[Market-farming] When to plow under cowpeas as a cover crop

Richard Moyer ramoyer at gmail.com
Mon Jun 9 08:15:39 EDT 2014

As a native Georgian, I grew up growing, picking, shelling and eating
cowpeas, so am a big fan.
Now in SW VA, am in Zone 6 as you are.
The free, online SARE eBook "Managing Cover Crops Profitably" has a section
on cowpeas, 5 pages, with references therein. See the link below.

Cowpeas are underappreciated as beneficial insect habitat.  They keep
blooming until frost.  The extra floral nectaries, near the base of the
flower buds, offer food for many insects well before and after the actual
bloom.  But to get this benefit they need to be allowed to bloom.  Be
advised that stinkbugs also like the plants; don't know if moreso than
other summer legumes.  We've not noticed stinkbug issues with cowpeas here
in SW VA.

To answer your questions:
Cowpeas still offer a net nitrogen gain, even if the peas are harvested,
unlike most legumes.  Yes, in our conditions, cowpeas rot in cool, wet
ground; we've never had noticeable seed overwinter.  So if you incorporate
the seed with the biomass before planting garlic, the seed will rot and
release its nitrogen.  So you get it all for the garlic, is desired.

Another consideration:  fellow farmers here want locally-grown cover crop
seed, so you may save and share/sell a portion of the seed crop.  Also,
poultry love the high protein seed, so there's another benefit.  People buy
and use the seed, in any blackeye pea recipe, that's another potential
market.  (George Washington Carver did extensive work with cowpeas, not
just peanuts.)

On our farm, we (or deer) harvest the pods, then we turn them under before
fall crops.  (We turn some deer parts under, too, but that's another
story.)   Cowpeas a very reliable crop, germinates and produces well in
drought, loves the heat.  Taproots down to 8 ft!  Cowpeas resist all
disease and insect pressure of the other summer legumes we grow.

In summary, I'd wait and plow them under just before planting the garlic.
 You'll still get the net gain of nitrogen.  Other benefits can be observed
or created.

Richard Moyer
"Managing Cover Crops Profitably", pp. 125-129 for cowpeas

Dorene wrote:
I'm doing cowpeas as cover crop before garlic because the soil needs the
nitrogen and the extension agent said the cowpeas would be more
drought-resistant than soybeans.
I'm not seeing a lot written about cowpeas as a cover crop.  When should I plow
them under to keep them from re-seeding in my garlic?  At flowering?  When
the cowpeas are in the pod, but green?  Or can I just let the cowpeas mature
because the winter will kill the seed anyway?

Thanks for the input.  My location is below, if that helps.
Dorene Pasekoff
Hill Creek Farm
Pottstown, PA 19465
USDA Zone 6
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