Posts Tagged ‘Cowpeas’

An Overdue Update on my Cowpeas

It’s amazing sometimes how fast time can slip by without being noticed. I guess that’s how I managed to let almost a whole month go by without providing an update on my cowpea project. I continue to enjoy pretty good success with the cowpeas as I learn about this relatively unknown garden crop. As you may recall from my previous postings, this is my first time growing them, so I am using this summer as a learning experience. Based on the lessons I learn this summer, I plan to make adjustments next summer when I start all over again.

We have had cowpeas to eat off and on for several weeks now. I have been harvesting every two to four days, depending on my personal schedule and whether the weather permits me to do so. The harvest quantity varies significantly, depending mostly on the maturity of the different planting waves. So far, only the first two waves have been producing, and they have almost run their course. The ones you see in the rightmost basket below show what I picked today. When the first two waves were at their peak, I got significantly more than this at a time.

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The plant in the next picture is one of only three plants still living from the first wave. The purple hulled peas you see in this picture are the same ones you see in the basket above.

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The second wave, planted around the end of May, included three varieties. Two of those (Mississippi Silver and SaDandy) have produced quite a few peas, but the Red Rippers have yet to produce. The Mississippi Silvers are just sitting around staying green, but not producing anything. The SaDandy, shown below, appear to be thinning out somewhat, but are producing another flush of peas which should be ready in the next few days.

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The Red Rippers, in the next two pictures have not produced anything yet, but this is not a surprise. All the literature I can find on the different varieties indicates that these take considerably longer to mature than the other two varieties planted in Wave Two. As you can see, they look quite healthy and are most definitely proving themselves to be climbers. They are beginning to produce some peas now, the earliest of which should be table-ready within days.

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The third wave has yet to produce, but is looking very promising. Many, many pods are within days of being ready to pick now. Varieties in this wave include California Blackeyed #46, Pink-eyed Purple Hull, and Mississippi Silver.

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Wave Four, which is planted in the flower bed to provide greenery and add nitrogen to the soil, is coming along nicely. No peas yet, but I wouldn’t expect them this soon. You can see in the picture below how they are doing.

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Since my last update, I have added a fifth wave to my cowpea project. This wave is planted in two separate patches on different sides of the house. Both patches are in areas intended for something other than permanent vegetable gardening, but both areas have really poor soil and could use the natural boost of nitrogen. In addition, I plan to spade the plants into the soil after harvesting the peas, providing organic mass and additional soil nutrients.

The first patch is the now infamous “bare patch” in my butterfly garden. I decided to plant California Blackeyed #46 in this patch while waiting for the recently started larval hosts (parsley, dill, fennel, etc.) to get big enough to transplant. This variety does not get very tall (meaning they should stay hidden from the road by the row of flowering plants in front of them), it matures quickly (meaning the herbs shouldn’t have to wait too long for their turn), and the plants die back quickly after harvest (giving me good organic matter for turning into the soil).

If you look closely at the picture below, you’ll see a plant other than peas right in the center. This is a milkweed that was recently eaten down to the stems by a Monarch caterpillar, as described in the post linked above. It has little tiny leaves all over it now, and should be looking healthy again in a few more days.

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In the top portion of the next picture, you can barely make out the base of the Duranta that I recently planted and discussed in a couple blog posts.

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Finally, in the picture below, you will see a new addition to my selection of cowpea varieties. About the time I finished selecting the five varieties I would try growing over the summer, my wife and I bought some Zipper peas from the local farmer’s market, and we absolutely loved them. After buying and consuming several batches of them over the summer, I decided to grow some of my own. I finally found some seeds available for sale and proceeded to order a pound! Assuming these taste like the ones we bought at the farmer’s market, this is just the first of many plantings. This location is along the back of our house near the pool pump. An old ligustrum bush recently died here, leaving quite a hole in the landscaping. I have replaced the ligustrum with a firebush, which is a species native to Florida, but it is growing slowly, so I decided to take advantage of the available space while waiting for it to fill in the space. And, as I have mentioned before, being legumes, the cowpeas will augment the soil.

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That’s it for now. Until next time, happy gardening!

Wordless Wednesday Legumes

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Cowpeas — here, there, everywhere!

