The beginning of autumn is less than two weeks away and many gardeners already have their fall vegetable gardens in the ground. Plants are breaking the surface on some crops with others only a few days away from sprouting.
Still, there are remnants of summer’s bounty. One warm weather producer which is still going strong is a southern favorite, black-eyed peas.
As the name implies, these legumes do have a prominent black spot or “eye” on each pea. This open pollinator distinct subspecies, Vigna unguiculata, is part of a larger group identified as cowpeas which includes Crowder peas, Pinkeye purple hulled peas, Cream peas and others.
The origins of this regionally popular vegetable are uncertain. Historical evidence suggests they were first cultivated in India and Africa, both warm latitudes.
Their user-friendly handling characteristics and excellent shelf life when dried made them excellent candidates for long distance trade. Over time they became a staple of ancient Greek and Roman diets.
Like all legumes, black-eyed peas have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen to their root. This means they produce their own nitrogen fertilizer, but they may require additional fertilizer to meet other soil nutrition requirements.
The black-eyed peas grown in the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Demonstration Garden were cultivated in mushroom compost. As such they did not require additions fertilizer or soil nutrients added.
Black-eyed peas grow on a variety of soils but grow best in soils with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Avoid planting peas in highly fertile soil since excessive nitrogen level stimulates vine growth and delays the time to harvest.
Peas should be planted after all danger of frost has passed. These peas can survive drought, but adding mulch will help the soil retain moisture.
Frequent harvest, every two to three days, to encourage continuous flowering and pod production is recommended. Clip rather than pull the pods from the plant
No summertime Southern meal is complete without black-eyed peas on the table. While not considered traditional health food, these local legumes have many positive nutritional features, depending on how they are prepared.
Black eyed peas are low in fat and sodium, saturated fat free and cholesterol free. They are an excellent source of vitamin B1 and a good source of fiber, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc.
Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day symbolizes prosperity and good luck in the New Year. The remainder of the year they complement most any other dish or recipe prepared.
Along with most Wakulla County residents, many garden pests enjoy black-eyed peas. Common insect pests are leaf-feeding caterpillars, leaf-footed bugs, stinkbugs, aphids, thrips and spidermites.
Another significant pest is the cowpea curculio. This insect probes the pods, lays eggs in the developing peas so the growing curculio grub can eat the infested seed.
Old-time gardeners referred to these peas as “stung.” They wrongly assumed the peas had been stung by wasps.
Wasps do congregate around black-eyed peas, but they are not there to sting the pods. These insect gather the nectar secreted at the base of the pods.
Contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 to learn more about growing black-eyed peas in Wakulla County.