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How to Grow Southern Peas

southern peas on vineThe Southern pea is a warm-weather annual that will tolerate no frost. Southern peas are also called blackeyed peas, crowder peas, and yard-long beans. Southern peas are sometimes called cowpeas or field peas. Sow Southern peas in the garden 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring. For an early start, sow Southern peas indoors 6 weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden. Sow succession crops every 2 weeks. Southern peas require 60 to 90 days to reach harvest.

Description. Southern peas are tender bushy or vining annuals. They are more beanlike than pealike. The best know Southern pea is the blackeyed pea. It is white with a distinctive black mark at the hilum or seed scar where the seed attaches to the pod that makes it look like an eye. Other types of Southern peas are: the crowder pea, so named because the seeds seem to be crowded into their pod; cream or conch peas; and the purple-hull pea, named for the color of their pod. Southern peas are also called cowpeas or field peas because they are sometimes fed to livestock or used as green manure.

Southern peas have compound glossy green leaves with white or pale purple flowers. The pods resemble those of the common bean. Dwarf varieties of the Southern pea produce blackeyed peas. Other subspecies of the Southern pea include a very long-podded subspecies (sesquipedalis) known as asparagus bean, snake bean, or yard-long bean and an oblong-seeded subspecies (cylindrical) known as catjang pea or Indian cowpea

Yield. Plant 30 Southern pea plants for each household member. Succession sow Southern peas every 2 to 4 weeks for a continuous harvest.

grow southern peas
Southern peas prefer warm to hot weather, with air temperatures between 70° and 95°F–most days exceeding 85°F.

Planting Southern Peas

Site. Plant Southern peas in full sun; they will tolerate partial shade. Grow Southern peas in loose, well-drained soil. Southern peas prefer sandy, loamy soil. Soils rich in organic matter will increase productivity, but Southern peas, like other legumes, are often planted to help improve poor soil. Add aged compost to growing beds at planting time. Southern peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5.

Planting time. Sow Southern peas 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring when the soil has warmed to at least 60°F (16°C). Southern peas prefer warm to hot weather, with air temperatures between 70° and 95°F (21-32°C)–most days exceeding 85°F (29°C). Southern peas require 60 to 90 frost-free days to reach harvest. For an early start, sow Southern peas indoors 6 weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden. Sow southern peas for later transplanting in biodegradable peat or paper pots that can be set whole into the garden; generally, Southern peas do not transplant well. Sow succession crops every 2 to 4 weeks.

Planting and spacing. Sow Southern peas ½ to 1 inch (2.5cm) deep, space plants 2 inches apart later thinning successful seedlings to 4 inches apart (25cm). Space rows 3 feet (.9m) apart. Raise rows 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) above the garden; Southern peas grow best in well-warmed soil. Grow Southern peas up stakes, trellises, or wire supports strung between stakes.

Companion plants. Beans, carrots, corn, cucumbers, radishes, and turnips. Do not plant Southern peas with garlic, onions, or potatoes.

Container growing. Southern peas can be grown in containers, but growing peas in a container may not be practical because many plants are required to produce a reasonable crop. Grow Southern peas in containers 12 inches deep.

southern peas in rows
Set supports in place at planting time.

Caring for Southern Peas

Water and feeding. Keep the soil moist; do not let Southern peas dry out. Water at the base of plants; overhead watering may cause flowers or small pods to fall off and reduce the yield. Add aged compost to growing beds at planting time. Side dress Southern peas with compost tea at midseason. Too much nitrogen will prevent blossoms from setting pods.

Care. Set supports in place at planting time.

Pests. Southern peas can be attacked by bean beetles, aphids, spider mites, and leafhoppers. Control aphids and beetles by handpicking or hosing them off plants or pinch out aphid-infested vegetation. Plants infested with spider mites should be removed and placed in a paper bag and put in the garbage before they spread to other plants.

