The Vegetable Garden

Peas, Southern

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    Southern peas, black-eyed peas and field peas are all names for the crop known worldwide as cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata ssp. unguiculata). Cowpeas probably originated in Africa and were introduced to the United States during early colonial times. They quickly became a staple crop in the Southeast. This member of the legume family, which is actually a bean and not a pea, produces a very nutritious crop of seeds that can be shelled and eaten fresh, processed in the green stage or allowed to dry on the vine for a dried product. Most varieties of Southern peas produce their own nitrogen in root nodules making them good choices for soil-building summer crops.


    There are four types of peas:

    • Field pea: Robust, viny type usually with smaller seeds that produce a dark liquid when cooked.
    • Crowder pea: Starchy seeded types “crowded” into the pods, normally cooking up dark.
    • Cream pea: Smaller plant type with light colored seeds that cook up light.
    • Black-eyed pea: Intermediate in its plant type and seed cooking characteristics.
    • Field-‘Iron/Clay,’ various heirlooms
    • Crowder-‘Carolina,’ ‘Colussus 80’
    • Cream-‘Zipper Cream,’ ‘Carolina Cream’
    • Black-eye type-‘Pinkeye Purple Hull,’ ‘Dixielee,’ ‘Santee Early Pinkeye ’

    When To Plant

    Southern peas are a warm-season crop requiring warm soil temperature (at least 60 °F) for the best germination and emergence. Many pests and diseases will plague Southern peas planted into cool soils. Four to six seeds per foot of row should be planted three-quarters to 1½ inches deep in rows 20 to 42 inches apart. The older vining-type cultivars of Southern peas should be planted with only one to two seeds per foot of row. Control weeds early in the season with shallow cultivation. Later the peas will shade out most weeds. Avoid cultivation after the plants begin to bloom.