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The first wave of cowpeas has now yielded the first cowpea harvest of the season! And given that this is the first time I have ever tried growing them, this was my first cowpea harvest ever!! Aside from the “firsts” involved, there wasn’t all that much that was noteworthy about them. The total yield is shown in the picture above. These came from the pods in the picture below. That’s it.

As you can see, they were a mixture of black-eyed and pink-eyed (actually somewhat purplish, but they appear almost brown in this picture). Some of them were green, while others were cream colored. The pods included various shades of green, brown, and purple. If you are familiar with cowpeas or if you have been following my blog posts regularly, you will recognize that the purple pods yielded the pink-eyed peas, given that one of the varieties I planted was Pinkeyed Purple Hull. The others were all California Blackeyed #46.

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The small yield was not a surprise to me, as I had only planted a few seeds of each kind for the first wave. I did that largely to see how they did with the tight spacing prescribed for the SFG method. As best I can tell, they did just fine. Other than their tendency to lean toward any open space nearby, I didn’t detect any signs of stress due to crowding. To compensate for the small quantity, we added them to a batch of cream peas that we bought at the farmers market and had mixed cowpeas with our dinner. We enjoyed them very much.

What surprised me was that the black-eyes ripened up all at once, but the pink-eyes ripened one or two pods at a time. The black-eyed plants mostly died as the pods matured; the pink-eyed plants are still growing and are still producing a few pods every day or two. You can see them in the picture below, nestled in between marigolds and a tomato.

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I planted considerably more seeds for the second wave, so I should get a much bigger yield. For this wave, I planted three varieties: Mississippi Silver, Red Ripper, and SaDandy. They have all grown enough to where I can see significant differences in their characteristics now. The Mississippi Silvers are shown in the picture below. About a week ago, they very suddenly displayed a tendency to get very floppy, for lack of a better word. They haven’t produced vines or had a tendency to run along the ground; they simply flopped over and didn’t stand back up. I ended up rigging a support out of bamboo stakes and stretchy plant tie tape — partly to get them up off the ground, but mostly to give myself room to walk, so I could get to my zucchini and tomato containers.

Other than the floppiness, they appear perfectly healthy. They are producing pods, which should be ready in another week or two. As I understand it, the pods are supposed to turn silver when they ripen, which is where they get their name. I’m looking forward to seeing them.

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Of all the varieties, the Mississippi Silver had by far the prettiest flower. You can see one of the blossoms below.

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The second variety of wave two is the Red Ripper. This is the one that is supposed to vine, and they have now started doing just that. Many of the plants needed help finding the trellis that I placed along the center. Instead, they lay down outward, away from the trellis and started running along the ground. As with the Mississippi Silver, I rigged up some supports to help guide them toward the trellis and to give me room to walk. They are not showing signs of producing peas yet, but this is consistent with what I have read about them.

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The last of the wave two varieties is SaDandy, a traditional Southern variety of cream pea with a reputation for excellent taste. These plants are still standing very erect with no signs of flopping over or producing runners. They are producing many pods which, as you can see below, are being held up above the foliage. Based on the size of the pods, I will not be surprised if these are ready to pick before the others.

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The third wave consists mostly of California Blackeyed #46 and Pinkeyed Purple Hull, with just a few Mississippi Silver, as I finished off that seed packet with this planting. There is nothing spectacular to report about this wave. They are simply growing as I would expect. Here’s a picture of how they look now.

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As you may recall, I pretty much ran out of room when I planted wave three. Well, it just so happened that I had a flower bed that had basically fizzled. The last of the sunflowers had gotten ripped down by one of our infamous summer thunderstorms, other varieties had never done much, and the weeds were beginning to take over. Here’s what it looked like:

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So, I decided to replant that flower bed and use it for more cowpeas at the same time. I saved the few remaining healthy flowers, but mostly did a complete restart. After cleaning out the weeds, I planted alternating patches of cowpeas and flowers. The cowpeas include the remaining SaDandy (only a handful), the remaining Pinkeyed Purple Hull (a few short rows), and the remaining Red Ripper (about three short rows along the fence, so they can climb), with California Blackeyed #46 everywhere else. The flowers include two varieties of sunflower (Autumn Beauty and Irish Eyes) and three varieties of native Florida wildflower (scarlet sage, gaillardia, and coreopsis). All of these are good nectar sources for butterflies and other beneficial insects. As you can see below, the cowpeas have gotten off to a good start. Some of the wildflowers are also beginning to appear but are hard to see here. I have not seen any signs of sunflowers yet.

