News release: Black-Eyed Peas

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: December 27, 2012

Title: Black-eyed Peas

I’ve always found it interesting that many cultures celebrate New Year’s by eating specific foods. A quick search on the Web shows people eating everything including grapes, greens, pork, fish, or special baked goods, all to celebrate the New Year and provide good luck.  In many areas of the American South, it’s black-eyed peas.

Of course, they don’t just eat black-eyed peas by themselves. Normally, they are combined with greens such as collard, turnip, or mustard greens. And what would a good southern meal like this be without a little ham and cornbread?

Black-eyed peas are part of a family we call “southern peas”, and in some parts of the world, “cowpeas”. They are legumes, which means they fix their own nitrogen. The scientific name for southern peas is Vigna unguiculata. The genus Vigna sets them well apart from other beans and peas.

They may also vary from other beans and peas in cultural requirements. English peas (Pisum sativum) prefer cool weather, for example. Common green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) prefer warm weather. Southern peas also like warm weather… really, they do very well in hot weather.

Black-eyed peas are part of a family that includes a lot of varieties and colors. Other southern peas include Pink Eye, Purple Hull, Cream and Crowder Peas. So if you want to grow them in your garden, you have many to choose from.

To start, it’s a good idea to have a light, well-drained soil for southern peas. They are very tolerant of a wide range of soil pH, anywhere from 5.8 to 7.0. Don’t even think about planting them until all danger of frost is past.  In fact, you shouldn’t really plant until the soil temperature has reached at least 62 degrees.  If you are planting in the fall, give them about 75 days before the first average frost.

Southern peas are known to be somewhat drought-resistant, but they will need some water. If it remains dry for very long, be sure to irrigate.  Water is especially important when the pods are filling out.

You can harvest southern peas once they fill out, at the mature green stage. If you prefer, you can let them go farther, waiting to harvest when they are fully mature and dry in the pod. If you plan to save seed for next year’s crop, be sure the seeds are fully dry inside the pod.

Southern peas are generally not bothered by insects and diseases, so spraying won’t be needed unless you actually have a problem.

The University of Arkansas, which has a southern pea breeding program, has a great guide sheet on the culture of southern peas. Give me a call if you would like one, and I’ll be happy to send it to you.