Gandules (a nitrogen fixer) are one of the most useful plants we have in our food forest garden. These easy-to-grow, fast-growing trees produce a lot of edible beans and generate a lot of biomass to feed back to the soil.
Growing Gandules | the specs
- can be grown in Zone 9 or higher: Gandules don’t do well in freezing temperatures, so unless you want to grow them annually, it is recommended for zones 9 and higher.
- Dry area: Once established, these trees are very drought tolerant. Their long taproots reach deep in the ground to get the water they need. They do not grow well in low lying or wet areas, including near ponds
- Height: Under the right conditions, gandules trees can reach 10 feet tall, and almost as wide. They are shortlived, and will start dying back shortly after reaching this size.
- Full sun is recommended; however, I have some in part sun and they seem to be growing and producing just fine.
If you have the right climate, some space, and the right soil conditions, then check out what benefits growing gandules in your yard would bring!
why gandules trees?
easy to grow
Gandules grow well in poor-quality soil with little water. This is due to their long taproot that reaches deep into the soil in search of nutrients and water. So water them for the first few weeks, then leave them alone.
Now that I have an abundance of gandules trees established around the property, I just throw handfuls of seeds back into the yard to grow. I’m assuming the survival rate isn’t as high as planting them with care but it’s easier, and it works.
free fertilizer & mulch
I spread these trees around the yard to take advantage of the incredible amount of nitrogen-rich biomass they generate. These fast-growing nitrogen fixers quickly produce a lot of leaves and branches that I cut back and throw in my planters for chop & drop (aka the best way to improve your soil).
This release of fertilizer isn’t immediate. It takes time for the microbes to get the process started, but stick with it and you will become a regenerative gardener. The more leaves and branches you add (biomass) the more nutrient-packed your soil will be to provide for other healthy plants.
Whether you have a food forest or a small garden, gandules trees are a must-have. Twice a year, our gandules trees provide us with pounds of edible, protein-packed beans. We eat some and toss the rest back into the yard to grow.
If you have livestock, they can eat the leaves.
pollinator and pests
The flowers are hermaphroditic (consisting of male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts in the same flower), so they are self-pollinating but they still attract bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects.
These beneficial insects will stick around your yard to eat other insects, feed the wildlife, and help pollinate your other plants.
Although I rarely see pests on my gandules, I have found a few IO caterpillars, which don’t do much damage to the tree, but it will hurt your hand if you grab it.
Gandules trees are a great way to quickly provide shade and protection to new plants as they become established.
Early spring, I toss a few gandules seeds in my garden. By summertime, they are big enough to serve as trellises for the tomatoes and bushy enough to protect them from the blazing Florida sun.
It’s just an all-around awesome plant.
how to grow Gandules trees from seed
what you need:
- a poking device, like a pencil or a pair of scissors
- gandules seeds
Find a DRY spot on your property that is at least 10 feet away from any structures or fences.
I like to poke 3 holes in the ground, about 1 inch deep, and spaced like the finger holes of a bowling ball. Drop one seed per hole, cover them up, and say ta-da.
Water daily until they sprout (a few days to a week). After this point, they should be fine with a weekly watering or none at all. Just watch it and see how it behaves.
As the trees get older they produce fewer pods so it is a good idea to toss some seeds around every time you harvest them. Once you have an abundance of seeds, you can be a little more wreckless planting them and just toss seeds around.
types of gandules seeds
Every once in a while, a tree will produce seeds that are a different shade of brown, black, red or purple than we are used to.
We usually have brown or black varieties available on ebay. My son and I harvest them, remove the pods and count them all by hand. Running your seeds to the mailbox is an awesome moment for us, and we appreciate every order we receive.
Gandules sprouts grow slowly at first while the plant is busy establishing its long root system. Once the sapling reaches 1 foot tall, it will put more energy into the plant and start growing much faster.
Within a year, your gandules trees should be over 3 feet tall.
When the flowers appear, your pigeon peas are soon to follow.
The flower will begin to die back and a small green seed pod will form.
When plump, the green pod will hold an average of 6 pigeon peas which can be eaten raw or cooked.
The beans can be eaten raw, cooked green, or left on the tree to dry in the pod, then cooked when dry.
Pigeon Peas are popular in the Eastern Caribbean as well as in a very popular Puerto Rican dish called Gandules con Arroz, which contains rice, pigeon peas, and pork. Also popular in their native land of India and Africa, pigeon peas are eaten in soups; as a vegetable; dried for use as flour, and dried and fermented to make dhokla and tempeh.
- Green Pods: Raw. Gandules can be picked when the pods are green and plump. They can be eaten raw or more commonly cooked (used in the popular Puerto Rican Arroz Con Gandules dish).
- Brown Pods: Dry. You can also leave the pods on the tree to dry out on their own. The pods will be ready once they turn brown and crunchy. Dried pods should be picked as soon as possible or they will grow mold causing the seeds inside to get fuzzy.
Gandules (aka pigeon peas) are a cheap and easy to grow source of protein. Like their closely related cousins, split peas and lentils, pigeon peas are highly nutritious and can be found canned, frozen, and dried at grocery stores.
The Importance of Pigeon Peas across the Globe
Gandules, or pigeon peas, are saving lives across the globe. This protein-packed bean is easy to grow in times of drought and has become a majority staple crop in poverty-stricken countries.
In 2011-2012, Africa faced its worst drought in over 60 years. The loss of crops triggered a deadly food crisis across Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda that killed around 250,000 people. Humanitarians turned their focus to more drought-tolerant crops like pigeon pea to help them recover.
Today, scientists have successfully mapped the gandules genome, and have been able to re-create its DNA structure and develop hybrids that are yielding up to 50% more beans per tree.