areas, I recommend starting them in pots in February and March and planting them out in the garden as soon as the weather isn’t going to kill them. As I wrote to S.M., they really don’t like the cold.
So that’s the when and the why. It’s a beautiful and productive plant – grow it if you can.
And be sure to make a batch of Rachel’s faux cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving – it’s amazing.
Have a great Sunday, everyone.
*            *              *

And Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in your salvation.

“There is none holy like the Lord:
    for there is none besides you;
    there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
    he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord‘s,
    and on them he has set the world.

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“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
    for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
    against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

-1st Samuel 2

Dry Bean Varieties for the Tropics

kebarika-dry-bean-Southern-Exposure

A pastor from Haiti asks about dry bean varieties for the tropics:

“Recently, I was contacted by a small group of farmers who have secured acres of ground in Haiti and are diligently working to produce a variety of crops – utilizing a cooperative of Haitian farmers and growers to produce Plantain and Peanuts. 

They knew of my work and efforts in Haiti and asked my help in finding a variety of bean that can be planted in Haiti and the tropics.
(Soon) I will be returning to Haiti. They have asked if I might do some research and find one or two varieties of beans that they can grow…- ultimately for food…but currently to grow as seed stock to make available to other farmers in the area to produce a crop that will produce nutrient and protein to the needy in Haiti. They are willing to grow… but the options for growing varieties is somewhat a mystery.
Since I understand you live in a similar tropic…that you might have some possible suggestions…and BEAN varieties that may be able to handle the Haiti climate without dropping blossoms. As you may know there are a variety of beans favored in Haiti – black beans and white beans…and a type of lima bean. But these are normally imported – after having been grown in Michigan.”

The pastor further informed me that they are looking for dry bean varieties, not green beans. Think storable protein.

Pigeon Peas

Intercropped_Corn_And_Pigeon_Peas

I recommended pigeon peas and he wrote further:

“I have been reading about the pigeon peas and ordered the seed today to arrive in time to take with me.”

So that’s good – pigeon peas can take a lot of heat and humidity and produce crops for at least two years, provided wind damage doesn’t take them down.

Southern Peas

Another thought I had was the classic “black-eyed pea” or “zipper peas,” also called “crowder peas,” “cow peas” and “Southern peas.”

Their Latin name is Vigna unguiculata.

They take heat, poor soil, humidity and low rainfall and still produce crops.

BeansBeforeAndAfter

We had great success with them in dry and wet conditions and high heat.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has quite a few varieties for sale.

Kebarika Bean

There is also the Kebarika bean from Kenya that’s available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

kebarika-dry-bean-Southern-Exposure

We grew those in a hot and rainy summer in Florida and they were one of the few bean plants that produced dry beans for us.

The flavor is bland but the plants were strong.

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LabLab

The pastor mentioned lablab (Lablab purpureus) in one of his emails – that could be another good option, though I have not grown them much myself.

Via Tropical Forages:

“Lablab is a dual-purpose legume.  It is traditionally grown as a pulse crop for human consumption in south and southeast Asia and eastern Africa.  Flowers and immature pods also used as a vegetable.  It is also used as a fodder legume sown for grazing and conservation in broad-acre agricultural systems in tropical environments with a summer rainfall.  Also used as green manure, cover crop and in cut-and-carry systems and as a concentrate feed.  It can be incorporated into cereal cropping systems as a legume ley to address soil fertility decline and is used as an intercrop species with maize to provide better legume/stover feed quality.  As a dual purpose (human food and animal feed) legume , it is sown as a monoculture or in intercrop systems.”

Worth trying.

Winged Bean

Winged beans are a Swiss Army Knife bean species. Edible leaves, green pods, roots and dry beans.

InfoGalactic reports:

“Winged bean thrives in hot weather and favours humidity, but it is an adaptable plant. It is reported that the winged bean can adjust to the climate of the equatorial tropics.[1] Winged bean production is optimal in humidity, but the species is susceptible to moisture stress and waterlogging.”

I have heard that dry winged beans need plenty of cooking to become soft and digestible but have not tried them as dry beans myself – they are on the list of test crops for us.

Final Thoughts on Dry Bean Varieties for the Tropics

If this were my project, I would gather a wide range of bean varieties and test them all over a few years to see which did the best. Sometimes a type will work that you thought wouldn’t – or a sure-fire variety just doesn’t do well under local conditions.

Experiment, experiment, experiment. If you have bed space, definitely grab some Southern peas, lablab, winged beans, pigeon peas and Kebarika… and then spin out from there.

Pintos may do well, or some variety of Roma bean from Italy – you don’t know until you try. I pray you find great success.

If any of you brilliant readers have any further suggestions on dry bean varieties for the tropics, please let me know in the comments.

If there’s something you’ve grown that worked great in the heat and humidity, share it. Let’s help this pastor have success with his gardening experiments!

 

*Kebarika bean image via Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Stinging Velvet Beans

stinging-velvet-beans-cowitch

Keith writes:

“Does anyone have a good place to buy non stinging velvet beans? I grew the stinging variety this year (not knowing they were the stinging variety until they produced) and yesterday my wife got stung… so never again… need the non stinging type”

The wild forms of velvet bean are known as “cowitch” or sometimes “madness bean.”

This is for good reason, as the stinging hairs will drive you insane with itching and pain.

Keith sent me photos of his scary hair velvet beans – look at these!

Stinging-velvet-beans

They’re beautiful, aren’t they? Looks like something you’d want to pet.

Actually, it reminds me of Florida’s nastiest caterpillar:

PussCaterpillar3

Don’t touch! It’ll get you!

Velvet beans are worth growing due to their health benefits, especially their ability to lift your mood and boost your testosterone. They also fix nitrogen and smother weeds quite nicely.

The stinging ones are edible in small quantities, just as the non-stinging types are. Just don’t eat a lot of velvet beans. Go slow!

Here’s a video I did a while back where I show how to cook velvet beans:

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As you can probably see, the ones I grew back in North Florida were a non-stinging type. The pods looked like this:

Velvet_Beans_2

Compare that to Keith’s beans:

stinging-velvet-beans-cowitch

Those stinging beans really are pretty, though.

Even the non-stinging ones can cause a little itching if you have sensitive skin, so be aware.

Here in Central America there are the wild, hairy forms growing here and there in the woods. You need to watch out for them, as it’s easy to push your way through the undergrowth and accidentally get tormented by unforeseen beans.

Sources for Non-Stinging Velvet Beans?

Can anyone help Keith find non-stinging velvet beans for his garden?

I used to have jars of them but couldn’t bring them with me overseas, so I don’t have any I can share.

Do you? Or do you know a seed source that sells them? Let me know in the comments. We need to hook Keith up, for his wife’s sake!

In Search of Yams

Hiking-instagram-yam-hunt

One of my favorite crops of all-time is the oft-overlooked yam.

Not these:
SweetPotatoes1

I like those, but those are sweet potatoes. They are not yams. Never call them yams.

Never.

These are yams:Huge_Yams

And those wonderful roots grow wild here in the mysterious tropical locale we now call home.

They are in the jungle, just waiting to be dug. And at this time of the year, they have produced bulbils which can be used for planting.

WingedYamBulbils

Yesterday Rachel and I took a hike down the mountainside, across the river, then up the other side into the jungle.

Hiking-instagram-yam-hunt

 

It was a combination of bulbil hunt and hard exercise.

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By the way, that tall tropical grass there makes a great mulch/compost amendment/fertilizer. Cut it down and let it lay on the ground… it turns into beautiful humus and brings in lots of life.

But I digress.

This hunt for yam bulbils for planting isn’t a new thing for me.

I did it for multiple years in North Florida as well, where the exact same delicious species of yam grows in the wild, just as it does here in the tropics. The state of Florida calls it an invasive. I call it an awesome source of high-quality calories and I’m GLAD it invaded the state.

Heck with you fuddy-duddies and your invasive species lists.

All hail Dioscorea alata – the winged yam!

I love these things. They taste remarkably like a potato, though I actually think they taste a little better, and they take almost no work to grow.

If you hunt for bulbils a few months from now you aren’t likely to find any – you really only get them during the winter months when the vines have entered their dormancy cycle after fattening up the bulbils, which start falling to the ground as the vines wither. The bulbils are just aerial roots with a more entertaining name.

Snag them if you can find them, then plant now through early spring. And make the bulbil hunt fun. Rachel and I did.

True yams are one of my top staple crops and feature prominently in my popular Florida gardening book.

You can read more about them here as well.

“There is Death in the Pot!”

Elisha_and__Death_in_the_Pot_1049-101

In 2 Kings chapter 4, there is a story we just lived through ourselves:

“38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal when there was a famine in the land. And as the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Set on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” 39 One of them went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. 40 And they poured out some for the men to eat. But while they were eating of the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. 41 He said, “Then bring flour.” And he threw it into the pot and said, “Pour some out for the men, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot.”

Yesterday I had big plans.

I was going to finish clearing and planting garden beds, string trim around my pumpkins down the hill, digs some new beds to plant yams… all kinds of wonderful things.

Instead, I ended up poisoned.

How, you may ask?

Luffas. I was poisoned by luffa gourds. And so was Rachel.

I showed off the luffa vines growing wild down the hill in a recent video on my YouTube channel:

luffa poisoning cucurbiticin poisoning poisonous zuchinni

When I was down there a few days ago harvesting cocoa, I snagged a couple of the young fruit to eat. Luffa are edible – and delicious when stir-fried – so long as you eat them young.

Or such has always been my experience.

On Saturday morning Rachel peeled and chopped them up with greens, corned beef and eggs to make a hash for breakfast.

Then we sat down to eat.

“Wow… this is bitter!” Rachel said. “Could the moringa be bitter?”

I tasted mine. It was excruciatingly bitter in flavor.

“I don’t know… I don’t think moringa ever gets bitter like this! Anything else in it?”

Rachel frowned. “A few other greens… I don’t know…”

I tried another bite. It was awful.

“Wait,” I said, “did you put the luffa in it?”

“Yes!” she said, “that must be it! But they were never bitter before!”

That’s true. We ate luffa back in Florida and it was delicious. Nothing like this.

I put hot sauce and ketchup on my portion and ate a few more bites. I’ve had bitter gourd before and figured this wouldn’t hurt us. I got about half-way through before giving up, but Rachel choked down her entire plate of food. We both hated to waste the eggs and corned beef, especially since I have to walk about 4 miles to go shopping.

This was a terrible mistake.

After breakfast we went outside and got to work on the garden. Rachel weeded and tilled up a bed and I took out a moringa tree which was growing in the wrong place.

By about 11AM I was feeling kind of weird and Rachel was ready to go inside.

Then as I tried to get a little work done at the computer, the pain hit. Wrenching stomach pain, and the bitterness of the morning’s breakfast was back in my mouth. I felt nauseous.

Breakfast was killing me.

curcurbitacin poisoning

About a half-hour after I got ill, Rachel started to get sick as well.

We rapidly deteriorated, taking alternate trips to the bathroom as everything in our systems was emptied violently from our bodies. I tried grinding and eating some charcoal but that didn’t seem to help.

I lay in bed and was wracked with chills despite the warm tropical breeze coming through the window. The older children were told to make their own lunch and dinner and share with the little ones, as Rachel and I could barely stand.

My head aching, stomach clenched, I searched the internet on my phone, looking for an answer. “Luffa poisoning” brought me to an article on poisons created by members of the cucurbit family, more specifically zucchini and cucumbers.

“Occasionally, a gardener will find a zucchini growing in their garden that is extremely bitter, as was the case in 2003 for one Dodge county, Nebraska gardener. Eating these vegetables caused severe stomach cramps and diarrhea that lasted several days. These symptoms were similar to 22 cases of human poisoning by bitter zucchini reported in Australia from 1981 to 1982, and in Alabama and California in 1984.”

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Continuing to chase this rabbit hole downwards, I came to another article on the topic, this time a woman’s story that was way too similar to our own:

“I had been baffled by several of my meals being ruined by an awful, bitter taste – so bitter that a tiny bit left an awful taste in my mouth for quite some time afterwards. I wondered if the oil was rancid, I wondered what ingredient could possibly taste so awful.

Then finally, the culprit was revealed – the last ingredient was grated courgettes, and the dish went from lovely to appallingly bitter.

Loathe to throw out a big pan of food, I tried to eat around the courgettes and pick out the broad beans, but I had to admit, it tasted bitter beyond anything I wanted to eat, and eventually gave up. My partner refused to touch it.

I woke up around 3am with stomach cramps, diarrhoea, the same bitter taste in my mouth, and a pounding heart. I was quite worried, and my partner said I should look at the research he had done on bitter courgettes – it turns out they can contain a poison called Cucurbitacin E, which can develop if the plant is hybridised and/or water-stressed.”

Cucurbitacin Poisoning Nailed Us

 

That was it – curcurbitacin poisoning. Apparently, many of our cultivated vegetables from the broader cucumber family (which includes melons, squash and yes, luffa) have had the bitter toxins bred out of them.

Not so my jungle luffa.

And we were so stupid as to continue eating and trying to pick around the bits of luffa despite breakfast’s wretched flavor

We paid for it. Though Rachel and I feel better today, we are by no means healthy again. Cucurbitacin poisoning is nasty stuff.

