Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
July, 2001
Regional Report

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Even at this size, southern peas are already manufacturing their own nitrogen.

Hot Southern Peas

The vegetable garden is full of what I call vacancy signs. These are places that will soon be filled with fall greens and cabbage family crops. However, right now it looks like a haven for weeds. My solution is field or southern peas. Field peas are custom made for summer. These mighty nitrogen fixers will sprout in hot soil, most insects leave them alone, when tilled under they improve the soil tilth, and best of all, you can eat them.

What's a Field Pea

If you're new to the region, here's a little information about field peas (Vigna unguiculata). The well-known black-eyed peas are southern peas, but they're only one type. More productive field pea types include pink-eyes (slightly elongated black-eyed peas with a dark pine eye) and crowders (brown and squarish in shape). Another tasty type is lady or cream peas. They're modest producers because of the small size of the peas, but they're the culinary queens of the field pea kingdom.

Eating your Cover Crop

Field peas of all types, including the popular purple hulls, make a great cover crop. Grow them for a few weeks in an area vacated by spring plants and then turn under. The best field peas for fixing nitrogen are crowders, but any type of field pea will develop the nitrogen-fixing nodules on pea roots. When the plants are turned under just as flowering begins, the soil benefits not only from the nitrogen, but also the organic matter derived from the decomposing plants. You won't get the same soil benefit if you let the plants mature. The plants will use the nitrogen they stored up to fill their pea pods.

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