Control Group Update

Back in August I decided to put my money where my mouth is. I went on and on about how easy it was to grow cowpeas before I realized some of my friends weren’t going to be planting them in fluffy, fortified, store-bought soil protectively cradled in pots. I did a little guerrilla gardening and jammed a few seeds along the back fence. It was not without its drawbacks, but I had some success.

Creek Critters and Other Catastrophes

Pink Eye Purple Hull cowpeas 08/31/2015
Pink Eye Purple Hull cowpeas 08/31/2015

So the armadillo who was rumored to have made a buffet from the cowpeas planted in my guerrilla garden turned out to  just be a rumor. I started to doubt it myself when I saw the perfectly round-shaped, little holes in the mulch, too. Whatever’s getting in there has got tiny little hands that dig, not scratch. This morning, I got my answer: a family of skunks. The dog went for them and I immediately flashed back to the skunk incident of ’08. (Where on earth did I leave that large bottle of peroxide?) The dog was lucky, but the cowpea control group, less so. Probably less than half survived. I’d even reseeded after the first raid, but then something started eating the tender little seedlings from the soil line up. Those few plants that did survive seem to be doing just fine. Now if I can just keep my dog from trampling them when she investigates the rustling leaves along the back fence, they might just produce.

Sweet Italian Peppers
Sweet Italian Peppers “Carmen” 08/30/2015

Summer’s just a tough time for my garden. The intense heat causes leaves to wilt midday. The containers require, at the very least, once daily watering. In the case of tomatoes and peppers, sometimes twice daily to ward off the types of soil moisture fluctuations that cause blossom end rot. That brought up another issue I’m still investigating: when all the leaves on my peppers went from deep green to pale yellow. Too much water? Too little water? Too much crappy, chlorinated municipal water? Nitrogen deficiency? Micro nutrient deficiency? Probably a combination.

“Twiggy”

None of this is helped by the infestations that have begun. Things were really going well there for a while. I had birds and little anole lizards, and ladybugs, and paper wasps protecting my garden. We even have a few neighborhood cats patrolling the grounds. There seems to be a rodent problem on the opposite side of the property. Not here!

Heart breaking!
Heart breaking!

And then it happened… first the mosquitoes, then the aphids, then something lopped off the tops of my cabbage and broccoli seedlings. If I get my hands on the lousy vermin that ate the only two tomatoes that August produced, we are going to have a nice, short, and succinct come-to-Jesus meetin’!

Summer’s tough. Maybe I got a wee bit too confident because I was getting a lot better at spring planting. It’s not all bad, though. I’ve got some okra and a nice early tomato plant that I nursed all the way up from seed this summer. I am torn, though. A nice, typically mild winter will make it fun to grow all sorts of cool weather crops, but I can’t help but wish for a freakishly hard winter freeze. I can’t imagine I’ll be too heart-broken to let all them skeeters, fleas, flies and other nasty pests die in frozen soil. I know, chances are the skeeters and I will both be wearing shorts and a light sweater come Christmas Eve, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

Cowpeas Recipe

Moroccan cowpea stew or, Ful Gnaoua

Thought I’d share this recipe with ya’ll. I’ve made this a few times with cowpeas right out of my garden and it is fantastic! The recipe calls for dried cowpeas, but you can use them freshly shelled from the garden and save a whole lot of cooking time.

Follow this link to About Food’s Moroccan cowpea stew recipe and enjoy!

Progress in the garden

I’m not sure if I’m the only gardener who goes outside every couple of hours to see if anything’s changed in the garden. Who knows? I could have missed a tomato hiding under a leaf this morning or the beans I’ve been waiting to sprout may have made their way up out of the soil since breakfast. It’s a lot like waiting for water to boil, so sometimes even the changes that are happening subtly don’t get noticed. I have been trying to snap a few pics here and there and those have been fun to see. Here’s a few to share!

Bushsteak Tomato


Red Ripper Cowpeas


Red Burgundy Okra

Control group

So I kinda got caught up in the whole “cowpea” moment last week and decided I was gonna put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I mentioned that growing cowpeas was so easy it could be done on a commercial break without any hassle… so, in addition to my container planted Red Rippers and Chinese Red Noodles, I did a little guerrilla gardening. Yep, I live in an apartment community, and while my neighbors and management have been very cool about my container gardening spilling over and outside my patio, I’m not sure how they would feel about me planting vegetables in the ground amongst their landscaping. So we won’t tell them, will we?

