Black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata), sometimes called Southern peas or cowpeas, are African natives that quickly became a staple crop for American colonists who settled in the southeastern states. Despite the name, this warm-weather annual is a legume family member that produces beans rather than peas. Black-eyed pea plants are easy to grow and require very little maintenance.
Plant black-eyed peas in the late spring or early summer only after the soil temperatures reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Various diseases and pest insects can attack plants placed in cooler soils.
Select a planting location that receives full sun and has good drainage. Black-eyed peas grow well in various soil conditions, but thrive in rich, fertile loams with pH levels ranging from 5.8 to 7.0.
Remove all weeds from the planting location. You must control weed growth early on because the pest plants compete with your black-eyed pea seedlings for soil nutrients and water. The plants start shading out most weeds once they mature.
Create a row 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches deep with a garden hoe. Break up any dirt clods with the hoe to create a finer soil texture. Space multiple rows 3 to 4 feet apart to allow for ample plant growth.
Plant your black-eyed pea seeds about 2 inches apart all the way down the row. Lightly cover the seeds with soil and gently pack down the dirt with your hands. Irrigate freshly planted seeds with a slow stream of water from a garden hose.
Boost plant growth by applying a 5-10-10 fertilizing product just before or immediately after planting. Following the instructions on the manufacturer's label, lay down a band of fertilizer about 3 or 4 inches deep. Keep the band 2 to 3 inches away from the seeds. Lightly water the treated area immediately after application to get the nutrients down into the soil.
Water black-eyed peas only during prolonged dry conditions. Irrigate your plants until the water soaks the top 2 to 3 inches of soil. Allow the soil to dry completely to the touch before watering again. Adding a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch can help retain soil moisture.
Harvest the bean pods 65 to 125 days after planting, depending on the variety. Black-eyed peas are typically ready to pick as soon as the beans swell up to fill the seed pods and you can shell the pods easily.