I always wondered about the story of Elisha and the toxic soup. The idea of there being a poisonous gourd struck me as odd, as I had never read anything about toxic members of the cucumber family. Maybe it was a mis-translation or something, I thought.

No, it was almost certainly cucurbitacin poisoning. Rachel and I had a mild case, compared to some that have occurred.

Curcurbitacin Poisoning Claims a Life

People have actually died from curcurbitacin poisoning:

“Ludwig A. died in hospital two weeks after eating a courgette stew tainted with poison, Bild reported on Wednesday.

The courgettes were home-grown, and had been given to the pensioner and his wife Inge by neighbours at their Heidelberg home.

But neither the couple nor their neighbours were aware of the dangerous toxins hidden within the plants.

“The stew did taste bitter,” Inge A. told Bild. “But we’re used to bitter. We grow radishes in our garden, which also have this bitter taste.”

But shortly after eating the meal, the couple began to feel unwell.

“I had diarrhea, and had to be sick,” 80-year-old Inge said.

For her husband, things were even worse. “His face had turned completely yellow,” Inge remembered.

The pair were rushed to hospital, where they were diagnosed with severe poisoning.

80-year-old Inge gradually recovered, and was released from hospital after a few days. However, her husband had ingested so much of the poison that he later died.”

Cucurbitacin Poisoning in India

Another horror story comes from India, this time related to bottle gourd juice:

“KL Dargar, a 60-year-old native of Mehasana did not have anybody to warn him when he drank a glass of fresh bottle gourd (doodhi) juice. Dargar, had no reason to suspect the innocent looking doodhi, for he had been drinking a glass of doodhi juice on an empty stomach every morning for the last twenty years. But this time the healthy drink almost got him killed for he ignored the fact that the doodhi juice tasted bitter when he drank it.

In fact, experts say one needs to stay away from bitter bottle gourd, cucumber, squash, pumpkin and melon. These vegetables, which are considered one of the healthiest, belong to the cucurbitaceae family.

Cucurbitacins are complex compounds found in plants belonging to cucumber family.

The tetracyclic triterpinpoid cucurbitacins compounds are responsible for its bitterness and are highly toxic. A 1.2 mg dose of these toxic compounds is capable of killing a mouse. It can cause humans to vomit blood.” The last time when I drank freshly extracted bottle gourd juice, it tasted quite bitter. Usually the juice has no taste,” said Dargar. “Within minutes, I had severe stomach ache, and I started vomiting blood,” he said. Dargar said that the bottle gourd used for extracting the juice was as innocuous as any other. Within minutes of consuming the bitter juice Darga felt sweaty, dizzy and collapsed. He was rushed to the Apollo hospital’s emergency department.

Dr Shravan Bohra, chief gastroenterologist, at Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad, said, “We treated Dargar for a case of bottle gourd poisoning. He was also treated for blood vomiting.” Bohra said that an endoscopy revealed that his stomach was found to be bleeding profusely. “Some swelling and bleeding was also noticed in the upper small intestine. The state of the stomach was such as one would get to see if a person consumed acid used for toilet cleaning,” he said.”

Conclusion

Once I finish this post, I’m going back to bed. Rachel is already laying down again, after getting up and making some coffee.

This is miserable stuff. I never mess around with plants I believe are potentially poisonous – and I’m very careful with my mushroom hunting and have a whole stack of books on the topic.

Yet I poisoned myself with luffa. Luffa!

And I didn’t even have a prophet to perform a miracle.

Time to Prune Grapes (if you’re in a mild climate in the Northern Hemisphere)

time to prune grapes

It’s about time to prune grapes again, at least if you live in a somewhat mild climate.

I made this video a few years ago showing how I pruned my muscadine grapes back in North Florida:

It’s not hard, except psychologically. When you’re a beginner it’s hard to take off that much vine!

Fortunately, I’ve gotten over that and have now pruned hundreds of grapevines, thanks to some work I did with my friend Dave Taylor at Taylor Gardens Nursery.

He’s the guy who explains how to grow muscadine grapes in this video:

There is a single grape vine here on our current property that hadn’t been bearing grapes.

A few days ago I gave it a brutal pruning and also chopped and dropped Gliricidia leaves and twigs around it as a slow-release feed for the roots.

Rebel Gardens web graphics-03

Actually, around this time of the year it seems like it’s becoming a tradition for me to post grape-pruning videos…

More on Grape Pruning

If you have grapes and live in a warmer climate, it’s time to prune grapes. Get out there and get pruning before the buds break in the late winter and early spring.

