How to Grow Cowpea as a Leafy Vegetable in Your Small Garden
Cowpea (also known as a black-eyed pea) is grown mainly for its edible beans, but what many people don’t know is that the crop can be grown as a vegetable. Its tender leaves and young pods are also edible and can be used to make delicious and nutritious vegetable dishes. According to food scientists and nutritional experts, the leaves have a high nutritional value.
Unlike other leafy vegetables, cowpea 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 to have acres of land and to use expensive inputs. That small garden in your home is enough to cultivate the black-eyed peas.
Cowpea farming is common in Southeast Asia (mainly India), Kenya and other African countries. In Kenya, the leaves are popularly known as Kunde and make amazing recipes.
Cowpea leaves have many health benefits. They are a good source of vitamins and antioxidants, and like other greens, the leaves have a high fiber content. A diet containing this vegetable is great for diabetic, cardiovascular and overweight conditions.
Planning to grow black-eyed peas, but you don’t know how to go about it? Well, you have come to the right place. Read on to learn about the best practices for growing vegetable cowpea.
In Brief, How to Grow Cowpea as a Leafy Vegetable
1. Choose the best location to grow the crop.
2. Prepare your seedbed ready to plant.
3. Find healthy cowpea 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. Harvest the leaves and pods.
1. Choose the Best Location to Grow Vegetable Cowpea
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. Choose also a location that is not heavily infested with weeds. In addition, choose a location that is free from flooding and not easily accessed by animals.
2. 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 limit the amount of light reaching your crop. Gather and safely deposit all the plant remains to reduce the possibility of pest or disease development.
Dig your whole seedbed with a suitable tool like a hoe. Cowpeas have shallow roots, so you don’t have to dig too deep. If there are soil clods, break them up with a suitable tool like a rake.
Remove roots and any other foreign materials from the soil. Debris can hinder the growth of roots, so ensure they are not present 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 the bed.
Raised beds are good for any crop, so 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 raise your bed with a compost which is a great soil fertility booster. Ensure you thoroughly mix the compost with the soil.
If you decide to grow cowpeas in containers, get spacious containers (at least 1-liter containers) and fill them with well-prepared soil then follow the right planting procedure as detailed below.
3. Find Healthy Cowpea Seeds
Get certified seeds from your local store. Certified seeds carry the dominant gene as they are obtained from the best performing crops.
These types of seeds have over 80% germination rate, survive a wide range of soil conditions and are drought resistant. They are also free from pests and diseases and grow to healthy crops.
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.
4. 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 or containers for 30 minutes to allow the soil particles absorb and store enough water.
Use a simple tool like a stick to make appropriate planting holes. The best holes are 2 inches deep and are placed 6 inches apart and 24 inches 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.
5. 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 have to 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 avoid cases of fungus in your garden. It is recommended to water your peas two times a week.
6. Remove Weeds for Quality Leaves
Weeds compete with crops for water, nutrients and other resources, so it is important to eradicate them from your field every now and then. For a small field or container gardening, use your hands to uproot the weeds. If you are growing the crop in a large garden, use a weeding tool or an herbicide to remove the weeds.
7. 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. The best fertilizer for this crop is usually packed with a myriad of macro and micro nutrients that continue to be released several months after application. It contains tens of 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 and natural, doesn't contain GMO's and is safe for people and pet.
8. 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 twine or climb on them for support.
9. Control Pests to Keep Yield High
Pests are some of the things 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: leaf miners, pod borers, aphids, sucking bugs, thrips, nematodes and bean flies. Use pesticides or repellents to keep your garden free from pests.
10. 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 and root rot, mosaic, bacterial blight, wilt and anthracnose. Use appropriate chemicals to treat any infected vegetable. You can also uproot and dispose crops that are heavily infected by a disease.
11. Protect Your Garden from Animals
When it comes to keeping your garden safe from animals, your own animals and birds are the biggest 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 animals away.
12. Harvesting Cowpea Leaves and Pods
Cowpea leaves are ready for harvest after 3 weeks. 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. They can be cooked like any other leafy vegetable, and can 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 cook them together with the leaves.
Some pods mature up and become hard before you can harvest them. Wait for these pods to ripen and form full 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 withered parts of the crop to allow it generate new leaves. After another cycle of bearing pods, uproot the crop and plant a new one.
There are no special skills or technical methods you need to have or understand to grow cowpea as a leafy vegetable. If you have been eating kale, spinach or cabbage and you want to try a new vegetable, you can grow black-eyed pea for its edible leaves and pods. Just use that small garden around your home to grow cowpea and meet your vegetable needs.
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Do you consider cowpea leaves as a vegetable?
If yes, do you think now you can grow black-eyed pea as a leafy vegetable?
© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores