Monday, 18 January 2010
Peas and Qs
Black Crowder and Red Ripper Cowpeas.
Vigna unguiculata, cowpeas, southern peas, crowders are legumes originating in central Africa which were transplanted to America and the Caribbean along with the slave trade and are now well established as favourite traditional crops. They are also grown across India (some sources suggest they originated there) and anywhere where difficult conditions require a robust economical protein source for man and animal. A drought tolerant crop, they need little fertiliser and are fairly resistant to pests in good conditions although in Africa the harvest is subject to severe insect attacks which rob the farmers of a lot of their work. The plants need warmth and so have not been grown much in northern countries where the cold and wet are enough to prevent vigour and flowers. As a result they are not as popular as French (Phaseolus vulgaris) and runner (Phaseolus coccineus) beans
There are several subspecies within the genus. The yard long bean, Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis, is sometimes attempted in greenhouses in Europe for its green pods which are popular in oriental cooking but this needs very good weather to succeed in most summers.
The black eyed bean, known mostly to Europeans from its association with Caribbean peas and rice is another subspecies, Vigna unguiculata subsp. unguiculata. I don't know of anyone growing these in the UK or France so if you are, please comment and let me know how it goes.
I've decided to try a couple of types of this bean this year. It was not that easy to find seed so I've chosen open pollinated heritage varieties from the southern states of the USA where there seems to be more diversity than what's available to me from other parts of the world. Both types are claimed to mature in 70 days although I suspect it may take a little longer than that over here unless the hot weather is exceptional. Whatever, I'm hoping that 3 months of summer should be sufficient.
Red Ripper is a variety that is apparently popular in Texas so it should be good! It's a climbing vine with crimson scarlet pods and red beans. The pictures look dramatic and I'm hoping to get a crop of beans which can be eaten green or dried.
The other variety I've chosen is Black Crowder. This is a bush bean, unsurprisingly with black beans tightly packed into long green pods held above the foliage.
Like all beans I've ever grown it seems that they may grow short or climb at will if soil fertility or growing conditions set them off but I'm hoping that they will stay true to type so that I can properly assess them as permanent members of my core vegetable varieties.
Varieties will cross unless isolated at about 150m so I won't be saving seed from these this year, just trying hard to get them to grow but if they do well it might be worth starting a selection programme to choose cultivars that do well in Normandy conditions.
To learn more about cowpeas look at the Lost Crops of Africa or this article by the Thomas Jefferson Institute.
p.s. Apologies for the poor photo, all my cameras are out of charge.