How to Grow Black-Eyed Peas

Hand holding dried black-eyed peas and pea pod
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A variety of legume related to green beans and bush beans, black-eyed peas are so named because of the prominent dark spot found on the inner seeds at the point where they attach to the pod. The pods are typically light to medium green, resembling standard green beans. The seeds within are usually whitish or buff-colored, with the identifying dark spot at the curved portion of the seed. Available in both bush and climbing varieties, black-eyed peas are a versatile vegetable that can be eaten as an early snap bean, allowed to mature and shelled for cooking peas, or allowed to dry on the stem for dried beans.

This vegetable should be planted outdoors from nursery transplants or seeds in spring, when soil temps have reached at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit. While this annual plant can grow in all most any hardiness zone, black-eyed peas do need a fairly long growing season, as some varieties need up to 90 days to mature.

Botanical Name Vigna unguiculata
Common Name Black-eyed pea, cowpea, southern pea, field pea
Plant Type Annual vegetable
Mature Size 2 to 6 feet (both bush and vine types are available)
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy
Soil pH Acidic to neutral (5.8 to 7.0)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Yellow, pink, purple, white; not showy
Hardiness Zones Annual plants, grown in all zones
Native Area West Africa
Toxicity Non-toxic

How to Plant Black-Eyed Peas

This is a heat-loving vegetable that won't really take off until the air temperatures remain reliably warm. (The ideal growing temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit.) Bush beans will mature earlier than vine varieties. If the weather cooperates, you can succession-plant them every couple of weeks throughout the summer.

The bush varieties can easily be grown in containers, although you won't get anywhere near as many beans as when they are planted in the ground. And even the bush varieties are large, full plants, so they likely will need some kind of cage for support and to keep them contained.

Black-Eyed Pea Care

Light

Full sun will give you the biggest yield. The vines will need extra water in especially hot areas, but they still grow best with full sun exposure.

Soil

The soil needs to be well-draining, with a soil pH that's slightly acidic to neutral (5.8 to 7.0). Adding some organic matter before planting will give you both fertility and improved drainage.

Water

Keep the plants regularly watered, especially once they start to flower. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, but don't leave them thirsty for long. When the soil feels dry a couple of inches below the surface, it's time to water.

If at all possible, water the soil, not the leaves. Leaving the leaves wet makes them more prone to fungal diseases, so do your best to keep them dry.

Temperature and Humidity

Black-eye peas prefer warm summer temperatures, which is why they are a favorite vegetable in the South. They will grow equally well in dry and humid climates, providing they receive adequate watering.

Fertilizer

Your black-eyed peas shouldn't need supplemental fertilizer unless your soil is really poor. If the leaves are unusually pale, feed with a nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or blood meal. When grown as pole beans, black-eye peas can use a mid-season boost by side-dressing with compost.

Black-Eyed Pea Varieties

Although seeds are often simply labeled "black-eyed peas," there are several named varieties to consider. It's often hard to tell the difference between varieties, but experiment to find what grows well in your garden and which ones you like best to eat. Some popular varieties include:

  • 'Big Boy': This is a very prolific bush variety.
  • 'California Blackeye': There are several different strains, differentiated by a number. Check with your local extension office for the best one for your area.
  • 'Queen Anne': This used to be a compact plant, but the more recent cultivar has been bred as a vine.

Harvesting

You can begin harvesting snap beans as soon as the pods are at least 3 to 4 inches long. Be careful when pulling the pods from the stem—you may accidentally take the vine along with them. Black-eyed peas can be harvested as a snap bean in about 70 days. To harvest them as dried beans, you will need to wait a little longer, from 80 to 100 days.

For shelling peas, harvest when the pods are full and you can see the beans swelled inside the pods. For dry beans, leave the pods on the vines to dry completely.

How to Grow Black-Eyed Peas From Seed

Seeds are usually direct sown and should be planted about 1 inch deep. There are both bush and vine varieties of black-eyed peas. Plant the vines about 2 feet apart. You can simply broadcast the bush types or plant them every 2 to 3 inches. As members of the legume family of plants, black-eyed peas will benefit from an application of a soil inoculant before you plant the seeds. The inoculant will allow plants to absorb nitrogen from the air, increasing crop yield.

Don't try and get a head start by planting outdoors early in the season. The soil must be warm or the seeds will rot. If you need to stretch your growing season, try warming the soil by covering it with black plastic to absorb sunlight.

If you want to grow your own seedlings, start the seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date. Beans do not transplant well, so you'll want to use some type of peat or paper pot so that you don't disturb the roots. Transplant outdoors when the soil is warm enough, about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Common Pests and Diseases

Root-knot nematodes commonly attack black-eyed peas. You won't notice them until your plants start struggling. Dig one up and check to see if there are lumps or swellings on the roots, other than the small, white, nitrogen nodules. Unfortunately, there's no cure, so you'll need to remove the affected plants immediately.

Aphids can spread bean mosaic virus. If this becomes a problem, plant resistant varieties. Besides aphids, you'll want to watch out for the common bean beetles. Be ready to knock them into a jar of soapy water.