Black-eyed peas are not peas at all. They are beans in the legume family (Fabaceae), and their proper name is cowpeas. Other common names for black-eyed peas are southern peas, crowder peas and field peas. They are nutritious and can be eaten shelled and fresh, while in the green stage or cooked after dried on the vine. The black-eyed pea plant (Vigna unguiculata subspecies unguiculata) grows as a warm-season annual throughout the United States.
Cultivars and Growth Habits
Black-eyed pea plants grow as either vines or bushes, but the mention of their growth habit is typically not found in their cultivar names. Instead, many black-eyed pea plant cultivars have names based on an attribute such as pea pod color, pea eye color, pod length, seed color or seed spacing. For example, 'Pinkeye Purple Hull' and' 'Santee Early Pinkeye' are cultivars named for their pod and eye colors. 'Pinkeye Purple Hull' is a bush to semi-vining type of plant, and 'Santee Early Pinkeye' is a bush-type variety.
'Texas Cream 40' and 'Carolina Cream', both bush types, are cultivar names signifying the seeds are cream colored. 'Zipper Cream,' a vining type, also has cream-colored seeds while 'Red Ripper Southern Pea,' another vining type, has red seeds.
Black-eyed peas tolerate poor soil fertility and dry conditions, but they require well-drained soil and full-sun exposure. If your garden's soil is heavy, mix several inches of mature compost with the soil to a depth of 10 inches. Compost lightens soil, improves its drainage and boosts its nutrient levels.
Black-eyed peas grow best in soil with a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5. Have your soil tested, or use a hand-held tester, available at many home and garden retailers.
Sow black-eyed pea seeds in spring when the soil temperature is consistently 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Create rows 20 to 42 inches apart in the garden bed.
If you sow seeds of bush-type varieties, then place four to six seeds in holes spaced 1 foot apart down the rows. Make the depth of each hole ¾ to 1 ½ inches. Cover each seed with soil, and press the soil to set it and the seed in place. Mark the location of each place you sowed seeds.
Vine-type cultivars, however, require only one or two seeds in each hole every 1 foot down the rows. Otherwise, their seed-sowing procedure is the same as for bush varieties' seeds.
After the seeds are sown, apply one treatment of a 5-10-10, timed-release, dry fertilizer. Only one application per growing season is needed.
Put on garden gloves and safety glasses. Many fertilizers cause skin and eye irritation. Wearing garden gloves and safety glasses will help you protect yourself. Also, avoid ingesting or inhaling particles of the fertilizer.
Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of 5-10-10, timed-release, dry fertilizer, formulated for tomato and vegetable gardens, in a circle around one location where you sowed black-eyed pea seeds. Keep the fertilizer at least 3 inches from where you placed the seeds. Repeat the procedure for each location where you sowed the seeds. Don't use the tablespoon for food after using it for fertilizer.
Blend the Fertilizer and Soil
Lightly mix the fertilizer into the top 3 inches of soil by using a hand rake. Continue to keep the fertilizer at least 3 inches from the seeds.
Water the fertilized soil lightly. Water activates the fertilizer.
The long taproots and extensive lateral roots of black-eyed pea plants help them survive dry spells, but consistent rainfall or supplemental water prior to the time the plants bloom and continuing until their pea pods develop fully greatly increases their yield.
After sowing the seeds, water the garden weekly with enough water to soak the top 2 inches of soil. Do not overwater or allow plant roots to stand in water.
Stop watering after the plants' pods fully develop. Rainfall afterward will suffice.
Black-eyed peas typically mature in 65 to 125 days. They are ready to harvest when the peas begin to swell in the pods. Harvest them before the pods start lightening in color.