How to Grow Black-Eyed Peas

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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
Container: Suitable


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.

Growing Instructions

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.

43 Responses to “How to Grow Black-Eyed Peas”

  1. Backyard Gardener  Says:

    Although black-eyed peas are mostly cooked and eaten in their dry (mature) form, they are delicious fresh as well. Pick them when they are about 6 inches or so and slightly thicker than a matchstick. Remove ends and cut in half, boil until tender, add olive oil, lemon juice and some garlic (you can also add cubed fresh tomatoes). Excellent as a side dish, especially with meats. It can be eaten cold and is a favorite during the summer months (even as a complete meal) in Cyprus.

  2. kelcy  Says:

    i love black eyed peas… they are so good.

  3. brenda holley  Says:

    i love blackeye peas. they are my most favorite
    vegetable. by the way they are very delicious cooked fresh with ham hocks and cornbread yummy!

  4. PatnTex  Says:

    I disagree with the author on when to harvest B-E peas. If harvested before they begin to dry our, then shelled with a small amt of unshelled small ones included, then canned or frozen after cooking with seasonings and liquid, they will put dried peas to shame.

  5. Frank Sharpe  Says:

    I agree ,black-eye peas should be picked while still green, pods
    about the size of a large drinking straw, and shelled and either frozen or cooked immediately in salt water. Eaten this way you will never eat dried ones again.

  6. Nancy Morris  Says:

    do black-eyed peas continue to produce until the fall freeze? I like my peas green and fresh. I have picked as they mature. will they bloom again?

  7. Anton Wesley  Says:

    When I planted my peas, I was not aware of the need to provide nitrogen fixing bacteria inoculant. They are now about three weeks into their growing cycle. Can they be inoculated with these bacteria now? They look great, but I am not growing them for their foliage! :^)

  8. John Holland`  Says:

    When should a fall planting be done?

  9. Dallas Posey  Says:

    I had peas and cornbread with virtually every meal as a kid. They love hot weather so in the Deep South there is still plenty of time for a fall crop. Try California #5′s. Pick ‘em green with a good portion of immature ‘snaps’ but DON’T cook ‘em in water! Just turns ‘em red and makes ‘em tough. Put a little peanut oil in the bottom of your pot, add in your peas (make your snaps about 1.5 inches long) and bring the temp up very slow. They make their own water if not picked too dry. Don’t boil ‘em! The green color will darken a bit and the snaps will turn olive drab. The ‘shells’ will be sort of greenish grey. Add a lttle salt, serve with skillet cornbread and look out! You’ll never eat ‘em dry again. ‘Cept on New Years of course … but I don’t hold with that nonsense anyway!

  10. BLAS DIAZ  Says:

    in sourthen californis (San diego area), where I can buy deed of black eyed peas, I am interestin in about 150 lbs of seed.


  11. Norma  Says:

    As mentioned above, these (and other southern peas) are best eaten fresh, not dried. However, this year I’ve allowed the tail end of my small crop to dry out, just for the experience, and to see how they compare to commercially produced dried beans.

    @ John Holland: Just this past Sunday I planted a new bed of BEP’s for the fall and expect to begin harvest in early November. They’re already sprouting!

  12. destrum  Says:

    I planted them last year here in Pa. and got a couple of meals for my wife and I. Not enough to share. I make mine the way my family did, there from southern Ala. I pick them green when the peas are full size. I do have a problem with picking to early, I get to excited and just can’t wait. I thought I was crazy or something. Just could not wait. When my wife tasted them. I realized she must be crazy too. She is a Pa girl perogies and stuff. One of those only one way to do things. She is crazy for my BEP’s. I was not supprized at all. The way we always made them was with Okra. Some kind of pork fatty stuff, bacon, ham, salt pork, green peas with snaps and okra. Okra is used in lots of stuff as a thickener great in soups, gumbos and things like that. You have to experiment to see how much you like. My aunt Nobie made the best Black Eyed Peas and Okra In the world. Try it see if you like it. This year I’m filling my garden with them, we have a short growing season here in Pa.

  13. Tommy  Says:

    destrum – do you have a recipe for your BEP’s / snaps / okra?
    I am in Texas – plan to plant first BEP’s in early April – will plant a couple of rows every 2-3 weeks throughout the summer if I have the garden space.
    We cook them in a 6 qt pressure cooker. Put peas/snaps in pressure cooker until about 1/2 full or less, add enough water to cover them by about 1/2 inch. Cut bacon into 1 inch squares – add as much bacon as you like – we usually add one small package of bacon to a half full pressure cooker. Turn heat on high then decrease heat when rocker/vent weight starts to jiggle. Then cook slowley for about 1 hour. Let cool – follow instructions for your pressure cooker before opening.

  14. destum  Says:

    tommy I don’t have a recipe. I’m cooking from memory from when I was a kid. I haven’t been able to get enough peas for a mess. this year I’m planting a lot so maybe I will develop one. I just have been doing all I have at the time. I cook my bacon first, in the same pot and drain off most of grease. then put my peas in and cook for a while until the snaps change color then add okra at about ten peas for one slice of okra or two that’s a taste thing. I cook it pretty long until the peas and okra are done (soft). The pressure cooker sound like a great idea. I got to try that. I have tried dried and caned peas but there is no comparison to green ones. growing up I remember the women sitting on the porch shucking peas in the afternoon and chatting, great memories. Those time are long gone. I plant California Black eyes from burpee seed co. The plants grow like vines, so i’m going to put in stakes with something for them to climb on. Last year they grew all over the garden some vines were 10 feet long. I don’t know if there is a bush verity or not. Burpee only has one to pick from. The plants love the heat but not the sun. so be careful the sun will burn them. They grew until the frost killed them. good luck and have fun. Let me know what you learn, I’m always open to ideas.

  15. Tommy  Says:

    March 9th today. I have expanded my garden area a little and will now be able to plant two, 25 foot rows every 2 weeks for 5 different plantings. Will plant first two rows at the end of this month or early April, that might be a little early but I am ready to get some in the ground.
    I have onions, potatoes, and English peas growing now. Hope we don’t get another hard freeze!

  16. Kit  Says:

    I am considering planting some black-eyed peas. Can anyone tell me what an average yield would be? (i.e., 10 plants = 1-2 cups beans?).

  17. Tommy  Says:

    Kit, on the first planting last year, i planted 4 rows, Each row about 30 feet in length. Planted thick then thinned to about 4-5 plants per foot. Made 2-3 good pickings, then the plants tailed off and did not produce as we’ll. I am going to guess from each picking we got a couple of paper grocery sacks full. When shelled, each picking probably made 3-4 quarts of peas. If I had 4 plants per foot, total of 120 row feet, then 480 plants produced 3-4 quarts per picking. Hope that helps.

  18. Tommy  Says:

    April 3rd today, had a hard freeze march 25/26 that stung my potatoes and English peas but they will be OK. I had also planted a ‘few’ tomatoes. The freeze took them out, even though they were covered with plastic buckets. Replanted tomatoes last Saturday. Cool again today but not expected to freeze. Plan on planting the first couple of rows of black eye peas this weekend. Currently have Brussels sprouts, potatoes, onions, English peas, bush & pole green beans, and tomatoes in the garden. The ground might be a little cold for black eye peas, but the green beans came up OK. I will keep ya’ll posted on the progress of the black eyes.

  19. Tommy  Says:

    I forgot to say, I am in zone 7 b

  20. Tommy  Says:

    Planted 4 rows of black eye peas today, each row 20 feet in length. Small Mesquite trees are starting to come out so I think we are past freezing weather. I will keep y’all posted.

  21. Tommy  Says:

    I was wrong, we have had two more cold snaps after I planted the peas. What is up looks horrible. Plan to till them up this weekend and replant.

  22. Tommy  Says:

    Tilled up and replanted today. I will let u know how they do.

  23. Tommy  Says:

    I cannot believe it – we had another cold front come through. They are forcasting possible light freeze tonight, and maybe tomorrow night! Go figure! The mesquite trees, even the big ones, are out. BEP I planted on April 27th are just starting to peek out. I told them yesterday afternoon, “You better stay in the ground a couple more days!” (:>)I will keep you posted.

  24. Tommy  Says:

    BSP’s are struggling to say the least – I have up about 1/2 stand – replanted blank areas in the rows. I am having a hard time getting them up. It is certainly warm enough – I got the okra up just fine.

  25. Dolores  Says:

    Mine are coming up fine but have a leaf curl (somewhat like peach curl) going on. Is this normal?

  26. Tommy  Says:

    Delores – if they are just ‘peeking’ out, it is normal for the first leaves to be curled – give them a few days. If it is older leaves that are curled, then I am not sure what it is.
    I planted 5 more 25′ rows May 11 – they are starting to come up good now – I think the ground is finally getting warm enough.

  27. chris  Says:

    I am helping my uncle and grandfather with the gardens this year and I was thinking of trying BEPs. Is the nitrogen fixing bacteria inoculant completely necessary? Both gardens are pretty much full afternoon sun, should I just forget about trying BEP’s? I live in western Maryland. Thanks in advance for any help

  28. Tommy  Says:

    Chris, I don’t think so – I have never used an inoculant. Just plant them – make sure the ground is warm enough. That was my problem this year, I planted too early, but my BEP’s are really starting to grow now.

  29. Tommy  Says:

    Picked first BEP on June 30 on rows planted April 27th. Not very many yet but they are about to load up.

  30. Tommy  Says:

    Starting to get a few pods on the BEP’s I planted on May 11th. Those I planted on April 27th are really starting to load. I planted 4 more rows a couple of weeks ago. Will plant 4 more rows this weekend if I get the time.

  31. Tommy  Says:

    Got a very good picking yesterday, mostly from rows planted April 27, with a few pods from rows planted on may 11. Planted 8 more rows yesterday and today.

  32. Tommy  Says:

    Getting a GOOD rain today. 1 1/2 inch so far. Perfect for the BEP’s I planted this weekend

  33. Arlene  Says:

    where do you first see the blooms. my plants were started late and are just now starting to vine. I do not see any sign of bloom.

  34. Tommy  Says:

    Ended up with 4 inches of rain over 4 days! WOW-BEP’s are really starting to bloom!

  35. Tommy  Says:

    Got another 1 and 1/2 inch rain yesterday. Picking off rows planted April 27 and May 11, a few from rows planted in mid June. Getting about grocery paper sack full every couple of days. What we are not eating immediately, we are freezing. So far Kim (my wife) has put 11 containers in the freezer. Hope to have 30 by the end of the season. Each container has enought for about two meals.
    Planted five more rows at the end of July. Getting too late to plant any more without freeze getting them before they have time to produce.

  36. monique  Says:

    This will be the first time I have ever tried to cook BEP fresh and not dried as I just harvested so how would I do this and for how long? Just shuck em and cook em? I will take any suggestions please!!!

  37. Tommy  Says:

    Monique, see my post above on January 25. Follow those directions except use 1/2 of the small package of bacon. Yes, just shell the peas. Use the small pods to make snaps. Instead of shelling the small pods where the peas are too small to really shell, just break (snap) them into 2 inch pieces.
    Let me know how it turns out.

  38. Tommy  Says:

    Monique, look at my post on January 25 for our recipe to cook fresh BEP’S. use 1/2 package of bacon instead of a full package. Let me know how they turn out.
    Yes, just shell the peas out of the pods. For pods that are too small to shell, just break (snap) them into pieces about 2 inches long.

  39. Tommy  Says:

    Really starting to harvest peas now. The rows I planted on April 27th have about had it. Later planted rows are loading up. Picked two paper grocery sacks full over the past two days.
    Rows I planted in June are just now starting to bloom and produce a few pods. Rows I planted in July are coming along fine.
    Here is what I have learned this year: plant them thick and then thin to about 4 to 5 plants per foot. Keep them watered but really water them when they start producing. I have a good water supply so I try to water them every other day. I have them planted in diked rows so I just flood the row.

  40. Tommy  Says:

    Still picking peas. I have also learned that peas planted later produce longer. Those planted earlier produce very well but dry down quicker. I think the rows I planted in late July will produce till frost. We have about 30 containers put up, and that’s with me giving away peas to several friends. I think by frost we will be able to put up maybe 40 containers. Be eating BEP’S all winter an spring. (:<)

  41. Merle  Says:

    I enjoyed reading the contributions. I live in the Caribbean. Recently I threw out some BEP seeds in the garden to see what would happen. The only problem I noted was bachacs /large ants harvesting the leaves however they did not decimate the plants and I did not disturb them. Thus with little to no attention I now have BEP bushes with pods. I wanted to know how when to harvest and how to prepare the green BEP and this blog certainly proved helpful. As I sit right now typing, the lovely aroma of cooked BEP,a combination of shelled and snaps, is tantalising my nostrils. I will enjoy this first taste of fresh BEP with thanks to you.

  42. Tommy  Says:

    Merle, Caribbean – WOW, that would be neat. It is too cold here now for BEP’s. We had our first freeze about two weeks ago. I have already mowed down the vines and will start tilling the ground before long getting ready for next years growing season.

  43. Tommy  Says:

    We have had a cold dry winter. I have cut back on the garden this year and only have onions planted so far. I do plan on planting some carrots later this week. As far as black eye peas, I am going to wait until at least May to plant the first few rows. We are still eating BSP’s we cooked and froze last year. They are good, but not as good as fresh.

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