Days to germination: 5 to 8 days
Days to harvest: 85 to 100 days
Light requirements: Light shading
Water requirements: When weather is dry
Soil: Sandy and well-draining soil
The little black spot on an otherwise white bean gives the black-eyed pea it’s name, though it is also commonly called a cowpea. The black and white variety is the most popular form of black-eyed pea but there are actually other types as well. Some have pink or purple “eyes”, and the crowder variety has black peas.
As with most other peas and beans, you can get both bush and vining types (also called determinate and indeterminate varieties). Big Boy is one popular bush type, and most crowder peas are also compact bush plants.
The black-eyed pea is better suited for dry hot climates than other legumes, and it’s a more common crop around the southern United States than in the north. In the south, it’s considered good luck to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. They are also an important food crop throughout Africa, which is where the plant originates from.
The peas are loaded with protein, fiber, iron, calcium and even some vitamin A. They’re never eaten uncooked, mainly because they are dried at harvest.
Starting from Seed
Most gardeners don’t start their seedlings indoors as they don’t transplant all that successfully. Just sow your seeds out into the garden after your last frost date.
Though your plants will love the heat, they don’t actually love the bright sun. Try to plant your black-eyed peas in a part of the garden that is somewhat protected from the high sun of the afternoon. If they are in full sun, just water more often.
To help your plants get a good start, you can use an inoculant designed to naturally help peas and beans fix their nitrogen. Try to get inoculant specific for black-eyed peas (also labeled as cowpea inoculant), rather than the inoculant used for other types of beans. It’s a powder that gets mixed into the soil when you plant your seeds.
Sow your pea seed in rows, about 4 inches apart. You can also plant more closely, and thin out the sprouts later on. Peas should be planted about an inch and a half under the soil and kept moist until they’ve germinated.
If you are growing indeterminate plants (the kind that vines), you will want t provide some support to keep the vines off the ground. It’s better if you install a trellis or poles at the same time you plant the seeds or you may damage the plants if you try to put something up later on.
As long as you are getting regular rainfall, you shouldn’t need to water your plants very often. When they are dry, give them regular waterings without soaking them each time. Frequent and light watering is better.
The black-eyed pea can create its own nitrogen under the soil, so be careful not to provide any high-nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season. If using manure, it must be well-aged for this same reason.
If you are going to grow black-eyed peas in a container, you should stick to bush varieties and your pots should be around 12-inches deep with very good drainage.
Soil in a container will dry out faster than outside garden soil, but you still want to make sure you are not over-watering your plants. Only water when the soil has dried to the touch.
A bush type of pea should be able to support itself, but you will need a trellis or stakes for any potted vines. To keep your supports from being too heavy for the pot, and tipping it over, you should secure them to the ground or a wall rather than just in the container itself.
Pests and Diseases
One of the most common problems with black-eyed peas are root-knot nematodes that attack the roots and can go undetected if you are not carefully watching your plants. When your plants stop growing and start to suffer for no apparent reason, dig one up and see if the roots have swellings or knots. There is no treatment, and you should dig up the effected plants immediately to prevent spreading. Plant your black-eyed peas elsewhere next year, or try nematode resistant varieties.
Bean mosaic virus can also strike your peas, but again there are resistant varieties that you can grow so that you don’t have to worry about it. If your plants aren’t resistant, make sure to keep the aphids away as they spread the disease.
Aside from plant diseases, many insects can wreak havoc on black-eyed pea leaves. Various leaf-eating insects need to be removed as soon as you find any, such as bean beetles, all kinds of caterpillars and grubs, grasshoppers and others. If you pick them off yourself, that is usually sufficient but larger insect populations may need pesticide sprays.
Harvest and Storage
You’ll be harvesting your black-eyed peas only once the pods and peas have thoroughly dried. Wet weather at maturity can (and will) keep your peas from drying and risk mold damage. If the weather is not suitable, pick all the pods and bring them indoors for their drying period. Left on the vine is best, so only do this if necessary.
Spread the pods out where they won’t be disturbed, in a warm area with good air movement. Whether dried inside or outdoors, they can be shelled out of their pods when the peas are hard enough that you can’t bite into them.
As long as the peas are completely dry, they will store for a long time without special conditions. Keep them in an air-tight container to keep out any insects or mice, and you will be able to keep using your peas for up to a year.
If you want a little harvest before your peas mature, the very young green pods are edible but they do get tough quickly. Pick a few very small ones for use in salad or a stir-fry.