I took just a few minutes and and hoed a shallow trough an inch or so deep. This clay soil is so dry and hard, it broke into either powder or clods. I dropped a few seeds about an inch deep and six inches apart, covered as best I could with the rock hard clumps of soil and watered in. The biggest effort I did make was to cover the newly planted seeds with a thin layer of mulch. I wanted to try to keep the soil moist, but I didn’t want to deny the future seedlings any sunlight they might need.

That was four days ago and… viola!  The little guys made it through! I’m totally stoked! I can’t wait to see how they produce compared with their pampered container counterparts. I’ll keep you posted.IMG_0340c

Did you get around to putting your cowpeas in? How are they doing?

A Cowpea’s Chance in Texas

Long-podded cowpeas
Long-podded cowpeas

Alright, folks! If you haven’t put in those cowpeas, yet, now is the time. Yes, really, right now! Take that commercial break and jam a few cowpeas into the poorest soil in your garden, cover with soil and water in. Voila! Gardening done for the day! You and I can go back to watching the Criminal Minds marathon.

Okay, so maybe that isn’t the best way to go about planting cowpeas in the garden, but given how well these bad boys do under the Texas heat and drought conditions, it’d probably still work.

So let me tell you a bit about these cowpeas. Cowpeas make their way under quite a few aliases. They’re also called Southern peas and field peas and come in different varieties including creams and crowders. The best known cowpea is probably the black-eyed pea, but there are several others. I’ve grown pink eye purple hulls, red rippers and black crowders in my garden. Most are bush type plants that grow about three feet high, but there are a few climbers. The black crowders I planted in my patio garden grabbed onto one of my hanging planters and was looking for a way on to my neighbors’ balcony right before production halted! A different cultivar, the yardlong bean, or long-podded cowpea, grew ten-foot vines, and loads of pods. I was picking them at just over a foot long, but one did get lost under the stairwell and grew to about two feet long!

Chances are good that even black-thumb gardeners are going to have success with cowpeas. They’re pretty low maintenance. They don’t like too much water or too much fertilization. Basically, until they’re bloomin’ and fruitin’, don’t pay ‘em too much mind.

Cowpeas, like other legumes, develop a good bacteria on their roots that help them pull nitrogen right out of the air. They can also drill a tap root about eight feet deep, which helps them pull nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them incredibly drought resistant. This is the reason you don’t really need to fertilize them, and too much fertilization will just grow a lot of foliage and few beans, anyway.

Plant your cowpea seeds about an inch deep in the soil. If you bought pea and bean inoculant, sprinkle a bit of that over the seeds and cover with soil. Remember that good bacteria I was talking about earlier? Well, it will get there naturally in its own sweet time, but if you want to push things along a bit faster, this stuff will help. Whether you use the powder or let the plant do it on its own, from that point on the soil will have this good bacteria living in it and you shouldn’t have to inoculate the soil again.

Go ahead and water it in and wait for the magic to happen. In this August heat, I’d venture it would be just a few days before you see seedlings. These cowpeas are pretty tough and push through most soil like champs, but we have some serious clay in areas, so don’t let it crust over. They’ll need some light watering until they become established, but then you can pretty much ignore them until they start flowering. If you’re gardening in containers like I am, remember that our plants can’t drill a long tap root and will need more frequent watering than their terra firma counterparts. Either way, once those flowers bloom, they’ll need a little more water; and when the pea pods come in, they’ll need a little more water. Remember, cowpeas and all the other delicious goodies in our garden are, just like our bodies, made up mostly of water. So when you have stuff fruiting, don’t drown ’em, but don’t be chintzy with the water, either.

Now just stand back and let them do their thing! Cowpea pods can be eaten like snap peas when young. Leave them on a little longer and the beans will fatten up and you can use those as a fresh shell peas, or just let them dry on the vine and you’ll have a nice dry pea for storage. If you want them to keep producing, keep them picked. At some point, it will seem like they’re done producing, but they’ll get a second flush of pods. If you want to help those along, just add a wee bit of fertilizer or some compost.

I’d wish you luck, but you won’t need it. These plants love this purgatorial south central Texas weather.