Southern peas are also known as cowpeas and field peas, and some call them blackeyes, crowders or just plain peas. Their species name is Vigna unguiculata, and they are a legume of Asian-African descent.
If planted in fertile soils or highly fertilized soil, plants grow lush and viney and may not set pods. In some cases, one must find the poorest soil area to be successful with the field pea. If soils are moderate in phosphorus and potassium, plant without fertilizing. Southern peas prefer a slightly acid soil, but will not tolerate very acid soils below pH 5.5.
Pea cultivars may be grouped mainly by fruit type. Pod color, seed color and seed pattern are all used to describe the cultivar. In addition, the plants may be a vining, semi-vining or bush type. You may not be able to find the exact combination of all desired characteristics in one cultivar, but there are many choices. Narrow your selections to the cultivars with the couple of characteristics you seek, or just go for the flavor.
Pod colors may be green hull, silver hull or purple hull (easiest to spot). Seed types may be blackeye, pinkeye, cream or browneye. Creams stay light with clear liquor after cooking. Within each group, you may find a crowder type or non-crowder, which describes how the seeds are arranged in the pods. Crowders are more tightly packed and may be starchy.
Bush peas are seeded at 4-6 oz. per 100-ft row. Plant these cowpeas 3 to 4 inches apart in the row.
Vining peas are less popular and are seeded at 3-4 oz. per 100-ft row. They are spaced 6 to 12 inches apart and usually take over the row. Dixie Lee, Royal and a few pinkeyes are vining types.
These cultivars are recommended for Louisiana: blackeyes – Magnolia, Royal and Queen Anne; pinkeyes – MS Pinkeye, TX Pinkeye, Quick Pick and Pinkeye Purple Hull BVR; creams – Elite, MS Cream and TX Cream 8; crowders – Dixie Lee, MS Purple, MS Shipper, MS Silver and Zipper Cream.
Southern peas may be harvested in the mature green stage when the peas are about first mature but not over-mature and dry. Peas also may be harvested in the fully mature dry stage for dry storage. Some gardeners even harvest young, under-mature pods and use them as a snap bean substitute.
Remains of pea vines are often turned back into the soil as a summer green manure.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture