This attractive cowpea known by many different names is a Deep South heirloom that traces ultimately to Africa. Called Polecat in an 1860s survey of southern cowpeas, its name is derived from the distinctive black patches on the seeds. This coloration has given rise to its other more recent name: Holstein. While it is often treated as a bush variety, growing about 2 feet in height, the plants are robust growers and do benefit from staking. The 6 to 8 inch pods produce an abundance peas (about 10 to 12 per pod) which can be harvested green as shelling peas or dry and cooked like other cowpeas. When the Holstein cowpeas are cooked, the black markings fade to brown.
The seeds are slow to mature so allow at least 80 days from planting to dry seed harvest. Zones 7 and warmer are ideal for this variety, which will also thrive in the red-clay soils of the South. For early harvests, start the seedlings indoors and transplant to the garden when it is safe to plant tomatoes. Also useful as a cover crop to build up nitrogen in the soil. We plant it on ground dedicated to potatoes the previous season.