Gandules trees: edible beans on a tree


Gandules trees have contributed a lot to the success of our zone 9b food forest. These fast-growing, beneficial trees provide a lot of protein-rich food (edible beans), biomass (lots of leaves and sticks) and I use the branches for hugelkultur, making fences, stakes and bonfires.

We gather the dry seed pods in the winter time. We sell some then toss the rest of the seeds everywhere, which has led to hundreds of Gandules trees growing all over our property.

AKA: Pigeon Peas, Cajanus Species, Congo Pea, Gungo Pea, Red Gram, Dhal, and goongoo beans

Why should you grow Gandules Trees?

They provide pounds of edible, protein-packed beans for human consumption and the edible leaves are great to feed to livestock.

Pollinators: Although the flowers are self pollinating, they still attract bees, butterflies and beneficial insects.

Shade and Protection: Grow gandules trees to provide shade and protection to your new plants as they become established.

Gandules trees are an abundant plant. These fast-growing trees have plenty of extra leaves and branches you can cut back to use as mulch.

All parts of a gandules tree have nitrogen-fixing properties

Gandules trees develop a long taproot that reaches deep down into the soil in search of nutrients. Not only do these roots break up and aerate the soil, but they also bring these nutrients up to the surface.

It’s just an all-around awesome plant.

How to grow gandules trees

Gandules are a short-lived tree (5-7 years) but they provide pounds and pounds of beans throughout their lifetime. The trees produce fewer pods as the tree ages, so it is important to continue planting seeds every few years.

new growth on a gandules tree

After your first tree produces beans, you will have an endless supply as long as you continue to plant the seeds. I have such an abundance of seeds that I just toss them into the yard. Depending on where they decide to sprout, I either let the tree grow, or cut it down leaving the nitrogen rich root system to decompose and fertilize the soil.

Height: Under the right conditions, Gandules trees can reach 10 feet tall and produce several pounds of edible gandules (pigeon peas) twice a year.

Spacing: Gandules grow into big, bushy trees. It is best to leave 4 feet of space in between planting.

Full sun is recommended, but I have some in part sun and they seem to be growing and producing just fine.

Drought Tolerant: Gandules plants prefer dry soil as they have long roots that will reach deep into the soil and soak up water and nutrients.

Gandules Flowers and Foliage

Here in zone 9, Gandules trees bloom from December to February. The bright yellow gandules flowers have a reddish tinge close to where the seed pod grows. I have heard the flowers can also be all red, but I have never seen this.

As with most legumes, gandules flowers are hermaphroditic, consisting of male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts in the same flower.

Foliage: Gandules plants have oblong, trifoliate leaves (have 3 leaflets) measuring up to 10 cm long and 4 cm wide.

Eating Gandules

Gandules aka Pigeon Peas are a cheap and easy to grow source of protein. Pigeon Peas, like their closely related cousins, split peas and lentils, are highly nutritious and can be found canned, frozen, and dried at the grocery store.

I have never tried it, but I heard that you can plant gandules (pigeon peas) right out of the can and they will grow. Experiment to come…

The beans can be eaten raw, cooked green or cooked when dry. Commonly eaten in:

Rice (arroz con gandule)
Dried and used as flour
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. Pigeon Peas are also popular in their native land of India and Africa where they are eaten in soups, as a vegetable, dried for use as flour, dried and fermented to make dhokla and tempeh.

When and How to Harvest Gandules

Gandules produce several different colors of pigeon peas (beans) including cream-colored and different shades of brown and black.

I have noticed on my trees that the pods that contain dark seeds are usually variegated in color.

When to pick Gandules

Green: 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 cuisine)

Brown: 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.

Starting Gandules trees from seed

First, buy them from our store! We usually have brown or black varieties available. 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.

Once you get your seeds, find a DRY spot on your property, poke a hole in the ground with a pencil and drop in 2-3 seeds. Water daily until they sprout (a few days-a week). After this point, they should be fine with a weekly watering or none at all.

Gandules trees seem like they are growing slowly at first, but the plant is busy establishing its long root system. Once your gandules tree reaches 1 foot tall, it will put more energy into the plant and start growing very fast.

Here is a video (YouTube Link) of my one year old Gandules tree ready to produce gandules .

Gandules trees send long taproots deep down into the soil to collect nutrients and moisture, allowing the plants to thrive without watering or fertilization.

Within a year, your gandules trees will be over 3 feet tall and as soon as you see the quarter sized self-pollinating flowers appear, you know 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.

Gandules Pests and Pollinators

There are so many plants and flowers in my yard that it is hard to tell which plants attract which pollinators, but I have noticed many bees, butterflies (especially Gulf Fritillary) and ladybugs on the Gandules trees.

I have also found several IO Caterpillars on my gandules trees. They are very painful to touch and amazingly, I have not been stung yet!

Although I have not had any issues with pests on my gandules trees, the best way to deal with pests is to simply pick them off by hand. We love going on bug hunts as we feed them to our fish.

If you don’t have a fish tank or you aren’t as excited about bug hunts as we are, this is a great alternative to pesticides…Tanglefoot Tree Insect Barrier.

The tub is a messy, sticky goo that your place around the trunk of your tree to catch any pests crawling up to eat it. Just use gloves and don’t put the goo directly on the tree as it will damage (and possibly kill) the tree. The green container is a brushable goo that you can make your own sticky traps with. This is a great way to see what kinds of pests are lurking in your garden.

The Importance of Pigeon Peas across the Globe

Gandules, aka 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.

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