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As a postscript to all this, I am hoping to continue with a wave five. I just need to figure out where to plant it. In addition to the black-eyed peas I have remaining, I have also gotten my hands on another variety, which my wife and I found at the farmers market and have been enjoying very much all summer: Zipper Cream peas. They are a type of crowder cream peas, in that they have the mild, smooth taste of cream peas, but the peas grow very large in the pod, literally crowding against one another. I am looking forward to growing some. I just need to find a space!

Happy Gardening!

Won’t Be Long Now!! — Another Cowpea Project Update

I’m happy to report that my rookie season growing cowpeas is proceeding nicely so far. As I mentioned in my first posting on this topic, I started this venture with two varieties: California Blackeyed #46 and Pinkeyed Purplehull. These two varieties were planted about a week apart in early to mid May. The Blackeyed peas, which were planted first, now have numerous pods on them, and should be ready to harvest before too much longer.

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As shown clearly in the picture below, the pods are growing (mostly) in pairs, forming the shape of the letter V.

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The Pinkeyed Purplehull are, as expected, a little behind, but they are starting to produce some pods such as the one visible below. The pods are not purple yet, but they should turn purple as the peas mature.

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The second wave of cowpea planting took place over the Memorial Day holiday at the end of May. In this planting, I added three more varieties: Mississippi Silver, Red Ripper, and SaDandy. I chose these varieties to give myself a good cross-section sampler of these plants. They are all coming along nicely, just about as expected, as shown in the pictures below.

Here are the Mississippi Silvers:

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The next picture shows the Red Rippers. As I mentioned previously, I placed a trellis in the middle of them because they reportedly produce vines and like to climb. I’m not seeing any vines yet, but I won’t be surprised to see them about the time the plants start blooming.

As an aside, those of you with keen eyes may notice the empty space between the cowpeas and the fence in these two pictures (above and below). Until a few days ago, I had a row of white half runner beans planted there. We had several meals’ worth of those, but the plants had run their course, so I had to retire them to the compost bin. I’m planning to plant my Nickell Beans in that space in September. In the meantime, I’m trying to decide whether to plant a short-season crop there or to let it lie fallow or what. If I plant something there, I’d like it to be something other than a legume, so that I don’t have three crops of legumes in a row.

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Anyway, back to the cowpeas, the last variety of the second wave, SaDandy peas, are shown below.

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Although not a cowpea, I did plant another type of hot climate legume at the same time, and am including them with the cowpea project. Pigeon Peas, native to India and highly popular in the Bahamian dish called Peas ‘n Rice, are found throughout the Caribbean region in various local cuisines. I only planted two small hills of these, as they are supposed to grow into fairly good sized bushes. One of these hills is doing quite well, as shown in the next picture.

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The second hill, just a few feet away from the first, is looking rather pitiful as you can see. I don’t know enough about these to even speculate as to why. Only time will tell whether they start to do better as the season progresses. Pigeon Peas are slow to mature, so it could easily be Christmas before we see any on the dinner table.

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The third wave of cowpeas, as reported in the Cowpea Project Update post, was planted in the middle of June. That wave include three varieties: California Blackeyed 46, Pinkeyed Purplehull, and Mississippi Silver. These were all planted in available space within the blueberry bed. As regular readers may recall, I was not sure how they would do in the acidic soil of that bed. I can now report that they seem to like it just fine, as you can see below.

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The only ones that are not doing well are the ones that suffered an attack of sudden-onset squirrel foot wilt. This is a disease that happens when I forget to sprinkle cayenne pepper over newly-planted seeds or around young seedlings following a rain. I know with absolute certainty that this is what got them, because I was tethered to a conference call, watching helplessly out the window, while the little furry-tailed bugger happily dug around in those two squares.

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I haven’t planted a fourth wave yet, but I’m thinking about it. I still have seeds on hand for each of these varieties except for the Mississippi Silver. The limiting factors are space (including reserved space for my fall garden) and hours in the day.

After the Storm

Tropical Storm Debby pulled away on Wednesday after dropping a total of about 7 or 8 inches of rain on the area. As the skies cleared and the sun started to dry things out, I was able to return once again to my garden and make an inspection tour. I was actually very pleasantly surprised to find that nearly everything had not only come through unscathed, but seemed to have been relishing the deep, soaking rain. I will use the pictures I took during that tour to give you a quick guided tour.

The pictures below provide an overview of my vegetable garden. The first one shows two of my 4×4 raised beds in the foreground, with my cowpea patch just beyond. Although they’re hard to make out in this picture, I also have a row of green beans (White Half Runner) planted along the fence in the background. Those beans were planted in March and have about run their course, so I will be taking them out in the next day or two.

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The next picture shows my SFG bed, a 4×4 raised bed which is the only bed I currently have planted in strict accordance with Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Garden specifications. As you can see, the plants in this bed are thriving, so thus far I give a big, green thumbs-up sign regarding this approach.

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My fourth and final raised bed is the 3×6 bed shown below. Its primary purpose is to be a blueberry bed, but from this angle the two blueberry bushes are hard to discern. One is located just to the right of and slightly behind the bean tower in this picture; the other is in the mirror-image location on the left. The beans you see growing up past the top of the picture are Kentucky Wonder beans, all growing from a single square foot.

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You may notice above that the square just to the left of the beans is empty. I had to remove the cucumbers previously growing there, because sometime during the storm, they succumbed to what I presume was a squash vine borer attack. Here is what they looked like when I found them.

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Moving on to happier thoughts, the next two pictures show some bell peppers (Sweet California Wonder) and the first okra pod (Clemson Spineless) of the season.

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The next two pictures show varieties I have never grown before, and which I am anxious to see on my dinner table. First, you can see a close-up of Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg beans. The pods become streaked with purple shortly before ripening. They are then allowed to dry on the vine before harvesting. The shelled beans themselves are very pretty little dried beans with a white or cream color, mottled with purple. Second, you can see a Fish pepper plant. It is now blooming quite a bit, and although I couldn’t get a good picture showing one, it has some little tiny pepper pods beginning to grow. Like the plant, the pods should be streaked with white.

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I also noticed during this tour that the first of my cowpeas are developing pods. The picture below shows some California 46 Blackeyed peas on their way to becoming harvest-ready.

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As you can see in this next picture, the marigolds are really beginning to come into bloom now.

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And the rose bush I just planted the other day made it through the storm okay, even though it needed to be staked to stabilize it.

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In my butterfly garden, several of the nectar sources are really popping out in blossoms. This picture shows some Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea).

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Next is one of only three species of lantana native to Florida, Lantana depressa, so named because it stays low to the ground, rarely exceeding a foot in height.

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Towering above the other plants in the area is this rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). This is the same blossom that I showed being weighed down by the rain in my Wordless Wednesday Walkaround blog post earlier this week.

As an aside in case you are wondering, I do have other tall varieties planted nearby; they just haven’t grown yet. I am hoping they will catch up by late summer.

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Since the storm left, I have noticed an incredible number of butterflies hanging around, but I have yet to get a picture worth posting. So far, I have seen several Zebra Longwings (Florida’s state butterfly), a couple Giant Swallowtails, a Black Swallowtail, and numerous Gulf Fritillaries. Speaking of Gulf Fritillaries, I found several Gulf Fritillary caterpillars on my passion vine, including the one in the next picture.

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Before signing off, to keep from leaving you with the false impression that everything made it through the storm without problems, I’ll show a couple examples of things that didn’t fare quite so well. First, before the storm I had quite a display of tithonia torch (Tithonia rotundiflora) blossoms here and there around the yard. They are supposed to look like this:

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Unfortunately, most of them now look like this:

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I also have a couple hills of young, still rather tender pigeon pea bushes. The sandy soil nearby must have taken quite a pounding with the rain, as the plants now look like those below. Although they are still standing upright, I am concerned about the sand filtering too much light, inhibiting photosynthesis. For that reason, I will try to gently wash the sand off the leaves tomorrow. However, anyone who has tried to wash sand off themselves or anything else following a visit to the beach will recall that sand doesn’t loosen its grip easily, especially with just a gentle washing.

