Out of Africa – Black Eyed Peas
Domesticated from some wild ancestor by early farmers of the
African savanna, the black-eyed pea rose from the Sudanic
cradle of agriculture and spread by way of Egypt or Arabia
to Asia and the Mediterranean, eventually arriving in the
U.S. with early immigrants and slaves. However, it did not
evolve alone, but came into agricultural existence along with
drought tolerant varieties of millet and okra.
The common name Black Eyed Pea, Vigna unguiculata (L.), is
descriptive of only one group of this now very diverse species,
with others groups barely resembling their familiar black-eyed
namesake (California Black Eyed Pea). This extreme variability
has led to many commercial cultivars grouped by the variance
in bean shape, size, and color.
• Blackeyed or purpleeye peas - the seeds are white
with a black eye round the hilum. The 'eye' can be other colors,
purple or shades of red being common. The seeds are not tightly
packed or 'crowded' in the pod and are kidney or oblong in
• Browneye peas - pods range in color from green to
lavender. The immature seeds, when cooked, are a medium to
dark brown, very tender, and have a delicate flavor.
• Crowder peas - seeds are black, speckled, brown or
brown-eyed and are 'crowded' in the pod, hence the name. They
also tend to be globular in shape.
• Cream - seeds are cream colored and not crowded in
the pods - an intermediate between black-eyed and Crowder
• White acre type - seeds are kidney shaped with a blunt
end, semi-crowded, and generally tan in color. Pods are stiff
and the seeds tend to be small.
• Clay types - these rarely grown older varieties are
medium to dark brown in color and kidney shaped.
• Forage cultivars - adapted for use as fodder, or cover
You can also locate a diversity of non-commercial cultivars
through those smaller seed companies and seed banks that focus
on regional and heirloom varieties.
Why Grow Them?
Because of the characteristics of its wild ancestor, black-eyed
peas are ideal food plants for our area and were quickly adopted
by local native farmers in arid regions. These nitrogen-fixing
legumes grow and produce well at relatively low fertility
levels, but usually respond to additional phosphorous. They
tolerate a wide range of soil ph, but prefer neutral to acid
soils. Even so, I have had no difficulty growing them at the
7.5-8.5 ph common in this area. Black-eyed peas are very deep
rooted, drought tolerant and grow here from frost to frost
if you plant any of the indeterminate varieties. In desert
regions without frost, they may grow as a weak perennial and
produce for multiple years. Even though the indeterminate
varieties are not true climbers, they will sprawl vigorously
and grow over other taller crops. They are particularly well
adapted to nutrient poor sandy soils and do not tolerate heavy,
water logged soils.
Black-eyed peas can be used to add nitrogen and organic matter
to the soil and provide an excellent way to begin a garden
in marginal soils. For a green manure crop plant late in the
season so the first frost will kill them before blooming (a
killed mulch technique). On new soils, you will get best results
by using a black-eyed pea inoculant for your first planting.
You can follow them with a cold tolerant variety of shelling
or edible pod pea, or with fava beans and have a spring garden
soil enriched with both organic matter and nitrogen.
Black-eyed peas are rich in protein averaging 23–25%
in the dried bean. Although not generally eaten as a green
in this country, in other counties it is harvested as a fresh
green and dried for winter use. You can pick young leaves
for greens until the plants begin to bloom and only slightly
diminish the production of green pods and dried beans.
Where to Find Them
Commercial varieties are easily available from most seed suppliers.
For those rarer heirloom varieties, Baker
Creek Heirloom Seeds is the best place to begin. They
offer 30 varieties in their web seed catalog.
For those varieties grown by local southwest and Mexico farmers,
Native Seed SEARCH
is the place to go. They did a grow out of all 31 accessions
in their Cowpea collection this summer (06) and now offer
all unique varieties in their 2007 seed listing. You can also
purchase seeds of a wild cowpea from their 2005 grow out.
till next time,
Doña Ana Extension Master Gardener
garden well - eat local
Corrientes Black Eyed Pea Pods
Black Eyed Peas and Amaranth
Corrienties Beans dry and "leather"