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A fence you can eat

Gandule bean plants can screen you from neighbors, provide lovely flowers to enjoy and feed you, too.

Published May 15, 2004

[Photo: John A. Starnes Jr.]
Gandule beans, also called pigeon peas, love our warm climate. Just plant one bean about an inch deep every foot along where you want a “fence” to grow.

When was the last time a fence gave you privacy and put food on the table?

Summer is a perfect opportunity to screen a hot tub or back yard from view with graceful green growth and lovely red and yellow flowers while providing a steady source of tropical beans.

Go to the ethnic foods aisle in your favorite store and buy a bag of dried gandule beans, also called pigeon peas. This tropical perennial legume loves our hot climate and will grow as a hedge. Plant one bean about an inch deep every foot along where you want your "fence" to grow; water weekly. They will grow faster in fertile soil, but gandule beans (Cajanus cajan) do well in most soils once the summer rains kick in.

Tender young leaves can be used in stir-fries, but it is the green pods I enjoy most. Boiled in salted water for 10 minutes, then drained and cooled, they make a wonderful TV snack, like the popular edamame soybeans.

If you allow the pods to ripen and turn brown, they yield new gandule beans that can be cooked and served with rice.

If you want a graceful homegrown bouquet, cut the fresh yellow and red blooms that resemble sweet peas.

If after a year or so your gandule bean fence gets lanky, cut it back by half when spring comes, feed the soil with cottonseed meal or menhaden fish meal and watch it regrow dense and full, bearing an extra-heavy new crop of pods.

Now and then life offers us cheap and easy solutions to problems, and our balmy climate allows us beautiful fencing that we can eat.

- John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for the diverse regions of Florida. He can be reached at johnastarnes@msn.net

[Last modified May 14, 2004, 13:33:50]

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