Diseases. Southern peas are susceptible to anthracnose, rust, mildews, mosaic, and wilt. Plant disease-resistant varieties when possible. Keep the garden clean and free of debris. Do not work with plants when they are wet to avoid spreading fungal spores. Remove and destroy diseased plants before healthy plants are infected.

black eyed peasHarvesting and Storing Southern Peas

Harvest. Southern peas can be eaten fresh or dried. For fresh use harvest Southern peas when pods are just bulging but still young and tender. The entire pod can be eaten or the pods can be shucked and the seeds or peas eaten after rinsing. Dried Southern peas can be harvested after the pods have matured, turned yellow or brown, and dried but before the pods have split open. Southern peas for fresh use will be ready for harvest in 60 to 70 days, for dry use in 90 or more days.

Storing and preserving. Fresh, green-podded Southern peas can be stored unshelled in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. Green-shelled peas can be blanched, cooled in an ice-water bath, and stored in the freezer for up to 1 year. Dried shelled Southern peas can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.

Southern Pea Varieties to Grow

  • Blackeyed peas: ‘Big Boy’ (60 days); ‘Blackeyed Southern Peas’ (60-85 days); ‘California Blackeye’ (75 days); ‘California Blackeye No. 5’ (75 days); ‘Magnolia’ (70 days); ‘Queen Anne’ (68 days).
  • Crowder peas: ‘Brown Crowder’ (65 days); ‘Calico Crowder’ (79 days); ‘Colossus’ (85 days); ‘Knuckle Purple Hull’ (75 days); ‘Mississippi Purple Hull’ (70 days); ‘Mississippi Silver’ (70 days); ‘Pinkeye Purple Hull’ (50-85 days).
  • Cream peas: ‘Cream’ (70 days); ‘Running Conch’ (95 days); ‘Zipper Cream’ (70 days).
  • Cowpeas: ‘Lady’ (60 days); ‘Queen Anne’ (60 days).

Common name. Pea, southern pea, black-eyed pea, cowpea, crowder pea

Botanical name. Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata

Origin. Asia

Grow 80 vegetables: THE KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE

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69 Comments

    • The Big Boy black-eyed pea is an heirloom bush crowder pea.
      You can find Big Boy Crowder Pea seed for sale at Piedmont Farm and Garden in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
      Contact them at PiedmontFarmandGarden.com or at pfgs@aol.com

      Thanks for reading Harvest to Table.com

    • The cowpea–also known as the black-eyed pea, Southern pea, and field pea–is an annual warm weather crop–planted in the spring for harvest in the summer. Once the cowpea has stopped flowering and producing you can pull it up and compost it or turn it under as a green manure and let it decompose before planting a your next crop in that spot.

  1. Thanks Steve. I’m a second year beginner and needed some info on growing Crowder peas and this article of yours on southern peas really helped. The last couple years, I’ve looked at a lot of websites on farming and yours I believe is the best. keep it up big daddy.

  2. Hi Steve,
    Do you happen to know any companies selling crowder and white cream peas commercially. I will like to buy some from the US but don’t know a company selling them.

    • Purple hull peas–a Southern pea–is commonly planted mid-spring (May) to mid-summer (August) and is ready for harvest in about 55 to 70 days.

  3. We have always grown black eyed peas in our Sandy loam dry field. This year in west texas we have had above normal rainfall. Our peas this year are producing well, but the pods that look as if they have peas, don’t. The pods are big, but the peas are under developed. I’ve searched to find why this would be, but haven’t found an answer. Any ideas you have on this would be very appreciated.

    • Here are a few factors that may cause pea pods to develop but seeds to be small: (1) incomplete pollination; (2) poor uptake of water or nutrients–add aged compost to planting beds regularly; (3) temperatures too warm or too cold during pod development; (4) plants too crowded resulting in competition for moisture, nutrients, and sunlight.

  4. I have never grown field peas before but did this year and have bunches of them. How do I go about drying them for storage? I don’t want to can or freeze.

