Southern peas & Yardlong or Asparagus bean

Kathryn Fontenot, Koske, Thomas J.  |  5/6/2005 12:00:35 AM

Blackeye purple hull pea.

Very acid soil has toxicity.

Mottled pea leaves caused by virus. Seed and insect transmitted.

The southern pea is also known as cowpea and field pea, but some just call it various names like blackeyes, crowders, peas, etc. This Asian-African descendent legume is Vigna unguiculata.

It thrives in less-fertile soils during our hot summers but can be planted as early as April in south Louisiana. If planted in fertile soil or soil receiving much fertilizer, plants grow lush and viney and may not set pods. In some cases, one must find the poorest soil area to be successful with the field pea. If soils are moderate in phosphorus and potassium, plant without fertilizing. They prefer a slightly acid soil but will not tolerate soils below pH 5.5.

Southern pea cultivars may be grouped mainly by fruit type. Pod color, seed color and seed packing pattern are all used to describe them. On top of this, the plants may be vining, semi-vining or bush type. You may not be able to find the exact combination of all desired characteristics in one cultivar, but there are many choices. I suggest that you key in on the cultivars with the couple of characteristics you seek or just go for flavor.

Pod colors may be green hull, silver hull or purple hull (easiest to spot). Seed types may be blackeye, pinkeye, cream or browneye. Creams stay light with clear liquor after cooking. Within each group, you may find a crowder type or non-crowder, which describes how the seeds are arranged in the pods. Crowders are more tightly packed and may be starchy. Bush peas are seeded at 4-6 oz/100 feet of row. Plant these cowpeas about an inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart in the row. You will have about 150 to 200 seeds per ounce.

Vining peas are less popular and are seeded at 3-4 oz/100 feet of row. They are spaced 6 to 12 inches apart and usually take over the row. Dixie Lee, Royal and a few pinkeyes are vining types.

Southern pea cultivars recommended for Louisiana are:

  • Blackeyes – Magnolia, Royal, California#5 and Queen Anne
  • Pinkeyes – MS Pinkeye, Top Pick Pink, Quick Pick and Pinkeye Purple Hull BVR
  • Creams – Elite, MS Cream, TX Cream#8 and Top Pick Cream
  • Crowders – Dixie Lee, Hercules, Knuckle Purple, MS Purple, MS Shipper, MS Silver, Top Pick, Colossus and Zipper Cream

Southern peas may be harvested in the mature green stage where the peas are about first mature but not over-mature and dry. Those with purple hulls develop good color by then. Green-hulled selections may just start to turn off color at this stage. Peas are also harvested in the fully mature dry stage for dry storage. Some gardeners even harvest young, under-mature pods and use them as a snap bean substitute.

That leads me to the yardlong bean or asparagus bean. This Vigna is a subspecies of the southern pea. It is a pole-type cowpea vine that can produce pods up to several feet long if left to mature. Train it on to a trellis and grow it as you would a field pea. Pods are best harvested at about a foot long while still immature to be used fresh in oriental dishes. Pods may also be left until they begin to lose color and be shelled out as early-mature green field peas. Pods left to fully mature and dry can be used as dried southern peas.

A number of pests love cowpeas. Common insect pests are leaf-feeding worms, leaf-footed and stink bugs, aphids, cowpea curculio, thrips and spider mites. Some insecticide choices include malathion, carbaryl, M-PEDE and cygon. Disease concerns are mostly the seed-borne pea virus, but several bean diseases can also occur. Some fungicide choices include chlorothalonil, PCNB, fixed copper, sulfur, etc. Grazers like deer can cause a lot of damage to the vines. Preemergent herbicide choices include metolachlor, trifluralin, glyphosate and pendimethalin. Postemerge weed control may use sethoxydim or quizalofop on grasses, betazon on broadleaves and yellow nutsedge or imazethapyr. Other information is listed in LSU AgCenter pesticide guides and the Commercial Vegetable Production Guide pub. # 2433.

Remains of pea vines and legumes are often turned back into the soil as a summer green manure.

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