What I’ve Learned About Growing Cowpeas

cowpeas

cowpeas

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.

cowpeas

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!

 

cowpeas

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.

Growing Cowpeas in the Garden http://newlifeonahomestead.com

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!

Mexican Bean Beetles

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.

cowpeas

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.

Growing Cowpeas in the Garden http://newlifeonahomestead.com

ย 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.

Growing Cowpeas in the Garden http://newlifeonahomestead.com

ย 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.

cowpeas

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!

Have you tried growing cowpeas? What’s your favorite variety and how do you use them?

Kendra
About Kendra 1123 Articles

A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.

24 Comments

  1. I grew several types of Southern field peas this year to see the differences. Of Mississippi Silver, Colussus, and Pink Eye Purple Hull, the latter were our favorite for tasting, and I love the fact that the green pods turn purple when the beans are mature inside. I also have Tohono O’odham (Holstein), Brown Sugar, and Big Red Rippers which will be ready to harvest soon, but those varieties did not produce as well as the others. Next planting, I will try bean inoculant on the seeds, which I hear is a big help in getting nitrogen production going. Pink Eye Purple Hull’s are going in for a mid-season planting this week! They are really great.

  2. Field peas(or cow peas) remind me of my youth in Charleston, SC….my grandparents used them(and only them) for Hoppin John….

    I live in Boston and now have some germinated cow peas I’m gonna stick in the ground and see what happens……any tips? They share a veggie garden with zukes and tomatos…..

    Mike

  3. Put the dried, even mostly dried, pods in a pillowcase. Toss into clothes dryer on very low for about fifteen minutes. The heat will pull out the rest of the moisture AND split the hulls. Dump into a bucket and shake. Shells and seeds will separate. The dryer heat will also completely discolor to almost black any bad peas.

  4. I’m in Florida. Last year I had over 50 okra plants in containers. This year we built raised beds. The spring crops did well then summer hit and none of the okra, squash, or beans would thrive like before, so I decided to plant cowpeas (varieties resistant to nematodes). As soon as they flowered we got a cowpea curculio infestation. I read about it and it sounded BAD even with insecticides (which we usually don’t use). Fortunately the first mild one we used worked and we haven’t sprayed a second time and the cowpeas are close to maturity. I like that you can eat them whenever. I’ve been eating the peas raw in the yard, lol. I’m also having good luck with Asian long beans and Asian cukes in a pot in the front yard using my rain tree as a trellis. Last year I planted Thai eggplant and am still harvesting this summer from the same plants (with more production than from the Japanese or regular eggplant). Trying different things for our hot summers.

    • I live in Atlanta with long hot summers. Ive found that Roma tomatoes do well in our heat, as they are from hot Italy. Many tomatoes stop setting fruit when it gets too hot, but not Romas. I also grow Malabar spinach, the green variety, not the red. It is just like regular spinach, but very prolific, loves the heat and is a tall vine that I put on a tripod trellis. Many of the mediterranean vegetables do well in our hot climate.

    • Linda,
      Curios as to what kind of squash you get to grow in the summer. I am in Central FL and I have the poorest luck with summer or winter squash, no matter what time of year I grow them. Also, would like to know what variety of cowpea has worked best for you. I’m currently growing pinkeye purple hull and they are producing very well. Another thing that has worked very well for me this summer is Astro Arugula. I will definitely be growing it again.
      Larry

  5. Hi Kendra-

    Great entry on cowpeas! So how many plants of them did you have and what was the yield of the crop? I had planted Jacob’s cattle beans and lima beans this year. What I discovered was that my growing space was better used for other plants than dried beans. Our yield was too low to consider using such good growing space for next year in our raised beds. I would be willing to try a different variety and grow them in our tilled field area where we used to garden before we went to raised beds.
    Would appreciate your thoughts on the value of growing the dried beans.
    Thanks!
    Sherry

    • Great question, Sherry! Well, in all honesty I just kinda stuck the seeds in the ground and didn’t count how many plants came up. But if I had to guess, I’d say there were probably close to 80 plants (in an 8×4 bed). Maybe. I didn’t weigh the harvest. The beans are very light. But I got about 2 pints of dried cowpeas. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? LOL! I need to keep better notes next year for sure!

  6. We always grow Zipper Cream which is another variety of Southern Cowpeas. They are wonderful eaten green. You can eat any cowpea green even Blackeyed peas can be eaten straight from the garden before they are dried. They are very good either way. Unfortunately the deer ate every plant we had this year. So no peas for us.

  7. You should check out the blog “Hickory Holler Farms”. She does a lot of bean drying and has a lot of experience and is an altogether very wise woman! I love the pics of her pantry, if only I could can like that!

  8. I have always loved crowder peas. Which are one of the bigger full pod types of cowpeas like your Shanty. We have planted Purple Top-Pick Crowder Peas the last two years. The grow easy, are a bush variety, and the peas are mostly at the top making them super easy to pick. We also planted blackeyed peas this year which is still a cowpea, but of a smaller variety and not as plump. Therefore it is not considered a crowder pea. They are not a bush variety and needed to be trellised. Both are yummy, but I prefer the crowder taste. I just wrote a post on canning them both.

  9. 1. It’s really disappointing to get this far, and then find a batch of peas which have molded in storage. After air drying, I put them in my dehydrator for further drying, then I include silica gel packets when I store them. I got a big box of silica gel packets on E-bay, for a very reasonable price.
    2. Oversized green beans can be dried and saved just like any other bean.
    3. You can save the hand shelling process. My wife has made several bags (I think from old pillowcases), and puts the bean or peas into them and tumbles them dry in our clothes dryer. When done, they are all shelled. The pods can be picked out and the chaff separated by winnowing on a breezy day. She first tried a mesh bag, but it left too much chaff in the dryer. This also helps if you’ve picked more than you can shell immediately, as they are prone to mold in the shell

    • Thank you so much for that advice, Dave. I guess I should probably put my beans in the dehydrator. I love the pillowcase idea. What a great tip. We don’t have a clothes dryer, but we could probably just let the kids stomp around on it and get the same effect, lol. Awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. This year, I grew both Provider bush beans and my family heirloom Yard Long Beans. It was my first success with bush beans… and the first time I grew them in a raised bed where the animals had a harder time getting them. We have possums, raccoons, and skunks… and my free-range hens. So, it takes some work to get a harvest for us. To my surprise, I had a bounty from the bush beans; but they fizzled out by the end of June. Then, in August, my LONE volunteer Yard Long Bean started producing. Would you believe the ONE plant gives hubby and I enough beans for a scant serving every week!

    Normally, I plant 5 bean seeds per person and add in 5 extra for friends and guests. For the bush beans, I found they didn’t take very much space compared to the vining Yard Long beans. So, I ended up planting alot more. I think in my 4′ X 6′ space that I put in between 30 and 40 seeds; which gave me about 10 pounds of beans total. I planted 3 rows with only 3 or 4″ apart. The close proximity helped them support each other instead of a short trellis. And for the pole beans, the final spacing is about 6″ to 12″ apart; and seeds can be planted on either side of a sturdy trellis (hog wire?) to make a double row. They vine out about 10 feet, so they do take up some space. I have planted butternut squash and basil below them before and had excellent crops from all three: yard longs, butternut, and basil.

    But… my point… by planting both (about mid March for us) I’ve had beans from May until now, excepting July when I used some frozen bush beans since there was nothing to harvest. Provider bush beans are more cold tolerant, and the yard longs love the heat. In fact, the Yard Long seeds just lie in my soil dormant and wake up when it’s finally warm enough for their liking. As I study more about how my plants produce, I’m trying to plant a greater diversity. Often, I can plant less of each type, and get more variety in the same place. Just a thought.

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