    • Your best course is to get a book specifically on drying vegetables. As a general guide (but this is not a specific guide to drying peas or other vegetables): solar drying is the least expensive way to dry peas; solar drying requires 3 to 5 consecutive days when the temperature is 95F and humidity is low. You may also want to consider drying peas in a kitchen oven or a convection oven that has a controllable temperature starting at 120F. You should consult the manual for the oven you use. To outline the drying procedure (these are not specific instructions): prepare the peas for drying as soon as possible after harvesting; blanch and cool the the peas and lay them out to dry; dry at a temperature about 150 to 160F, so that moisture can evaporate quickly from the peas but the pods do not scorch; the drying temperature should be high enough to evaporate moisture from the peas, but not high enough to cook the peas. Again, it is important to carefully follow directions of the drying guide you use for regulating temperatures.

  5. Thank you for your website. This is my first time growing Cream Peas. Once the pods are yellow and then picked off of the vine, will the plant continue to flower and have more pods?

    • Yes, a happy pea plant will flower and produce new pods after a harvest–as long as temperatures and soil moisture are right. Expect a second flowering about two weeks after the first harvest.

        • Pick peas, southern peas, and beans regularly to keep them blooming. If you allow the pods to hang on the plant past harvest, the plant will stop producing new flowers. Pick as soon as the pods are edible size.

  6. My Red Rippers (Many peas) are not staying fresh long enough to harvest. Instead I have a lots of dried peas. Not sure what is going on as in the past I have harvested them fresh and the ones I miss are for seed or just dried. I live in Houston and it’s been hot. Soil is in great condition.

    • Yes, the soil may be overly rich in nitrogen. Add aged compost or planting mix to the beds and mix it in well. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10 next season.

  7. Steve, I have been growing cream peas in rows 18″ apart with drip irrigation between and 2″ plant spacing in the rows using organic fertilizer and I thought I was getting pretty good production. Next spring will try your spacing recommendations for comparison.

  8. HI I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT SOUTHERN PEA .AM I NIGERIA IN NIGER STATE WILLING TO SOUTHERN PEA AND COWPEA TOGETHER.HW CAN I GET SEED ? HW CAN I MARKET ?

    • You can soak black-eyed peas overnight and rub off the skins the next day, but you don’t have to. To prepare black-eyed peas without soaking them overnight, do the following: (1) pick over the peas and clean out any debris; (2) rinse them with hot water then with cold; (3) let them drain while you prepare the rest of the soup ingredients; (4) put the black-eyed peas and rest of the soup ingredients into water–per your recipe–and bring it to a boil for three minutes, then turn the pot down to a low simmer. The peas and soup will be done in about an hour.

    • Brown spots on pea leaves could be several things: (1) if the spots start off looking water soaked before they turn brown then they may have bacterial blight or gray mold; avoid getting water on the leaves during irrigation; space plants further apart to allow for air flow; (2) if the sports start out yellowish then they may have downy mildew–this often happens when the weather is cool and moist; again space plants for maximum air circulation and as the weather warms and dries out this will correct itself; you can pluck off infected leaves to remove fungal spores from the garden; (3) if the spots have holes in them then the plants may be being attacked by flea beetles or another insect; use an organic insecticide and spray both the top and bottoms of all leaves; you can exclude insects from the plants by placing a plastic tunnel over them–this may also keep moisture born fungi from reaching the plants; (4) if you are concerned by nutrients in the soil then side-dress the plants with aged compost or water the plants at the base with compost tea for a few weeks.

  9. I need more help please. On my zipper peas I’m getting pea pods coming out of the bloom and the first day or so they are nice and green then after a couple / few days they turn yellow and fall off.. I have never grown peas before so certainly don’t know what I’m doing.. I put some 2-10-10 fertilizer on them. Not sure what my problem is

    • The pea pod will emerge from the pollinated flower. In time, the flower petals will dry and fall away. The pods can yellow and fall off for several reasons: (1) insufficient pollination; (2) temperatures too high–greater than 80F during the day and greater than 65F at night (grow peas in the fall in southern states and in the spring and fall in northern states); (3) too much or too little soil moisture–keep the soil evenly moist; (4) fertilizer too rich–use compost tea; (5) insects attacking the young pods–check for thrips or other insects and spray with insecticidal soap.

  10. We have been growing zipper peas for a few years now and they’ve grown well. However, this year, even though they still seem to be growing well, the mature peas are purple, not green. The immature ones are green, but the few mature ones I have shelled are either purple or turning purple. Is this a disease? Does anyone know why the peas would be changing color? We have been very dry this year but we water everyday, sometimes twice. The plants themselves look great, but I can’t figure out why the color change.

    • There are cultivars of peas that are purple podded at harvest. Assuming your cultivar should be green, there a few reasons pods can turn purple: (1) lack of phosphorus in the soil; feed the plants an organic fertilizer high in phosphorus such as 5-10-10; (2) unusually cold night temperatures; (3) a pea virus which usually causes pods to be streaked purple as well as purple streaking on the stems; there is no treatment for the virus; plants may eventually wilt and die.

      • Thank you for the reply about my zippers. The pods are still green, it’s the peas themselves that are turning purple as they mature. The immature peas are green, but when I picked the peas that were ready to pick, they looked normal (the pods did), but the peas inside were either all purple or mottled. Could this still be a deficiency of a nutrient in the soil? The stems and all look normal as well. The plants are beautiful. These plants are from seed that I saved from our zipper peas that we harvested last year, which I believe are from zippers that we had planted the year before that. I don’t know if it makes a difference but we planted the zippers this spring where we grew mustard greens last fall. Thanks for any help you can give.

        • Do you know the name of the variety of the zipper peas you originally planted? Were those seeds a hybrid or open-pollinated? If the plant is perfectly healthy but only the seeds are an unexpected color, it could be possible that the plant is reverting to a grandparent–which could happen if the plant were a hybrid. It also could happen if the plant is open-pollinated but less likely. Cross pollination is not common among peas because they are self-pollinating; however, if a different variety were planted within 10 to 20 feet bees could cross-pollinate the plants. If the purple seed seem perfectly healthy, you can save a few, dry them, and plant them to see what the new plants look like. If the purple seed is moldy or mushy then the plants may have a fungal infection attacking the seed. As for nutrients, a lack of phosphorus in the soil can sometimes leave plants with a purple tinge–but this would commonly affect the foliage, not just the seed. You can get a soil pH kit to test your soil. If you are close to a Cooperative Extension, take leaves and unopened pods in for an examination; of they may send them to a nearby research college for analysis.

          • Thank you for the info about the zippers being hybrid. I don’t know what variety they were that we bought, but after I read your reply, I researched it a bit more and found someone in our area who has grown a variety of zipper pea that is purple. I also opened up the seed to see if there was any discoloration at the core and they look fine, like the green ones. I cooked them and they taste just the same as the green ones so your explanation that they could be hybrid is probably what’s happening. Thanks for the help!

  11. Thank you for sharing this information. I grew up in Florida with what we always called “acre peas” and have been trying to find them to grow in my 7b Maryland garden. It took me a while to find the right ones, but after trying several types that were not quite the same, I finally discovered that the acre peas of my youth were fresh or frozen (but never dried) lady cream peas. I can’t wait to try some in my own garden! Thanks again for the helpful instructions!

    • If there was no disease or problems with your southern peas this season, you can chop up the green plant material or let it dry and then turn it under to rot. That is a natural way to compost. Chopping up the plants before turning them under will speed decomposition.

  12. Hey there, Can you tell me if Southern Peas all mature at the same time such that you only harvest about one picking and then they are done? Or will the same plants flower again and produce multiple harvests?