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I will leave you with that for now. I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour around my garden!

Happy Gardening!

Cowpea Project Update

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It has been about three weeks now since I first reported on my cowpea project. At that time, my California Blackeyed 46 peas were three weeks old and standing about 12 inches tall. As you can see in the picture above, they now average about 20 inches. At the time of my previous post, I also had some Pinkeyed Purplehull peas a week younger than the Blackeyed variety. They were standing at about 7 inches then; now they are about 15 or 16 inches.

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I had also just spent much of my Memorial Day holiday planting three additional varieties to round out the cowpea project. I am happy to report that all three are doing quite well. The Mississippi Silver peas are the tallest of the three. At around 14 inches, they are almost as tall as the Pinkeyed Purplehull.

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Next in sequence are the Red Rippers, which you see below planted with a trellis, as they are said to produce vines and to do better with support. At 12 inches, they are a little smaller than the Mississippi Silver.

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The third and final variety from my Memorial Day planting are the SaDandy peas. At 10 inches, they are the smallest of the three varieties. So far, all the varieties are looking healthy. I thinned them to a single plant every couple or three inches about a week ago which is the final spacing for this type of plant.

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The last thing to report with this update is that this evening I planted another round of three of these varieties. I planted some more Blackeyed, some Pinkeyed Purplehull, and some Mississippi Silver. I stopped at that point because I’m basically out of space. The spaces I used for these were all in unused areas of my blueberry bed (a 3×6 raised bed).

I chose this space primarily because it was available, having previously been used for cool weather crops that succumbed to the Florida summer heat. I also reasoned that they will not get tall enough to shade the blueberry bushes, and they should help enrich the nitrogen content of the soil, something that the blueberries should appreciate. Here’s hoping that cowpeas do okay in acidic soil! Another risk factor is that I realized after planting them that, much to my chagrin, I am out of cayenne pepper, which I used as squirrel repellant. Assuming they tolerate the soil in this bed and assuming they escape the ravages of little, furry rodent feet, I should start to see this round of cowpeas pop up on Tuesday or Wednesday.

I’ll keep you posted on this project as the summer moves along.

The Cowpea Project

Making the transition from Kentucky gardening to Florida gardening has presented a number of challenges for me, but has introduced some opportunities as well. In some cases, situations bring both challenge and opportunity. One such example is known simply as “summer.”

In my memory of growing up around gardens in Kentucky, the most critical dates to be concerned with were the last frost date in the spring and the first frost date in the fall. There were certain vegetables that could be planted before the last frost, and others that had to wait. Some could take a light frost, whereas others couldn’t withstand any frost at all. The entire spring planting sequence could be planned out around these basic facts. As for the first frost date in the fall, the key thing to keep in mind was that certain crops had to be in the ground early enough to allow them to mature and be harvested before a killing frost would wipe them out. In either case, whether spring or fall, cold weather was the thing that had to be scheduled around.

When I first started gardening in Florida, I thought I could take what I knew about the seasons and simply extend the planting dates in either direction from the hottest time of the year. That is, I thought I could simply plant things a few weeks earlier in the spring, and I could expect things to continue growing a few weeks longer in the fall. Since the hottest days here are about the same as the hottest days in Kentucky, I didn’t give much thought to having to make major adjustments in my summer gardening routines. Granted, it stays hot much, much longer here than it does in Kentucky, but it very rarely breaks 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so what could possibly go wrong?

I know, I know. Famous last words.

The thought that never occurred to me was that there is a point each spring when it becomes too late to plant summer vegetables. That point in time also coincides with a period in which it is still too early to plant late-season vegetables. That leaves a significant stretch of time from about the middle of May to the end of August during which you simply don’t bother planting any of the things I always thought of as summer vegetables.

So, what do you do with all that down time? Many gardeners here simply take the summer off, much as gardeners in Kentucky take the winters off. However, since I’m still having so much fun getting back into gardening, I decided to see what options were available to me. For the summer of 2012, I decided to embark upon a new adventure, growing one of the few things able to thrive here if planted this time of year. As it turns out, I have never grown this crop before, so it will be a learning experience for me. I have dubbed this adventure “The Cowpea Project.”

