Cowpeas, Black-Eye Peas, Vigna unguiculata

Uses: Edible, Forage, Legumes, Xeriscaping. Native to: West Africa
     A true survival food, the cowpea is grown for its edible beans and leaves. It's a nitrogen-fixing legume, which allows it to grow in extremely poor soils. In addition, it's one of the best fodder plants for the deep south.
     Not only do cowpeas grow very well in this area, it seems that wildlife has very little interest in them. This can be a boon when squirrels and birds frequently do their best to defeat even the most resilient of gardeners.
     Plant cowpeas in the early spring, around the beginning of March if no additional freezes are reported. Plant them again at the end of September. They are a short-season annual that only needs about 3-4 months to produce a whole crop of beans. The beans germinate faster if soaked in clean water for 2-4 hours before planting. If desired, innoculate with additional nitrogen-fixing bacteria, but this step is not necessary in order to get good results. Grows very well in the full sun provided they plants have enough moisture to prevent wilting.
     Cowpeas have also been shown to be an excellent green manure and annual cover crop, as they grow in poor soil and have a short growing season. Supposedly they arrived in the US via the slave trade, and are still a New Years Day traditional holiday food in the south.
     Mine are originally from the grocery store, and I have been growing them now successfully for a while. I'm attempting to hybridize some cowpeas that particularly enjoy our weather and soil, though I have been amending the soil with rabbit manure for some time as well. This variety is low-growing and bushy, and can be planted very closely together to maximize your growing space. They are very well-behaved little plants, and will stay where they are placed. At the end of their cycle the beans and plants politely die and dry right on the plant, making harvest very easy.


George G said...

Thanks for that post.
I am just clearing some ground in my backyard, and was thinking about a soil improving cover crop.
Good idea to use store bought beans.
I started reading a bit more and there is a lot of research saying cowpea plant is good fodder for rabbits too.

chrissy bauman said...

Thank you for your comment! In addition to cowpeas, many other people also grow purple-hull cowpeas, a variety unavailable from the grocery store but something to look into.
Don't forget that if you want to grow cowpeas for its nitrogen-fixing properties, innoculation with appropriate bacteria may be helpful. Allowing the roots to remain in your site to decompose in place will also naturally, organically increase your nitrogen content.
Personally, I am on the fence as to the miracle of nitrogen-fixation. I have found that here in florida, mulching thinly several times a year helps much more. The best mulches are the free kind, particularly chipped branches and stumps from the county dump. hopefully you have access to something like that where you live.
cowpeas are great fodder for rabbits. they love the whole plant, mine will eat the roots too!