    • Southern peas can be harvested at three different stages of maturity: green snaps, green-mature, and dry. Depending on temperatures leading up to harvest, green-mature peas are ready for harvest in about 16 to 17 days after bloom (60 to 90 days after planting). If you harvest by hand you can extend the harvest of one plant over a 1 to 3-week period. Commercial growers using mechanized harvesters will harvest all of the pods on a plant at the same time.

    • You can thin peas or beans by hand carefully lifting the plants that you do not want to grow on. If the young plants are growing very close together and you fear pulling the seedlings will disturb the roots of the neighboring plants, then trim away the seedlings you don’t want with garden scissors. Just cut the seedlings off at ground level. The roots below will rot and feed the soil and the seedlings left to grow on.

    • White acre southern peas (cowpeas) should germinate in about 10 days in warm soil and will grow to maturity in 60 to 70 days. Make sure the soil is just moist when you sow seeds and keep the soil just moist until plants mature. Dry soil and cold temperatures will delay development.

  13. I had someone tell me that cutting the tops out of purple hull peas would make them produce another crop. Is this true? I have already picked my purple hulls 3 times and now they only have a few flowers. Would like to get another picking as these are some of our favorite peas.

    • If the plants are still flowering then they will likely produce until frost comes. You can trim the plants back by 1/3 to 1/2 and then feed them with compost tea or a dilute solution of fish emulsion to give them a mid-summer boost. If you have already harvested 3 times, the plants are likely growing a bit weary; they have had a good run!

  14. Can you tell me why my purple hills picked inbrween racer striped and solid purple were pretty and green some pale but when I balanced them they turned dark. Only blanched 2 min quick cooked in ice water bath. They look awful. I would be embarrassed to serve..an earlier batch I balanced did not? Thank you in advanced

    • Blanching vegetables stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color, and texture. A blanching time too long or too short can result in among other things color change. Southern peas should be blanched 2 minutes (as you know). Getting the time just right is affected by the amount of water in the blancher and when it comes to a boil as well as when the cover is set on the blancher. So there are several variables that might have resulted in in the color change you experienced. Here is a link to the National Center for Home Food Preservation website and their information on blanching: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html

  15. Great article! Best information I’ve found yet. I’m a newbie and just learning. Planted what I call zipper peas this year. Hopefully I can get them to produce well

    • Zipper peas are sometimes called cream peas. They are a “Southern pea” belonging to the “black eye” and “pink eye” pea family. Zipper peas get their name from the way the pod opens and the peas pop out–like they’ve been unzipped. Southern-style zipper peas are often cooked with bacon which gives them rich, savory flavor. Zipper pea varieties include ‘Lincoln Shell Pea’,’Michels Cowpea’, ‘First Lady Northern’, and ‘Mr. Big Pea’.

    • Whipperwool is an heirloom cowpea/southern pea that originated in Africa. It is drought-tolerant and will grow in almost all soils. Five-foot vines produce a heavy yield of 7-8″ green pods with a purple tinge. Mature seeds are small and light brown with black speckles. Seeds are good eaten green or dried.

  16. Looking for the type of field peas that are tiny, reddish brown or brown and oblong. Sold in cans at the store as field peas. Served in small southern cafes. They are really tiny, but tasty. They are not crowders or black eyes. They are maybe 1/4″ tall by 1/8″ wide? Looking for seed for them, Thanks!

  17. I planted what I thought was only purple Hull peas, but got mostly zipper peas this year. All but one of my few purple hull pea plants died. My biggest pest is I think a type of bird ( I’ve not seen in action) that expertly plucks Each pea out of their pods leaving the pod looking almost in tact.

    • Pole variety peas are more likely to produce a second crop. That is more likely if you are harvesting on a regular basis. If you are growing a bush variety of pea or bean, one crop over 2 to 3 weeks is all you are likely to get. If you see any flowers, another crops is on the way. If you are growing southern peas and you have 8 to 10 weeks of warm weather still to come, replant now for an autumn crop.

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