This past season was my first experience growing cowpeas and I have mixed feelings about the role they can play in a Northern Indiana “organic” garden. The plants were robust, grew well, and produced lots of beautiful pea pods. The problem I encountered was at the end of the season. There was some insect damage ( weevils, bean beetles ?) to the peas inside the pods. This made sorting difficult and time consuming. Being “organic” limits my choices on how to deal with insects. The Black Turtle beans growing next to the cowpeas had little to no damage. A conundrum for sure. A second problem was the late summer rains. This seemed to affect the quality of the later harvested pods. Cowpeas are susceptible to molding inside the pods during cool and rainy weather conditions. On the positive side, the first half of the harvest was of very high quality. Those pods were picked between August 25th and September 15th. Unfortunately, this is a short window to take full advantage of the plant’s potential yield. Sorting out any bad seeds after threshing was relatively easy since there were virtually no moldy seeds and very little insect damage. These issues regarding the quality of the later harvest will require some further testing of this variety and future trialing other suitable “early maturing” cowpeas.
Cowpeas are also known as Southern peas, field peas, crowder peas, and black eyed-peas. They are commonly grown as a cover crop or compost crop. They are also a valuable food crop. The peas have a creamy texture and distinct flavor. They can be used fresh like shelly beans, boiled, frozen, or canned. They can be used as a dry pea for soups. The green peas can be roasted like peanuts. I tried this and they were delicious. Scorched seeds can be used as a coffee substitute like roasted okra seeds. Cowpeas, unlike common peas, need warm soil to germinate. Wait until 2 weeks after last frost to plant. Sow 1″ deep and 2″-6″ apart in rows. California Black-eyed Cowpea is a vining type and benefits from some type of trellis or support. They are very productive with pods 5″-7″ long. Easy to harvest and thresh. I still believe cowpeas in the North can and will play an important role in a diverse legume rotation, providing both food and bio-mass for soil building and maintaining fertility. This will require some time, regionalizing this variety and trialing others. I do have a small quantity of high quality seed available for sale this season. I am always open to any feedback regarding my seed varieties and any other suggestions for other varietals, crops, and methods that work here in the North.
Seed Saving: Isolate cowpeas and asparagus beans by 50′ for home use, 150′ for pure seed.