Cowpeas: edible, nitrogen fixers and chop & drop

Edibles

Cowpeas are amazing plants to have in a food forest garden. These easy to grow, hot-weather plants will shade out the weeds, fix nitrogen for chop and drop, they attract pollinators and beneficial microorganisms, and of course, the beans and new growth are edible.

when and how to plant cowpeas

I plant our cowpea seeds in the hottest months of the year as these drought-tolerant plants have no problem standing up to Florida’s brutal summer heat.

When planting cowpeas in a big area, I simply toss them right where I want them to grow and they quickly sprout to fill in the entire bed.

When not feeling so lazy or to contain the plants to a certain area, it is best to dig a 3 foot deep trench, line it with good soil then run the seeds down the trench. This prevents them from getting washed away during a heavy rain, allowing them to grow right where you want them.

Cowpeas are very drought tolerant and I don’t normally water mine unless it hasn’t rained for a long time and they look really droopy. On the contrary, it is important that they aren’t over-watered or planted in a low-lying spot that holds water or they will get root rot and suffer.

I plant cowpea seeds every 2 weeks throughout the spring and summer here in Florida 9b to keep a steady supply growing.

using cowpeas as pollinators in zone 9b

the flowers and beans bring in many pollinators. After they bloom and I pick the beans, I cut the plants back to the ground. The roots decompose, leaving a nitrogen-rich compost underground, and the leaves serve as an abundance of chop and drop which I use as mulch to block out the weeds and to decompose and feed my plants.

eating cowpeas

The beans, young shoots, pea pods and leaves of a cowpea plant are all edible!

The cowpea beans are very high in protein (about 25% protein) . The young shoots and leaves can be cooked and eaten in a manner similar to asparagus, or they can be prepared as one would any green such as turnip greens and collards. The young pea pods were often prepared as one would snap beans

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.

Whenever I find pests on my plants, I feed them to the fish. I guess I find it to be a more humane way of killing them, rather than just smashing them, and it makes it fun to find pests – free fish food!

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

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