Garden Word of the Day
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Black-eyed peas are said to bring good luck when eaten on New Years’ Day, but don’t wait that long! Put them to work in the garden for better growing all year.
Black-eyed peas are just one variety of cowpeas. Cowpeas are a type of bean. Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) make an excellent cover crop or green manure. Because they are legumes. Legumes have nitrogen-fixing nodes on their roots that transform atmospheric nitrogen, which most plants can’t use, into soil-bound nitrogen, which all plants need.
Green manures are crops that are cut and either dug back into the soil or allowed to decompose on top of the soil, before they go to seed. Cowpeas will keep adding nitrogen to the soil right up until they start producing baby cowpeas of their own. Then, that nitrogen is absorbed by the plant and put to use. The nice thing about edible cover crops is that, even if you miss the mark and the plant goes to seed, you still get food!
Cover crops are grown for several reasons. They prevent erosion, add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, reduce weeds and deter some soil borne pests.
Cowpeas are drought tolerant, germinate rapidly, and don’t seem to be bothered by heavy clay soil. In fact, these garden workhorses can be used to break up compacted soil with little to no effort on your part! While these beans prefer sun, they can also be incorporated into shade gardens. Fusarium wilt, aphids, weevils, and pod borers are the most common pests.
Beans have long been used in companion planting or intercropping. Native Americans used the Three Sisters method of growing beans, squash and corn together. The squash shaded the ground, the beans climbed the corn and the corn soared skyward with the shaded ground and nitrogen-rich soil.
How to grow cowpeas
If you have areas of compacted or bare soil, it is simple enough to poke holes in the soil and drop in a cowpea. Cowpeas are not particular. The hole can be 1-4 inches deep. Plants should be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart and protected from birds until they sprout, which can happen in as little as 4 days!
If you are feeling particularly creative or ambitious, you can plant cowpeas into patterns around trees, walkways, or other landscape features. As the plants come up, they will add a new texture to the garden, along with improving the soil structure and nutrient content!
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