Purple hull peas have an established cultural status much like the apple pie. In the South, festivals are held in honor of this nutritious legume. From Mississippi to Louisiana and Georgia, the colorful peas are front and center in every feast from Hoppin’ John to Rosh Hashanah. The Purple Hull Pea Festival is held in June every year in Arkansas.
So what makes this humble pea so special? For one thing, it’s packed with nutrients including niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin. It also has high quantities of fiber and amino acids. Not to mention that you can use these protein-rich peas in different recipes from the baked variety to the cooked, steamed, and broiled varieties.
So the first question on your mind, especially if you have less than an intimate knowledge of the purple hull peas, is what are they? And how can you grow them in your garden, harvest, and store them? Read on to find the answers to these questions.
All about Purple Hull Peas
As part of the Southern pea family (Vigna unguiculata), purple hull peas get their color from the special pigment that gives apples and pansies their unique colors. And despite the name, this legume is not even a pea at all. It’s related more to beans than peas. Similar to black-eyed peas, where the bean connects to the pod, there’s an eye. That purple eye is what gave these peas their name.
Native to Africa, the average plant grows to between 20 inches to one foot tall and when mature, they are semi-busy. Around mid-summer, the pods start to develop in clusters at the top of the plant. Each pod is between 6 to 8 inches long and contains up to 13 beans at a time. The pods start dark green but ripen into either light green or purple shades.
There are two ways you can eat purple hull peas. Either as young succulent pods in which case you’ll need to harvest the pods before they become ripe. The other way is to wait for the beans to grown and reach maturity inside the pods. They acquire a creamy color with a magenta eye in the middle when fully ripe and you can harvest and store them in a dry place.
Purple Hull Peas Varieties
Over the years and through trial and error, more cultivars were developed that have a high tolerance to drought and are disease-resistant. But mostly, the new cultivars have a better yield annually than the original species that grew in Africa. Here are some of the top purple hull peas cultivars to grow in your garden.
- Mississippi Silver: A highly productive variety with good resistance to diseases and pests. The pods of this variety are usually silver with reddish streaks at maturity, although the beans inside stay creamy yellow with their famous purple eyes.
- Magnolia: Another variety that’s known for its disease-resistance. The pods are medium-sized and turn yellow-green when ripe. It’s not as productive as the Mississippi Silver though.
- Mississippi Purple: This cultivar was developed from the purple hull peas and has good drought resistance. The pods turn purple when ripe and you can expect high productivity from each plant. It’s favored by farmers since the pods settle at the top of the plant making it easier to harvest the beans.
- Pinkeye Purple Hull: Similar in every way to the purple hull peas but with a pink eye in the bean instead of a purple one. Other than that, you can expect the same yield and growth rate as the original purple hull peas.
When choosing the right variety or cultivar of purple hull peas, always make sure that it grows well in your zone. Most of the cultivars in that list do well in the Southern parts of the country. That’s because the temperature is high during the summer months and the plants get plenty of sunlight since the days are long.
How to Grow Purple Hull Peas
As with other legumes, the easiest and most efficient way to grow purple hull peas is to start them from seeds. Make sure you get your seeds from a good source and that the seeds are not old. Most of the peas you get at the dry foods section of the grocery store are too old and most likely they won’t germinate. Here’s how to start purple hull peas from seeds in easy steps.
- The best time to start your peas is in April or May when the temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the soil is workable. That’s the right temperature to ensure the seeds will germinate.
- Till the top 7 inches of the soil beforehand and work in aged manure or organic compost.
- Soak the seeds in water overnight before planting them.
- Plan the area into rows about 24 inches apart. Create more rows if you want to plant peas every two weeks for continued harvesting throughout the summer.
- The peas need stakes for support. Install stakes in the rows at 4 inches intervals. You can also use a trellis or wire nettings for support.
- Sow the seeds in the soil about one inch deep and space them out about 2 inches apart.
- Cover the seeds with soil and water them immediately to get the soil moist, not wet.
- After the seeds germinate, wait for the seedlings to reach 3 inches high before you thin them out. Space the peas about 4 inches apart to align them with the support stakes.
- Wait for a couple of weeks before you sow new seeds in the same manner. That way you’ll harvest peas continuously.
Purple Hull Peas Care
When you have your purple hull peas growing in rows with only two weeks apart, you’re all set to have a good harvest that starts in the late summer and continues until the fall. Watering is important for these legumes as well as sunlight and fertilizing.
Legumes in general and purple hull peas, in particular, prefer well-drained soil. There’s no surprise there since vegetables don’t like clay or heavy soil. If you want to get a good yield out of your peas, then check the soil and make sure it’s neutral with pH levels averaging 6.0 to 6.5. Loamy soil is favored by the peas. So adjust the soil texture in your garden with the help of coarse sand. This also improves drainage. Dig a hole in the soil about 4 inches deep and one inch wide. Fill it with water and monitor how long it takes for the soil to absorb the water. If the water stays longer than half a minute then the soil is poorly drained and needs more perlite.
The tricky part here is to keep the soil moist without overwatering it. Even the seeds need an adequate amount of moisture and will only germinate in moist rather than wet soil. You should wait for the top inch of the soil to dry out before you water the plants. Watering should be done early in the morning so that the moisture stays long enough in the soil for the shallow roots of the peas to absorb it. Aim the water toward the base of the plant and stop when the soil is moist.
Most of the fertilizing you have to apply will be done long before planting the purple hull peas. Work in organic materials and aged manure as you break the topsoil in preparation for planting the seeds. In general, you should apply a three-inch layer of compost to the whole area. If you don’t think that’s enough, you can also add one pound of a custom 5-10-10 fertilizer to every 50 foot row. Once the seeds germinate, the plants use bacteria to absorb the nitrogen in the air and fix it in the soil. Some farmers dust the seeds before planting with Rhizobium bacteria powder. These bacteria will provide the peas with all the nitrogen they need throughout their lifetime.
Pests and Disease
As you keep your eye on your purple hull peas, you’ll notice that pests large and small keep attacking your plants. Some of the pests to watch out for include aphids, bean beetles, armyworm, and cutworm. They all feed on the sap in the leaves and stem making big holes in the plants. If left untreated, the plants will wilt and you won’t have a good crop of peas that year. Hose the pests off the plants or cut off the infected parts. If spider mites attack the plea plants, you should remove the plants immediately to stop the spread of the bugs.
As for diseases, the hull peas are often prone to wilt, mosaic, anthracnose, mildews, and rust. Sometimes the diseases spread too fast especially in humid conditions and there’s not much you can do to save the crops. So it’s recommended that you plant disease-resistant cultivars from the list above.
Harvesting Purple Hull Peas
Toward the end of summer or even early fall, depending on the variety of purple hull peas you grow, the peas will become ripe and ready to harvest. If you planted your peas at a couple of week intervals, then you’ll be harvesting peas continuously.
Some people prefer to eat snap peas. These are green pods about 4 inches long or less where the beans inside haven’t fully developed yet. They are juicy and good to eat either raw or cooked. You can store them in the fridge for up to two weeks.
If you prefer to eat the mature peas, not the green pods, then you’ll have to allow them time to develop. When the beans are ready to harvest they become hard and develop purple eyes. Collect the pods and extract the beans. Keep them in a plastic bag where you can store them in the fridge for up to four weeks.