Do you eat black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s Day? Black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata), also called cowpeas, are a versatile crop. This bean is worth adding to your planting list if you live in a hot-summer climate. Learning how to grow black-eyed peas is simple and just might bring you the luck you’ve been looking for.
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5 Tips for How to Grow Black-Eyed Peas
1. Plant and care for black-eyed peas as they grow
- Black-eyed peas prefer warm soil. Plant cowpea seeds when soil temperatures are between 75°F-95°F. In the low desert of Arizona, plant cowpea seeds from April through August.
- Black-eyed peas grow in areas with full sun but don’t mind afternoon shade.
- Space cowpea seeds 6 inches apart and plant seeds 1 inch deep in loose, well-draining soil. If using square foot gardening, plant 4 beans per square.
- The beans tolerate some drought but do best with regular, deep water, especially when flowering.
- Mulch soil well.
- Because beans are nitrogen-fixers (they work with the bacteria in the soil to get all the nitrogen they need), additional nitrogen fertilizer is unnecessary.
- Cowpea vines grow quickly. Provide a trellis for them to climb or allow beans to grow wild, and they will become entangled and massed together.
2. Grow black-eyed peas as a companion plant
The corn stalks support the climbing beans, provide shade, and preserve moisture for the sprawling squash vines. The beans help provide nitrogen for the corn and squash. The large leaves of the squash are living mulch that reduces weeds and preserves moisture.
To grow the “three sisters,” plant the corn first. Plant four cowpea bean seeds around each stalk when the corn has grown to about 5 inches. After beans emerge, plant squash seeds near the corn.
3. Harvest black-eyed peas as a green or dry bean
For fresh snap beans: Harvest young cowpeas when they are still green and before the bean begins to bulge for the best flavor. Young beans are easier to see when grown on a trellis. Keep beans harvested to encourage more production.
For fresh shelled beans: Harvest the beans when the pods begin to bulge. Then, shell them and enjoy them fresh. Freshly-shelled beans do not need to be soaked before cooking.
For dried beans: Allow the beans to dry on the plant and harvest when the pods are dry or begin to break open. If you aren’t using dried black-eyed peas right away, let them dry completely and store them in a glass mason jar. Use within a year.
4. Grow black-eyed peas as a cover crop
Gardening during the hottest months of the year isn’t for everyone, especially if travel plans limit the time you will be in the garden. Plant cowpeas as a cover crop if you aren’t using your garden bed, rather than allowing beds to dry out and potentially kill the soil.
Black-eyed peas grow well with relatively little care. The trailing vines will shade the soil surface, and the roots will aerate and open up the soil below ground, adding organic matter when the growing season is complete.
5. Save seeds to share and plant
A friend shared a handful of cowpeas with me several years ago. That handful of “Melder cowpeas” has multiplied exponentially. Countless beans have since been eaten, planted, and shared with others. Following a successful harvest, save a few seeds to plant next season.
My favorite recipe using black-eyed peas is Texas Caviar.
- 1 ½ cups black-eyed peas, cooked, rinsed, and drained well (amount after cooking)
- one (15-ounce) can of black beans, rinsed and drained well
- one (11-ounce) can of corn, drained well
- 1 to 2 avocados, diced
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper
- one cup diced Roma tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- ⅓ cup Italian dressing
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Tortilla chips for serving
Add drained corn and beans to a serving bowl. Toss in the avocados, red pepper, tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro. Pour the dressing over the salad. Fold the ingredients and dressing, lime juice, and salt and pepper together until everything is coated evenly.
Serve immediately with tortilla chips. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. If making in advance, wait to chop and stir in avocados until right before serving.