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Growing Cowpeas as a Vegetable in Your Small Garden

Updated on April 19, 2017
Jan Saints profile image

Januaris is a part-time gardener and author of farming guides. He loves to write about crops, pest control, fish farming and beekeeping.

Cowpeas (also known as black eyed peas) are grown mainly for their edible beans, but what many people don’t know is that their tender leaves and young pods are also edible. They can be used to make delicious and nutritious vegetable dishes. According to food scientists and nutritional experts, the leaves have a high nutritional value.

cowpeas in a greenhouse
cowpeas in a greenhouse | Source

Unlike leafy vegetables, cowpeas requires less maintenance throughout its growing period. It is drought resistant and can thrive in poor soils. And the best thing about growing the southern bean as a vegetable is that you don’t need acres of land, and a greenhouse is optional. That small garden in your home is enough to cultivate the black eyed peas.

Cowpeas farming is common in Kenya and other African countries. In Kenya, the leaves are popularly known as Kunde and make amazing recipes.

Cowpeas leaves have many health benefits. They are a good source of vitamins and antioxidants. A diet containing this vegetable is great for diabetic, cardiovascular and overweight conditions. And just like leafy vegetables, the leaves have a high fiber content. So you have every reason to grow this crop.

Planning to grow black eyed peas, but you don’t know how go about it? Well, you have come to the right place. Keep reading to learn about the best practices for growing this vegetable.

In brief, how to grow cowpeas as a vegetable

1. Choose the best location to grow the crop.

2. Prepare your seedbed ready to plant.

3. Find healthy cowpeas seeds.

4. Plant the seeds with correct spacing.

5. Water your crop accordingly afterwards.

6. Remove weeds for quality leaves.

7. Apply appropriate fertilizer to boost growth.

8. Stake your crop to encourage upward growth.

9. Control pests to keep yield high.

10. Control diseases to avoid losing your crop.

11. Protect your garden from animals.

12. Harvesting the leaves and pods.

Choose the Best Location to Grow Cowpeas as a Vegetable

All locations in your garden may not be suitable for this crop. Black eyed peas require plenty of light, so choose a location that receives full sun. Also, choose a location that is not heavily infested by weeds. In addition, choose a location that is free from flooding and not easily accessed by animals.

Prepare Your Seedbed Ready to Plant

Start by removing weeds, shrubs and trees from your planting bed. You may have to cut down tall trees as they can limit the amount of light reaching your crop. Do not leave plant remains in your bed to reduce the possibility of pest or disease development.

Dig your whole seedbed with a suitable tool i.e., hoe. Cowpeas have shallow roots, so you don’t have to dig too deeply. If there are soil clods in your field, break them up with a suitable tool i.e., a rake.

Remove roots and any other foreign materials from the soil. Debris can hinder the growth of roots, so ensure they are not presence before you plant. Some roots, especially tubers, can continue to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, so it is important to eradicate them from your bed.

Raised beds are good for any crop. If you think you need a raised bed, get some more soil from another safe location and add it to your bed. You can also use a compost material to raise your bed, and in the process, improve soil fertility. Ensure you thoroughly mix the material with the soil.

Find Healthy Cowpeas Seeds

Get certified seeds from your local store. Certified seeds carry the dominant gene since they are obtained from the best performing crops. They are free from pests & diseases, and grow to healthy cowpeas.

According to my own experience, the best seeds out there are the David's Garden Black Eyed Pea! It took me a long time before I discovered these seeds which produce heavy yields. I usually plant them every rain season, and I have come to realize that they can survive in a wide range of soil conditions. They are drought resistant and non-GMO and have over 80% germination rate, If you are a looking for quality seeds, I recommend that you get these seeds.

If you had saved some seeds from a past cultivation, you can use them instead. But ensure you select the healthy ones.

In addition, choose the right variety. There are many varieties of cowpeas out there. Some are leafy while others are just woody. So choose the leafy ones to enjoy quality vegetable.

Plant the Seeds with Correct Spacing

Before planting your seeds, sprinkle some little water on the soil to make infiltration possible. Then apply more water until the soil is saturated. Leave the bed for 30 minutes to allow soil particles absorb and store enough water.

Use a simple tool i.e., a stick, to make appropriate planting holes. The best holes are 2" deep and are placed 6" apart and 24" between rows. Place the seeds in the holes, with the eye facing downwards. Cover the seeds slightly with soil and sprinkle water on them. Your seeds will sprout within 6-10 days. Note, do not stumble a lot on your bed as this can compact the soil.

Water Your Cowpeas Accordingly Afterwards

Black eyed peas do not require a lot of water. If you plant them in a rainy season, you may not irrigate them. But If you plan to grow them throughout the year, you will have to water them during the dry seasons.

When irrigating the crop, pour water along the rows and do not flood the bed or sprinkle water on the leaves to control fungus in your garden. It is recommended to water your peas two times a week.

Remove Weeds for Quality Cowpeas Leaves

Weeds compete with your crop for water, nutrients and other resources, so it is important to eradicate them from your field every now and then. If you have a small garden, use your hands to uproot the weeds. For a larger garden, use a weeding tool or an herbicide to clean out the weeds.

Apply Appropriate Fertilizer to Boost Crop Growth

Cowpeas are leguminous, which means that they fix nitrogen from the atmosphere through their root nodules. But they still need other nutrients! So you may have to use appropriate fertilizers to supply these nutrients. Use a top dressing fertilizer to boost the leaf growth.

With many top dressing/foliage fertilizers out there, you may find it difficult to choose the best one for your cowpeas. But consider yourself lucky you found this article because the fertilizer that your crop needs is no other than Dyna-Gro Foliage-Pro Plant Food! I had tried a number of foliage fertilizers without success before finding this leaf booster.

So why is it the best fertilizer for this crop? Well, it is packed with a myriad of macro & micro nutrients that continue to be released several months after application. It contains 16 minerals that are essential for optimum crop growth and comes with the 3-1-2 N-P-K ratio which is recommended for foliage production. .

In addition, it is 100% organic & natural, doesn't contain GMO's and is safe for people & pet. It is available in a number of sizes, so you can always find a size that suits the number of your crops.

Stake Your Crop to Encourage Upward Growth

As black eyed peas mature, they grow tendrils. And in case you didn't know, a tendril is a specialized stem used by climbing crops for support. If you are not intercropping your peas with crops that grow upright, you need to stake them. Fix simple sticks alongside the crops and the tendrils will curl on them for support.

Control Pests to Keep Yield High

Pests are some of the factors that contribute to low yields in cowpeas. You can lose over 90% of your leaves to these harmful organisms. Some pests to be aware of include: pod borer, aphids, sucking bugs, thrips, nematodes, leaf miners and bean fly. Use pesticides or repellents to keep your garden free from pests.

Control Diseases to Avoid Losing Your Crop

Diseases have the same negative effects as pests. You can lose a big part of your crop to the harmful microorganisms. Diseases that infect the peas can be fungal, viral or bacterial. You can prevent most of the diseases by avoiding damp conditions and controlling pests.

Some common diseases include: stem & root rot, mosaic, bacterial blight, wilt and anthracnose. Use appropriate chemicals to treat any infected vegetable. Uproot and dispose any crops that are heavily infected by a disease.

Protect Your Garden from Animals

Herbivores love to feed on cowpeas. Your own animals and birds are the major threat to your crop. If you live near a forest, you should also be ready to deal with rabbits, deer and wild turkeys.

Install a barrier around your garden to keep animals away. A wire mesh fence is recommended. You can also use scarecrows to frighten and drive away animals.

Harvesting Cowpeas Leaves and Pods

Cowpeas leaves are ready for harvest after 3 weeks. What an incredible short period! The crop usually has a number of leaves after this time, which means that picking some of them will not hurt it.

Pick the leaves when you are sure to cook them within 3 days. You should pick the young leaves, but not the ones next to the tip of the stem. The younger leaves are more tender, succulent and nutritional compared to the older leaves. You can cook them like any leafy vegetable. The leaves can also be dried and preserved to be cooked at a later date.

When it comes to the pods, harvest the soft, green ones. Pick the pods when you are sure to cook them within 5 days, and you can prepare them together with the leaves.

pods | Source

Some pods may become hard (mature-up) before you harvest them. Wait for these pods to form beans before picking. When you have enough of the mature pods, you can separate the beans from the vines and use them to make another type of a meal.

You can also wait for the pods to dry up, and separate the dry beans from the pods and save them as seeds. Your crop can still produce more edible leaves. Trim any dry parts of the crop to allow it generate new leaves. After another cycle of bearing pods, uproot the crop and plant a new one.

peas/seeds | Source

It's That Simple!

There are no special skills or technical methods you need to have or understand in order to grow cowpeas as a vegetable. If you have been eating kale, spinach or cabbage and you want to try something new, you can grow black eyed peas for their edible leaves and pods. Use that small garden around your home to grow cowpeas for your vegetable needs.

Do you consider cowpeas leaves as a vegetable?

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If yes, do you think you can grow black eyed peas as a vegetable in your garden?

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© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores


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    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 20 months ago from India

      Yes my grandmother used to make a delicious item with cow peas leaves.

      Great article

      Voted up and shared

    • Jan Saints profile image

      Januaris Saint Fores 20 months ago from the Midwest

      Thank you very much Thumbi7

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 20 months ago from Home Sweet Home

      if the beans grown have black spots, are they sick? mine having this problem

    • Jan Saints profile image

      Januaris Saint Fores 20 months ago from the Midwest

      There is a crop disease called blackspot. You may want to learn more about this disease to know if it is the one with your crops. Are the spots on the pods, beans or leaves? Pests also cause black spots.

      Thanks for your question.

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