UF has this to say about the time to prune grapes:

“Pruning is done in Florida during the following dormant periods: (a) south Florida-January; (b) central Florida-January 1 to February 15; and (c) north Florida-January 1 to March 10.

Vines that fail to reach the top wire during the first year should be pruned back to buds near the ground. “Bleeding” of grape vines is not harmful. Vines that reach the top wire during the first year should be pruned to a single cane of 3 to 5 buds along each wire in each direction. After the second year, leave 4 new wood canes (1 for each direction on each wire) with 8 to 12 buds on each cane. The older and more vigorous the vine, the greater the number of buds that can be left on each cane at pruning time. In addition to the 4 canes, leave short 2 or 3 bud spurs near the points of cane origin (near the trunk) for renewal of canes the following year.

Canes are pruned short (3 to 5 buds), and many more canes are left per vine if the “clothesline” trellis is used.

If vines are not pruned at all, the number of clusters will increase, but the size of both clusters and berries will decrease so that only stems and cull berries are produced. Further, the length and width of the vines will make them more difficult to harvest or cultivate.”

If you live farther up north, you’re set for a couple more months so take the time to relax and enjoy your seed catalogs.

When to Harvest a Pumpkin or Winter Squash

when-is-a-pumpkin-ready-to-pick

I get asked now and again when to harvest pumpkins or how to tell if a squash is ready to pick.

Well, on Friday I posted a video demonstrating when to harvest a pumpkin or winter squash:

Though those aren’t the best demonstration specimens, I covered the basics in the video.

I know for most of you this is EXACTLY the wrong time of year to share a post like this as pumpkin season is long gone. Perhaps it will help you later this year, though, once you all thaw out and get your gardens going.

Here’s a quick overview on how I know when to harvest pumpkins and winter squash.

Is the Stem on the Fruit Still Green?

Stem-still-green

Then don’t cut it. That means the fruit is still receiving nutrition from the main vine.

But…

If the Pumpkin Stem is Yellow or Brown, Cut it!

stem-brown

The fruit is no longer receiving sap from the plant, so it’s time to cut that pumpkin or winter squash off and bring it inside.

If the Main Vine is Dead, Harvest That Squash!

dead-vine

Sometimes, as was the case with at least one of the pumpkins in my video, the stem on the fruit may still be green but the main vine is withing away and dying.

Chances are nothing else is going to happen, so cut the fruit and bring it inside.

If the Fruit is Damaged, Use it for Soup!

damaged-squash-fruit

If there’s a rotten spot on your pumpkin or winter squash, chances are it’s not going to keep well on the shelf. Go ahead and cut it, then use as soon as possible. The flavor won’t be as good as a “cured” pumpkin or squash, so I like to remove the damaged portion, peel and seed the fruit, then use them for soup.

How to Harvest a Pumpkin or Winter Squash Properly

It’s important to leave a bit of stem on your pumpkins or winter squash when you harvest them.

Rebel Gardens web graphics-03

Like this:

when-to-harvest-a-pumpkin

I usually leave about an inch. I don’t pluck the pumpkins from the stems or break them off, I cut them nicely.

In the video I’m using these Felco picking and trimming snips (which I love for taking cuttings and precise trimming work). Those have been a go-to tool for me since I bought them for my old plant nursery. Great little snips.

Any pair of pruners will work, though. Just be gentle and don’t accidentally break the entire stem off the fruit. That leaves an entry for decay microorganisms which can lower the storage time of your squash significantly.

Taste Takes Time

SeminolePumpkinDavidTheGood

Unlike most vegetables which are at their best when fresh harvested, pumpkins and winter squash improve in flavor when stored for at least a few weeks.

I like to pick on a dry day, if possible, then let the fruit dry a little further on the back porch. Once they’re good and dry, I bring them inside and set them on a shelf to “cure” for a bit.

Seminole pumpkins will keep for as long as a year… or longer.

Other varieties tend to keep for at least a few months, though some winter squash, like Delicatas, don’t keep long at all, so use those first.

And speaking of using pumpkins and squash, Rachel recently posted a video on how she likes to cook and use the many pumpkins and squash we grow and purchase from farm stands.

Roasting Pumpkins and Squash

Roasting a pumpkin in the oven is simple – here’s how Rachel does it:

Enjoy the winter, everyone.

May this post encourage you to look ahead to spring and plan out those amazing gardens with lots of pumpkins and squash.

I just planted some more a few days ago. Can’t stop the pumpkins!

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