Southern peas – a summer vegetable and a cover crop

By Ralph E. Mitchell

With the heat and rain of summer weather ramping up, some vegetable gardeners take the summer off and simply solarize their garden.  However, if you wanted to go ahead and garden through the summer, southern peas can take the heat, produce a crop and even add some atmospheric nitrogen to the soil for good measure!

Southern peas are actually beans and are used as fresh shelled or as a dry bean.  There are three types of southern peas available – Crowder, cream and black-eyed.  They each have a distinct flavor and there are many cultivars to choose from.  Originally from Africa and India, southern peas have been a staple in many diets for thousands of years.  They have been in America since colonial days and are particularly well-suited to warm southern weather.  Select a planting site in full sun and plant four to six seeds per foot of row (for bush types) about three quarters of an inch deep with rows about forty-two inches apart.  Vining varieties are best planted at a rate of one to two seeds per foot due to their larger mature footprint in the garden.

Selection of the type of southern pea is up to your personal preference.  Crowder peas are starchy and, by their name, are crowded into the pod.  They tend to be dark in color when cooked.  Cream peas have smaller plants and light colored peas.  The very familiar black-eyed peas are sort of in-between the two other types.  Within this group there are also types referred to as “pinkeye”.  Southern peas can take from sixty-five to one-hundred and twenty-five days to maturity based on what stage you want to use them.  Some prefer immature pods as “snaps”, other, more mature pods can be shelled, or simply left to dry for storage.

The main pest problem that I have had over the years is cowpea curculio – a weevil.  Aphids and leaf-footed bugs have also been a problem, so be on the look-out!

This summer vegetable also doubles as a cover crop and/or green manure.  As a member of the legume family, southern peas will add nitrogen to the soil.  Nitrogen fixing bacteria form a  symbiotic relationship with the legume as root nodules.   After the harvest, the crop reside can be worked into the soil as a green manure.  Bottom-line, southern peas can do double-duty in our toasty summer for the benefit of your table and as a soil-builder!  For information on all types of tropical vegetables suitable for summer planting, please  call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/charlotte/docs/pdf/Plant-Clinics-Schedule1.pdf. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
UF/IFAS Extension: Gardening Solutions (2019) Southern Peas.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Shaughnessy, D. & Smith, P. (2003) Southern Peas. Clemson Cooperative Extension, Clemson University.
Adjei M.B., Quesenberry K.H. & Chambliss C.G. (2006) Nitrogen Fixation and Inoculation of Forage Legumes.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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