Tag Archives: soil

Soil Preparation for Growing Peas

Homegrown peas will only be as good as the soil that they are grown in.  In order to have the best peas, take time before planting to improve your soil.  You must first determine the type of soil that you are working with.  There are many types of soil including, sand, clay, loam, or even a combination of these types.  To determine your soil type, a soil sample can be sent to your local Cooperative Extension service.  This service will perform a number of tests on your soil and tell you what kind of soil and what the organic makeup of your soil is.  This service will also provide you with suggestions to improve your soil.

A Little Work and Dirty Hands


Working the soil is an important step for growing any vegetable.  Since vegetable seeds need oxygen to properly germinate, loose soil is important.  This also enables pea seed roots to stretch out in order to obtain the food and nutrients they need.  This will make plants stronger and healthier.  Till or spade your garden early in the spring to a depth of 10 inches.  Wait until the soil is dry enough to work or you will end up with clumps of dirt that will dry and harden, making it impossible for roots to grow.  To test the soil, squeeze a handful into a small ball, if you can break the ball easily by poking it with your finger, it is dry enough to be worked.  When you have worked the soil it should be free of clumps and very loose.  Working the soil also cuts down on weeds.  Every time the soil is turned, tiny weed producing seeds are unearthed and brought to the surface where they die leaving the others too deep to germinate.  This will cut down on the time and effort spent weeding a garden.

Healthy Soil Yields Healthy Vegetables

It is important that your soil is improved before planting bean or pea seeds.  Once seeds have been planted, it is too late to improve and add needed nutrients.  One of the best ways to improve soil is to incorporate organic material.  This can be old leaves, kitchen scraps, compost, or any number of organic materials that will break down and improve the quality of the soil.  In sandy soils, this organic material will hold the soil together.  In clay soils, the material will wedge between the soil particles to loosen it, allowing water and air to reach the roots of the plants. Organic material can be added any time but adding it during the fall season gives it plenty of time to break down before the spring planting season.soil-test

What Is Your Soil PH Level?

Soil pH is another factor that should be considered.  The pH is simply how acid or alkaline your soil is.  A testing kit can be bought at your local gardening center to test this.  Peas grow best in a pH of 5.8 to 7.0.  The pH of 7.0 is a neutral pH with 5.8 being a little more on the acidic side.  To bring your soil to the correct pH, add lime (to bring the pH up and lessen the acidity) or sulfur (to bring the pH down or make it more acidic).  Ashes from wood stoves or fireplaces can be used in place of lime.  Use 4 to 5 pounds of lime or ashes (12 quart bucket) for every 100 square feet of soil to be treated.


cow-277727_640Fertilizers are also recommended when working the soil.  There are two different types of fertilizers, organic and chemical.  Organic fertilizers will not burn plants as will their chemical counterparts.  Since the pea is a legume, it absorbs its supply of nitrogen from the air after germination.  Bone meal can be used to supply nitrogen until then.  It has slow action and does not harm any crop.  One suggested organic fertilizer for peas consists of one part dried blood (obtained from a slaughter house), one part bone meal, and one part greensand, potash, or granite dust.    Other organic fertilizers include blood meal, peat moss, and manure. Manure is a natural fertilizer for plants but also has a high salt content.  This is not a problem in areas of high rainfall where the salts are washed away.  It becomes a problem in areas in which the rainfall is not sufficient to wash away the salts, thus causing a “burned leaf” appearance in the pea plants.  Commercially prepared chemical fertilizers are available and can be bought for the needs of a particular type of soil.  When purchasing these, look for the three numbers associated with the type.  This tells you how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is contained in the product.  The first number specifies the percentage of nitrogen.  The second and third specifies the percentages of phosphorus and potassium.  That means that 10-10-10 on a package of fertilizer corresponds to 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, 10 percent potassium, and 70 percent inert ingredients.   Whether using chemical or organic fertilizer it is important to use the correct type and amounts needed for your particular soil.  Using more than required will not make your soil better.  It can result in burned pea plants and low yield.

Maximize Your Cropsprout-316127_1280

Once pea plants have been harvested it is a good idea to turn the plants back into the soil.  Peas are especially good for this because of the nitrogen content in their roots.  Tilling them back under the soil preserves this nitrogen and improves the soil for future crops.  This is called “green manure”.  Many people plant an early pea crop and immediately till them back into the soil after harvest so that they can plant a second crop of vegetables.  This method takes advantage of the nutrients that the pea crop has left behind in the soil. Taking the time before planting season to prepare your soil correctly will assure that your peas are healthy and strong.  You will be sure that it was well worth the extra effort when you are enjoying the “fruits of your labor”.

 Pea Garden
Don’t forget to check out my reviews of different pea shelleing machines to help save your time…and thumbs.. one you have harvested your pea garden.

Growing Your Pea Garden Upside Down

If you have limited garden space or just want to try something new, growing your pea garden upside down can be a fun thing to try. Upside down container gardens not only enhance the beauty of your home, they serve many practical purposes as well. By letting roots grow in a hanging bucket filled with dirt, your bean plants can remain completely undisturbed by pests and weeds. Many gardeners have found that plants grown upside down actually end up producing more fruit than the same varieties grown on the ground.


Peas are cool-weather annuals meaning that they can be planted and grown throughout mild cold weather. When your plants are about 3″ tall, transplant into your upside down planter. Water as needed. Peas don’t like heat, so let your upside planter work double duty. Plant herbs or annual flowers that crave full sun in the soil on top of your planter. This will provide your peas with shade and reduce moisture loss. Also, plant your pea garden in lighter color planters. Dark planters will absorb the heat and could cause your pea plants to grow and produce poorly.Beans

Due to the increasing popularity of planting upside down, you can find affordable upside down planters for sale at most major supermarkets. If you’d rather get creative and make your own, they are very easy to construct. Depending on the size you prefer, you can use everything from five-gallon plastic buckets to soda bottles. In this article from the New York Times, you can read more about growing peas upside down as well as the benefits of upside down gardening.

How To Make a Five-Gallon Bucket Pea Planter

1. Cut a small hole in the bottom of the bucket.
2. Place a baby pea plant through the hole and secure it in place with strips of newspaper.
3. Fill the bucket with a healthy soil and compost blend.
4. Tie ropes to the top of your bucket planter and hang it from your porch.

When your peas are ready for harvest, I recommend the Mr. Pea Sheller.

Mr. Pea Sheller

Mr. Pea Sheller

Compact and easily fit to most counter tops, this hand crank bean sheller will save your time and thumbs. You can check out my review as well.

~ Kerry Clabaugh

Southern Pea (Cowpea)

The Southern Pea is most commonly referred to as a cowpea.  Although there are at least 11 recognized classifications of the Southern Pea, the most common are the field pea, crowder, black-eye, purple hull, and the cream pea.  These peas are rich in flavor, nutrients, and history. Coming in at 24.8% protein, 6.3% fiber, and only 1.9% fat, Southern Peas are a wonderful addition to any diet.

The Most Well Known Varieties

  • Field peas have hardy vines and have smaller seeds than some of the other varieties.  These are very tasteful and produce a dark “gravy” when cooked.
  • Crowder peas are distinctive in the fact that they are “crowded” into the shell.  This crowding causes the ends to be blunted.  The seeds have a higher starch content than other varieties of the southern pea and also produce a dark liquid when cooked.
  • Cream peas are smaller, bushier plants with light colored seeds.  Cream peas cook up light with a gravy that is light and clear.
  • Purple hull peas have a purple coloring on their pods.  Many times they are placed into another group of southern peas.  They cook up with a rich, dark gravy and have a pleasing taste.  These peas have become so popular that there is a festival in Emersen Arkansas in honor of the purple hull pea.  This festival is held the last weekend in June and is dedicated to the “one major delicacy grown in every local backyard garden” in the small community.

A Bit Of History Of The CowpeaBushel of Green Beans

The cowpea is believed to have originated in Africa in an area which is now Nigeria.  It migrated to Egypt over 3,000 years ago and became a part of the European and Asian diets.  In fact, when the Pharaohs roamed the earth, black-eyed peas were a symbol of good fortune and luck.  Since these peas were inexpensive and common, they believed that the consumption of black-eyed peas showed humility and would save them from the wrath of the gods. Southern peas were traded in the West Indies in the 17th century and ended up in the United States by way of slave trading.  It is thought that cowpeas were brought to this country aboard the slave ships where they were used to feed livestock and slaves on the voyage.  Once in the states, the southern pea became a major crop and was planted solely for the purpose of feeding the cattle.  This is how the name of cowpea originated.  According to legend, the union soldiers had such low regard for these vegetables that they didn’t expend the time or energy to destroy them as they did everything else.  Cowpeas were about the only thing left to ward off starvation so the southern people began eating them just to stay alive.  It didn’t take long for them to realize that this was a tasty dish and the cowpea gained a new respect and popularity in the south.

Good Luck And Fortune

Probably the most well known of the southern peas is the black-eyed pea.  These peas are white with a very distinctive black mark where the seed attaches to the pea pod.  The black-eyed pea is known as a “lucky food” and is the preferred dish on New Year’s day.  Each pea represents coins so it is customary to eat as many as possible to bring prosperity for the coming year.  Hoppin’ John, served over rice, is the traditional dish served on New Year’s day.

Varieties Abound

peasSouthern peas may grow on bushes or the vine. They have glossy green leaves with white or purple flowers. Cowpeas are more a bean than a pea. In fact, they are classified as a legume. Southern peas come in a variety of pod and seed color, size, shape, and flavor. All are extremely high in protein. These peas can be shelled and eaten fresh, picked green, or dried on the vine. The pods are similar to those of most beans. Southern peas are classified mostly by the color of the hull, color of the seed, seed eye, size of the seed, or the spacing of the seeds in the pod. The varieties of these peas are too numerous to count. Often, farmers save their southern pea seeds and, after a few years, forget the name of that particular variety so they will give them a new name. As the seed spreads, the same variety may be called by several different names. In addition, plant breeders have bred many more varieties and strains of southern peas.

Preparing your Harvest

All southern pea varieties require warm soil of at least 60° F for best germination. They should be planted four weeks after the average frost date. This is usually in late May or early June.  If planted while the soil is cooler, the plants will have problems with pests and viruses.  Seeds should be planted approximately 1″ deep with no more than 4 to 6 seeds per foot of row.  Rows should be spaced at least 2 feet apart.  Southern peas have gained a reputation for their ability to grow under very harsh conditions so there is usually no need for irrigation.  They require full sun and a well-drained soil.  Like most legumes, they are able to take nitrogen from the air and produce fertilizer.  Because of this they require little fertilizer.  In fact, fertilizing southern peas with a fertilizer high in nitrogen can stimulate vine growth but reduce the production of peas.

soil-testHarvest Time

The peas are ready for harvesting when the seeds begin to swell in the pod but before the pods begin to lighten and dry.  They reach maturity between 65 – 125 days, depending on the variety of pea.  Southern peas are normally harvested at the mature green stage. This stage is characterized by fully grown seeds that have not started to dry. Some prefer to harvest when they are fully mature, dry and hard. They will last much longer this way. Fresh picked pea pods are very sensitive to heat and should be kept as cool as possible after harvesting by moving them to shade and spreading them out.  Southern peas should be shelled and processed rapidly.  If shelling a large amount of peas you might consider purchasing a pea sheller.  There are a variety of these available on the market ranging from a manual model (Mr. Pea Sheller) to a higher end electric model (Electric Mr. Pea Sheller or Taylor Little Pea Sheller).  These can cut many hours from the preparation of the peas for processing. One pound of unshelled peas will yield about 1 cup of cooked peas.  A bushel of unshelled peas (28 –30 pounds) will yield about 12-15 pint bags for freezing.

Store Your Harvest

Harvested peas can be eaten fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Fresh southern peas can be stored unshelled in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Green-shelled peas can be blanched, cooled in an ice water bath and stored in the freezer for up to 1 year. Dried shelled Southern peas can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months. No matter what method is used, they are guaranteed to be a hit. Very few foods are cholesterol free, high in protein, low in sodium, a good source of fiber and iron, and taste good too!  I’d say the cowpea is pretty close to being the “perfect food”.

Protect Your Harvest

Some of the problems associated with growing southern peas include insects and diseases.  Insects, such as cowpea curculio, stink bugs, thrip, and aphids can feed on pea plants, causing damage. Diazinon or Malathion can be applied at seven to ten day intervals as the plants first begin to emerge to rid the plants of these pests. Fusarium wilt , southern blight, and root-knot nematodes are diseases that can cause yellowing of the leaves, poor pod production, and death to a plant. There are many varieties of southern peas that have resistance to these diseases.


Which variety of Southern Pea is your favorite and how do you like to store and prepare them?

~Kerry Clabaugh