Black-eyed peas, a type of cowpea (and called as such in the Southern US), are an important staple food in many countries around the world. Native to West Africa, black-eyed peas are grown on almost every continent and can be found in grocery store shelves worldwide.
In 2020, I was expanding my garden both in terms of size and types of vegetables, trying to challenge myself and grow more as a gardener. Then I got the idea to try growing black-eyed peas, probably my favorite legume. However, because of the, uh, events of 2020, it was too late to buy seeds online, as a lot of seed stores were getting out of stock. But I had dried black-eyed peas in the pantry and decided to try it out. What was there to lose?
Although it was my first time growing black-eyed peas, it instantly became a permanent fixture in my garden. If you love regular dried black-eyed peas, you should try the immature green ones. A little lemon, salt, olive oil… this isn’t a recipe article but anyway, I learned a few things from my experience.
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Will Black-Eyed Peas from the Grocery Store Grow?
Most store-bought black-eyed peas will germinate and grow into mature plants. How old your store-bought black-eyed peas are and how they were processed will dictate whether they will grow or not.
Reasons Why Your Store-Bought Black-Eyed Peas Are Not Growing
While most store-bought black-eyed peas should sprout, seeds will gradually, over time, become less viable. Even if stored properly in a dark, dry, cool place, bean seeds, including black-eyed peas, stay viable for 3 years. After that, the seeds can still sprout, but their germination will slow down and the older they get, the more likely some seeds won’t sprout.
Black-eyed peas at the supermarket are not stored in ideal conditions, and may already be old, since dried black-eyed peas have a very long shelf life. In this case, germination rates will be poor.
Other reasons your store-bought seeds aren’t germinating have to do with how they were processed or treated.
Mature beans still need further drying to guarantee shelf life. Traditionally, they would be picked at the very end of the season when the plants were already dying and the pods were crisp, and that’s how many gardeners do it today. Since store-bought black-eyed peas are not grown for planting, companies will sometimes dry them in large ovens after harvesting. If the temperature is too hot, it could sterilize the seeds and they won’t sprout.
There is also the chance, if you’re buying black-eyed peas sourced in other countries, that they’ve been irradiated upon import. This can also render the seeds infertile. For best results, try to find some grown domestically, although this may be impossible depending which country you’re from.
Maximizing Success with Store-Bought Black-Eyed Peas
Test Germination Before Planting
Before you start digging out a plot for your black-eyed peas, you can always test them first to see if they germinate. That’s the most straightforward way to find out if you can plant black-eyed peas from the grocery store.
I like to use the paper towel method, which involves putting your black-eyed pea seeds into a moist paper towel (you can fold it over to cover them completely) and keeping them in a plastic bag or container to keep the moisture in. Keep the seeds in a relatively warm location and check every few days. Normally, it should take 5 to 14 days until they germinate, although I check after about 3 days because you tend to get a few early sprouters if the seeds are not too old.
If you see them sprout, you know your seeds are viable. In fact, you can plant them as they are, but you have to be very careful not to damage the root, as all legumes don’t like being transplanted.
Soak Seeds and Overplant
Although not necessary, I always soak my bean and pea seeds before sowing outdoors. Soak overnight, 8 to 16 hours and sow 1 to 2 seeds about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep, at least 5 inches (15 cm) apart. I’ve discussed in more detail about how to plant black-eyed peas from seed.
If you tested your germination and notice a lot of your seeds aren’t sprouting, you can still plant them outdoors but plant 2-4 seeds per planting hole, then thin out to 1 plant as the seedlings emerge.
One more thing: it’s best to sow your black-eyed peas when soil temperatures are warm and there’s no more risk of frost. At least 70°F (21°C) soil temps are ideal. After sowing, you can cover the soil with clear plastic anchored down with bricks, stones, or whatever else you can find until the sprouts emerge, then remove it. That will raise the ground temperature significantly and speed up germination.
What to Expect When Planting Store-Bought Black-Eyed Peas
If your black-eyed peas germinate and start growing, the adventure is just beginning. Since these are store-bought seeds, you really don’t know what kind of black-eyed pea plants you will be getting. You may end up being pleasantly surprised with a real vigorous, productive grower.
Pole vs. Bush Black-Eyed Peas
There are many different types of black-eyed peas, and many look very similar when you compare them, although some come in different colors. Nevertheless, you won’t know the exact variety of black-eyed peas you’re buying at the supermarket.
Just as there are pole beans (climbing beans) and bush beans, black-eyed peas can also take on either of these growth habits. Most commercially grown black-eyed peas tend to be bush varieties, but you never know until you plant them. When I planted black-eyed peas from the supermarket, they grew like climbing beans and needed a pole for support.
Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated (OP)
Another unknown when planting supermarket black-eyed peas is that you don’t know if they are taken from hybrid plants or not. Seeds collected from hybrid plants will not necessarily grow into the same type of plant it came from, but resemble more of each of its two parents instead.
This is easily seen with tomato plants grown from store-bought tomatoes, since it will be more obvious your store-bought sweet orange cherry tomato seeds grow into a very acidic red tomato plant. I think for black-eyed peas, you likely won’t notice if they are hybrids or not, and my guess is that hybrid black-eyed peas are bred more for production or disease resistance than other traits like flavor or color.
My Experience Planting Black-Eyed Peas from the Grocery Store
As I mentioned earlier, black-eyed peas are probably my favorite type of legume, and I’m not even from the South. I followed my own advice and tested the germination rates first, then when I saw they were viable I soaked some more overnight and sowed them outside.
The mistake I made was assuming they would be like bush beans, since most black-eyed pea varieties are more bush-like. I planted a bunch in the ground and one in a pot, and all of them ended up being a pole bean variety. The pot was way too small for a climbing variety, but I still got some pods off it.
You can harvest the immature pods like green beans, the semi-mature pods with green black-eyed peas, or wait until the hole pod shell is dry and brittle to harvest mature seeds for cooking or saving seeds for the following year.