Black-eyed peas have many names. They are called field peas, Southern peas, cowpeas, crowder peas, and some 50 other names. Whatever the name, up until the Civil War, black-eyed peas were grown primarily to feed cattle. Some may have been eaten by slaves, but free Anglos did not generally eat these peas.
Well, war changes things. During and after the conflict, food was scarce and taxes were high. Those black-eyed peas looked a lot better when people were starving. Since each plant can produce a lot of food if picked regularly, they were widely planted.
Black-eyed peas are actually a legume and fix nitrogen in the soil just as soy beans or clover do. They are easy to grow in most soils. The fact that they are tasty doesn’t hurt, either.
Black-eyed peas benefit from being dusted with a powder carrying the inoculates of nitrogen fixing bacteria. Most seed places have these. Be sure and get fresh ones or the bacteria won’t be vigorous and you won’t get as good a yield.
Most soils will support black-eyed peas, even the clay gumbo that passes for soil here. If the soil is too good, the vines grow and grow but do not put out many peas. A medium pH of 5.8-6.5 is best, but the peas are tolerant of variations.
If your soil test indicated you need fertilizer, you should broadcast it seven to ten days before planting and work it into the top 3-4 inches. Black-eyed peas are a warm weather crop and will not tolerate frost. Plant when you plant corn and other beans. You plant the seeds around an inch deep in rows spaced 20 to 42 inches apart. The seed package will come with instructions for the particular variety of black-eyed pea you are planting.
Buy lots of seeds. It is generally sold in 1/4 pound intervals and you will want that much per person. Harvest when the pods are full but not yellow. You can snap them like bush beans or shell them and eat them that way. Most people in the South toss a ham hock in the pot with the peas to add flavor. Leave a few pods on until the dry out and save those to plant for next year.
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