By George Boyhan
University of Georgia
Southern peas are related to beans, soybeans and English peas, which all have one thing in common: their unusual ability to grab fertilizer out of thin air.
That's right. They're able to take the nitrogen in the atmosphere and make it into fertilizer. Because of this, they can be grown on the poorest of soils.
Since they make some of their own, they don't require much added fertilizer. If your soil is reasonably fertile, you can probably get away without fertilizer, at least for the first time on new ground.
They like warm weather, so wait for all danger of frost to have passed before planting. You can grow them in spring, summer or fall. Just be sure to plant early enough in the fall not to run into Jack Frost.
Among the many types of southern peas, black-eyed peas have a "black" eye on the hilum, the point that attaches to the pod. Creams are white and develop a nice broth when you cook them. Crowders have large, brown seed "crowded" into the pod.
Their long heritage in the South started in Africa. Southern peas were brought over by slaves. Their ease of growth made them ideal for poor folks to add to their diet.
Stingers?Southern peas have one drawback: cowpea curculios. This insect probes the pods and lays eggs in the developing seeds. The growing curculio grub will eventually eat the infested seed.
Old-time gardeners referred to these peas as "stung." They wrongly thought they'd been stung by wasps. Folks would pick these peas out by hand and discard them before cooking.
Wasps do congregate around southern peas, but they aren't there to sting the pods. They're gathering the nectar secreted by nectaries at the base of the pods.
Gardeners can choose from many varieties of southern peas. Knuckle Purple Hull is a crowder (the peas fill the pod so well they look like knuckles) with a purple hull. Zipper Cream is a cream type that's easy to shell, or zip out of the pod. Colossus, as the name indicates, is a very large pea. There's even a southern pea with a green pea at maturity, called Genegreen.
Southern peas can be harvested at different stages of maturity. Most gardeners pick them at the mature-green stage. This is when the pods are completely filled out, but before they become dry and hard.
A little helpIf you grow a lot of peas, you may want to take them somewhere to be shelled. Many farmers markets, roadside marketers and feed-and-seed stores have shellers that can make quick work of this chore. In a few minutes, they can shell what would take you several hours.
You can also harvest Southern peas when they're fully mature, dry and hard. In this state, they'll last much longer.
In either case, mature-green or dry, you have to refrigerate them, because if any cowpea curculio larvae are in there, they'll keep feeding on the peas, reproduce and eventually destroy them all.
Southern peas are a great vegetable to grow, especially for first-time gardeners. The relatively large seeds are easy to handle and plant. They require very little fertilizer. And they grow well, even during the hottest part of the year.
You can control curculios, too, with timely insecticide applications. Or you can always pick out the "stung" seeds after harvest.
(George Boyhan is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)
(George Boyhan is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences)