Southern Peas, or "Cowpeas" as they are known to Northerners, are thought to be native to the continent of Africa and brought to the United States in early Colonial times during the slave trade. They became a staple food in the Southeastern United States where they are eaten as green shelled peas or left to dry on the vine for later use.
They are more likely to succeed in areas with warm soil temperatures (at least 60F) and no danger of frost for ninety to one hundred days after planting. They are highly tolerant of drought and a wide variety of soil conditions, including heavy clay and sandy soils. Soil pH can range from 5.5 to 7. In areas with cooler climates, the plants will tend to be plagued with pests and disease.
Southern Peas can be planted from May to August, as soon as the soil has warmed to about 65F. Most varieties are ready to harvest at the green pea stage in about sixty days and at the dry stage in seventy five to one hundred days. Therefore in most areas, Southern Peas really should be planted in May or June.
Plant four to six seeds per foot, 3/4 to 1-1/4 inches deep in rows twenty to thirty six inches apart. Control weeds early in the season with shallow cultivation. Later the peas will shade out most weeds. Avoid cultivation after the plants begin to bloom. Irrigation is normally not necessary; southern peas are renowned for their ability to grow and produce under harsh conditions. As a legume, they have the ability to fix their own nitrogen from the air so planting in too rich of soil or fertilizing can cause the plants to keep growing (running) and with pod production greatly affected. Southern peas are self-pollinating with insects, as well as wind, being responsible for moving the pollen to achieve fertilization.
There are several types, groups or categories of Southern Peas. These include: