This year I thought it would be fun to try growing “field peas” for the first time. Although they’re called peas, they’re really more like beans, in my opinion. I wanted to grow them particularly to experiment with drying and storing them.
I chose cowpeas, also referred to sometimes as black-eyed peas, mainly because they were right for my planting zone. Also, they add nitrogen back to the soil, they grow well in poor conditions, and they can tolerate shade, so they seemed like a good choice.
I went with the Shanty and Risina Del Transiorfino varieties. I’ll share more about what I thought of each of these in a little bit.
How To Plant Cowpeas
I love planting peas/beans. It doesn’t get much easier than this.
- Start with a fresh garden bed, nicely weeded with the soil loosened and ready for planting.
- Stick the seeds straight into the dirt, planting about 1 in. deep and 4-6 inches apart, in rows 18 in. apart.
- Water thoroughly, then wait a few days for the seeds to germinate. You should see sprouts shooting through the soil in no time!
Once the plants are established, they’ll start forming pretty little flower buds. From these the cowpeas will begin to grow. You can see some young pods forming underneath the blooms here.
The pods will continue to grow, getting larger and filling in with round little “peas”.
I learned something great about cowpeas, which I didn’t realize before growing them. You can actually pick them at any time during the growing season. The tender, young pods can be eaten just like green beans. The larger, still green pods can be shelled, and the peas can be boiled and eaten fresh. (I actually boiled some in chicken stock, and they were fantastic!) Or, you can wait until they turn brown and dry on the vine, then pick them to save for later.
I’ve seriously considered replacing green beans with cowpeas in the garden. The problem I have with green beans is that they grow so darn quickly, and once they get to a certain size they’re no longer tasty. Of course, you can save the huge beans for seed, but you only need so many. I’ve tossed a lot of overgrown green beans to the chickens. Cowpeas, on the other hand, are useable at all stages of their growth, so there’s really no reason any of them have to go to waste!
I’ve also discovered that cowpeas have the same pests as green beans: Mexican Bean Beetles. Sprinkling the plants with a generous amount of wood ashes should help reduce the problem. Hand picking the bugs is also a must.
After a few weeks, the cowpeas will start drying on the vine. If you’re having a particularly rainy season, you might pick them a little before they turn brown and finish drying indoors so the peas don’t mold. You also want to pick the pods before they start splitting open.
Shelling peas is actually pretty fun. You simply just split the pods open and dump out the peas. My children literally begged to help. I was glad for their company, and grateful for another opportunity to let the kids participate in the process of growing and storing our food.
I did learn that you need to let the cowpeas dry further before storing them. When we first started shelling, we were pouring them straight into a mason jar. But after a few days I noticed that some of the beans were getting a little fuzzy. The not-quite-dry ones were molding. Definitely lay the shelled peas out to dry completely before storing in a jar. And separate the green pods from the dried ones as you pick them. The green pods will also start to “sweat” and mold when crowded together and left out for a few days.
Differences in Varieties
I did notice a significant enough difference in varieties to develop a preference. As you can see, the Shanty Pea was much larger in size than the Risina Del Transiorfino cowpea. Considering that they both took up the same amount of garden space, even though the Risina produced slightly more pods, the Shanty variety was definitely more bang for your buck.
The Risinas also vined like mad. I wondered if I should have trellised them instead of letting them sprawl the garden bed. The long tendrils tangled and twisted around neighboring plants, and made harvesting a real pain. The Shanty peas didn’t really do that.
The Shanty Cowpeas are definitely my top choice.
That’s my experience with field peas so far. I’d love to know if you have any tips or advice to add!