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Until recently, I had never even heard the term “cowpea.” I had, however, heard of black eyed peas, which happen to be the most well known type of cowpea. The terms “southern pea” and “field pea” are interchangeable with the term “cowpea,” and seem to be preferred in some regions, but I was not familiar with these terms either. To be precise, cowpeas are beans that just happen to resemble peas when growing in their pods, and if harvested dry, the correct term is “pulse” instead of “vegetable,” but this is a blog, not a term paper, so I will dispense with formalities. In researching them over the past few weeks, I have encountered the word “cowpea” more often than southern or field peas, especially in academic literature and in seed catalogs, so I have adopted that name and will stick with it in my writing.

The little bit of research I have done has really opened my eyes to a world of vegetables I never knew existed. Oddly enough, it is one of the oldest vegetables known to man, having been domesticated about the same time as pearl millet and sorghum, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 or 6 thousand years ago. It is generally agreed that it was domesticated in Africa, most likely in the area now known as Niger, so it should be no surprise that it grows well in hot weather, and is even able to withstand some drought conditions.

Each variety of cowpea belongs to one of four subspecies of a single species, Vigna unguiculata. I have not been able to determine how many varieties there are, but I can say that so far I have run across a few dozen, a least. These varieties differ in a number of characteristics, including taste, texture, bean color, eye color, pod color, plant size, and days to harvest. To provide a reasonable cross-section, I have settled on five varieties to try this summer:

  • California Blackeye 46 — This variety is said to produce a heavy yield of light green pods with creamy-white beans sporting black eyes. This is the variety shown growing in the picture above.
  • Pinkeye Purplehull — As the name suggests, the beans in this variety have pink eyes and grow in distinctive purple hulls. Some have suggested that this variety is among the tastiest of cowpeas. I planted these about a week behind the blackeyes. You can see their progress in the next picture below.
  • Mississippi Silver — This is a relatively new variety, developed by Mississippi State University in 1965 to be resistant to a couple of plant diseases common in the south (fusarium wilt and root knot nematode). It is one of many varieties known as “crowder” peas, so called because they are literally crowded together in the pod. The hulls of this variety are silver, hence the name.
  • Red Ripper — The Red Ripper is a much older variety, believed to have originated in the 1850s in North Carolina. This variety is reported to provide heavy yields, even in hot and dry summer conditions. It is often planted as a forage crop, but is also reported to be good to eat. Unlike the others I selected, this variety grows as a vine and will do best if I provide it with some support.
  • SaDandy — This is an old heirloom variety of cream pea developed for the south. The beans are white and said to have a smoother, creamier taste than blackeyed peas.

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I planted the first two varieties above in small sections of one of my raised beds over the past couple weeks. I planted the other three varieties directly in the ground this past weekend. Even though they are planted in-ground, I still used intensive planting techniques. The Mississippi Silver and Red Ripper are planted in short, wide rows, using the available space in the same way I would if planting in a raised bed. That is, instead of planting a single row strung out in a line across the garden, I planted a triple row of Mississippi Silver and a quad row of Red Ripper. The difference between the two is simply a matter of the space I had to work with.

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The space I had available for the SaDandy was more square shaped, so I planted those in a block configuration.

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The final step in planting anything in my garden is a sprinkle with cayenne pepper. Without this step, I run the risk of coming back to find freshly dug holes where my seeds were once planted. Squirrels allegedly have a strong dislike for capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers so hot. By sprinkling it on freshly planted areas, the hope is that the squirrels will go elsewhere to do their digging, mischief-making, or whatever it is squirrels do to entertain themselves.

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There is one more hot-climate legume that I’m lumping in with this project, although it is not a cowpea: pigeon peas. Unlike the cowpea, pigeon peas were domesticated in India. Their ability to thrive in hot weather is one of the few traits they actually share with cowpeas. They take considerably longer to mature (the variety I bought takes “only” 120 to 140 days), they grow as a shrub instead of a vine, they need considerably more spacing, and in frost-free areas, they actually live for four or five years. I am hoping to get mine planted this weekend. I’ll be reporting on the progress of my pigeon peas along with the cowpeas.