Tag Archives: summer gardening

SWFL Summer Gardening – Pigeon Pea

P1100189The spring and summer months are an excellent time to get your pigeon pea crops growing, and if you have not yet tried the benefits of this versatile shrub, I highly recommend you get them incorporated into your food production system as soon as possible. They are a quick growing, large shrub that can reach 4-12’ within 6 months and best of all they have a long flowering and production season typically lasting November – May. Botanically named Cajanus cajan it possesses a variety of common names such as congo pea, gungo pea, and red gram. An ancient plant cultivated since pre-historic times, the pigeon pea has been a staple crop in many regions of the world, but it’s much more than just a food crop.

P1080896Edible: The peas can be eaten fresh or cooked and are exceptionally high in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and iron. My favorite method of preparation is to steam them in their pods with a little salt and enjoy their nutty meatiness pod by pod. You can boil them with a similar result. They also make an excellent dried legume suitable to long term storage which can be used in just about any pea or bean recipe.

Animal Fodder: Both my chickens and rabbits enjoy munching on the pigeon pea cuttings I give them. The rabbits like the greens and my chickens primarily go for the peas.

Medicinal: The best medicinal benefit is from the nutrition it provides when you eat it, but traditional cultures have applied its different parts to treat constipation, oral issues like gingivitis and ulcers, food poisoning, diabetes, inflammation, and low energy.

Functional: Pigeon Peas can be used as a chop and drop mulch and will fix nitrogen to the soil when you prune them (requires an inoculant such as cow-pea Rhizobium). You can intercrop them with smaller varieties to provide shade and nutrients. The wood from them produces good heat suited to cooking fires. They also make quick growing windbreaks and provide light privacy.





Aesthetically pleasing: The shrubs are large and feathery in appearance with showy flowers raning in colors from yellow to red and yellow in color. The bees are huge fans of these flowers.

Growing Information:
While you can plant pigeon peas anytime of the year, in SW Florida the best time to plant them is in the spring to early summer as this will allow them to reach their full height before the days grow shorter and they start to bloom. They are very heat tolerant and perform best in our hot and moist conditions. They are perennial living 3-5 years, but are often grown as an annual crop with best production in the 1st and 2nd years.

Starting plants:
Direct seed or transplant
Planting depth from seed ¾” – 1 ½”.
Germinates in 10-14 days.

Spacing: 5-6’.
Nutrition: These plants are low fertility tolerant as well as drought tolerant once established .

Additional information for the botanical geek in you.
Pigeon Pea is a deep taprooted perennial shrub with trifoliate, alternate leaves which spiral around the stem. The pods are flat and pubescent. The inflorescence occurs in racemes.

Where can I get some of these plants? I have both seeds and transplants available at the Alliance for the Art’s Green Market on Saturday mornings from 9:00a – 1:00p or you can seed order by mail (web shopping coming soon!).

SWFL Summer Gardening – The Luffa Vine

Luffa growing on chain link fence.

Luffa growing on chain link fence.

In our South Florida sun, I am often asked, “what can I grow in the summer?” Well there are many things we can grow and one of my favorites is the versatile Luffa. Botanically known as Luffa aegyptiaca or Luffa cylidrica, Luffa is a member of the Cucurbit family and shares many of the characteristics of that family. It is believed to have originated in India and its common names include: Smooth loofah, sponge gourd, vegetable sponge, chinese okra, wild squash, dishrag gourd among others. Many people who have seen luffa (loofa) sold in stores assume that it is a sea sponge, but in fact it is a vining plant that we can grow in our own yards throughout the summer months.

Edible: The young leaves, shoots, flower buds and flowers can be eaten after being lightly steamed. The seeds can be roasted as a snack, much like pumpkin seeds. The young fruits can be peeled and prepared as you would zucchini.

Medicinal: It traditional medicine it is reported to have been used internally for rheumatism, backache, internal hemorrhage, chest pains and hemorrhoids and externally, for fevers, boils, and shingles. The exfoliating properties of the sponges remove dead skin and improve blood circulation.

eat when fruits are young

eat when fruits are young

Sponge and Seed Harvest

Sponge and Seed Harvest

Fruit in maturing stage

Fruit in maturing stage








Functional: Mature fruits have a fibrous structure making them the luffa sponge: The dried and peeled sponge can be used in a variety of ways which includes dish and vegetable scrubber, exfoliating shower scrubber, crafts (soap making), and filters. To top it all off, you can machine wash them for continued use, though they do lose their abrasiveness over time.

Aesthetically pleasing: Both the leaf and flower are showy and attract bees and other beneficial pollinators to your yard.

showy, bright yellow flowers attract bees which are important for pollinating this plant.

showy, bright yellow flowers attract bees which are important for pollinating this plant.

Growing Information:

The best time to plant them is in the spring to early summer as they require a good amount of water and sunshine.

Start plants by direct seeding or with transplants.
Planting depth from seed ½ – ¾” .
Germinates in 70 – 80 degrees and take 10-21 days.
Spacing Needs 8-12”

Soil and Nutrition – ph needs 6.0 – 6.8. These plants are heavy feeders requiring fertile soil and adequate moisture, especially during fruit development.
Produce best in full sun though plants can be grown in partial shade where vines can reach out and grow toward sunlight. These plants are cold sensitive.

Important: requires a strong trellis. In the landscape you could grow them on a back fence, wall, arbor, and anywhere that they will have adequate trellis support including oak trees (they love my oaks, but harvesting the fruit becomes more difficult). The fruit needs to be able to hang freely as constrictions will cause deformed fruit. The mature fruits can weigh up to 5lbs.

Additional information for the botanical geek in you.
Luffa is a vigorous climbing herb growing 10-30’, with a square stem and tendrils deriving from the axillary buds which aid it in support. The root system is shallow. The leaves are lobed and can have a silvery patches on topsides. The flowers are yellow and the fruits are green and grow long and narrow before maturing. The plant is monoecious, meaning that it bears both male and female flowers. The male flowers generally come first and are borne in clusters as the female flower is a solitary flower appearing with a small ovary which if pollinated adequately will later become the fruit. The flowers are showy and conspicuous about 2-4” across bearing five petals. Each of flowers are only open and receptive to pollination for one day. Flowering and fruit set begin about 6 weeks after seeding, provided proper nutrition and watering requirements are met. Pollination occurs by bees so do all you can to welcome these insects into your yard.

Where can I get some of these plants?
I have both seeds and transplants available at the Alliance for the Art’s Green Market on Saturday mornings from 9:00a – 1:00p or you can seed order by mail.