Cowpeas: edible, nitrogen-fixing, chop & drop

Edibles

If I had to recommend 5 plants every gardener should grow – Cowpeas would be one of them.

benefits of growing cowpeas in the garden

These easy to grow, heat-loving plants make an awesome summer cover crop to block out the weeds.

As a legume, cowpeas are a fast growing nitrogen fixer, making it a great choice as a chop and drop plant.

They attract pollinators and beneficial microorganisms, and of course, the beans and new growth are edible.

The beans (25% protein), young shoots, pea pods, and leaves of a cowpea plant are all edible.

when and how to plant cowpeas in zone 9b

Here in Brevard County Florida, I start tossing my cowpea seeds when things are just starting to warm up for summer. These drought-tolerant plants have no problem standing up to Florida’s brutal summer heat, but I have noticed during the final few weeks of summer they start dying off.

I’ve notived Cowpeas grow best when planted in large groups, so I take handfuls of seeds and toss them together in an area cleared of weeds. They quickly sprout and fill in the entire bed.

Digging a trench line is always nice too, so the seeds won’t wash away during a heavy rain.

Cowpeas are drought tolerant, so go ahead and plant them at the furthest spot from the hose. I don’t normally water mine unless it hasn’t rained for a long time and they look really droopy.

You can pick cowpeas while green, and cook them. Or let them dry on the vine, then pick when brown.

overwatering cowpeas

I was growing cowpeas in a low-lying, wet spot in the field. They sat in water for a few weeks, turned bright yellow and died.

I left them there to decompose (which attracts beneficial microbes, and releases nitrogen back into the soil).

I plant cowpea seeds every week or so throughout the spring and summer, so I always have cowpeas ready to harvest.

I have been growing Cowpeas every year since 2014, and each year, I get 5-gallon buckets full of seeds.

I save some to plant next year, and I sell some on my eBay store here.

Toss seeds, and let them grow!

After they bloom, I leave the beans to dry in the pods and try to harvest all the pods before they get caught up in too many rain storms and get moldy.

using cowpeas for chop and drop

When the plant looks like it is done blooming, I get a pair of scissors and cut the plant back all the way to the ground.

I cut off all the leaves, stems, and moldy pods, and pile them on the ground where they used to grow.

I don’t pull the roots out, I just leave them to either get new growth, or dieback. Root systems are a popular feeding spot for the beneficial microorganisms that improve the soil, so I try not to disturb them..

Harvest cowpeas as soon as they are brown and crisp or they tend to get moldy. (*the leaves in the photo are passion vine, not cowpea)

cowpeas as pollinators in zone 9b

The gentle, purple flowers attract so many pollinators! Each year, I throw thousands of seeds in my field as a way to slowly enrich the soil. I love walking out there to see all the different types of buzzing and crawling insects they attract. Pollinators bees, butterflies and wasps.

cowpeas pests

I love seeing all the insects buzzing around my cowpea plants – and there are a lot! They attract many pollinators including bees, butterflies and beneficial wasps, but they also bring in many aphids and stinkbugs.

It is always best to simply pick off any pests rather than spraying them. If you are vigilant and get them early, you will prevent them from multiplying and taking over.

Cowpea pod borer aka legume pod borer: Cowpeas are a host plant for the legume pod borer. A moth lays its eggs on the plant, and when the caterpillars are born, they eat their way through the pods and into the beans, destroying the crop.

I have found the best way to get rid of pests in my garden is to have fish tanks and ponds. Lots of them.

Aphids and pests on a cowpea plant. No big deal. Just spray them off, wipe them with a cloth, cut the infested area off and feed them to fish, or just let them be to encourage ladybugs and other predators that eat them.

Whenever I find pests on my plants, I feed them to the many fish, frogs, and turtles we care for around here.

Read more about how we use fish tanks around the property here.

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