Peas are a cool-weather crop; they must mature in cool weather. Grow peas in spring and sometimes autumn in cold-winter regions. Grow peas during the winter and early spring in mild-winter regions.
Peas mature in about 60 days. Time your pea planting so your pea harvest comes during cool weather. That means planting peas in late winter and very early spring (February and March in the northern hemisphere) in regions where there is seldom snow. In snowy winter regions, pea planting can start in mid-spring (April in the northern hemisphere). As a general rule, peas can be planted six weeks before your last spring frost date.
The botanical name for peas is Pisum sativum.
Peas and temperature
The optimum seed starting soil temperature for peas is 75°F; this makes growing peas for fall harvest a strong option when they are planted 55 to 70 days before the first frost–depending upon variety.
Spring sowing peas
Peas can be sown in spring as soon as the soil is workable. Peas germinate more slowly in cold soil, in about 9 days in 60°F soil, and in about 36 days in 40°F soil. Use black plastic sheeting to warm the soil in cool regions. (Peas can survive temperatures down to 19°F.) Pea seedlings are frost tolerant.
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Summer and fall sowing peas for an autumn harvest
Sow peas in late summer in cold winter regions for a fall harvest. Sow peas in fall in mild-winter regions for a late autumn harvest.
Peas sown in late summer for fall harvest will germinate more quickly than spring-sown seed; the warmer soil temperature is optimal for pea seed germination.
The old-fashioned pea variety Mammoth Melting will sprout in as little as three to six days sown in late summer. For varieties that are slower to germinate, soak the seed in water for 24 hours before sowing to help loosen the seed coat and speed germination.
Be sure to sow peas for fall harvest so that the crop is ready a week or two before the first expected fall frost. Young pea seedlings may need to be shaded on hot fall days. When the weather gets cool protect peas with floating row covers.
Types of peas
There are three kinds of peas to grow: (1) garden peas, also called English peas, (2) snap peas, and (3) snow peas also called Chinese pea pods.
- Garden peas–also known as English peas– have fat seeds for fresh eating or shelling or drying. English peas with wrinkled seed covers are generally sweeter than English peas with smooth seed covers.
- Snap peas have tender pods and juicy seeds. They are eaten pod and all. They are not shelled or dried.
- Snow peas have thin, tender, succulent pods. They are eaten whole.
There are bush and climbing varieties of peas. Bush types are sometimes called dwarf peas. Climbing peas are sometimes called telephone peas. Climbers will produce a greater yield than bush peas but commonly require support.
Where to grow peas
Soil for peas
Peas grow best in loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter and nitrogen. Turn the soil with a spade to a depth of 10 inches or more, and work in aged compost before sowing. If your soil is heavy—with clay—plant your peas in raised beds that have been amended with lots of compost to ensure good drainage. Add a low nitrogen fertilizer to the planting bed such as 5-10-10.
Sow peas in raised beds in spring or where the soil is heavy or drains poorly. Raised beds warm quickly in the spring. Peas planted in too cold or too wet soil may not germinate or could rot before they even sprout. If your soil is sandy, again amend your soil with plenty of organic matter and compost.
Site for peas
Grow peas in full sun. Set rows north to south so that plants get plenty of sun throughout the day. The only reason to plant peas in part shade is if you live in a region where the weather turns hot quickly. Afternoon shade in hot and arid regions will give peas the cool air temperatures they prefer at harvest time. Peas do not do well when the daytime temperature rises above 80ºF (27ºC), The sugar levels of peas are higher in cool weather.
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Sow pea seeds two to three inches apart. You can plant peas in wide rows across narrow beds. Peas planted in wide rows–16 inches wide or more–will grow up and support one another. No trellis or other support is needed.
Peas also can be planted in double rows–twin furrows 6 inches apart with a trellis between the rows. Space double rows 24 to 30 inches apart.
Thin successful plants to 4 inches (10 cm) apart in all directions. Give peas regular water keeping the soil evenly moist.
Plant dwarf or bush peas 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart in rows 2 feet apart. Plant vining types in double rows 8 to 10 inches on either side of 6-foot tall stakes. Thin seedlings to 2 to 3 inches apart. Seeds started indoors should be planted out about 3 weeks after they are up.
Grow tall peas on poles, fences, or trellises. Give peas a complete fertilizer 6 weeks after planting. If the soil was prepared with well-rooted manure and bone meal before planting, no fertilizing is necessary.
Planting peas in wide rows or blocks
Bush or dwarf peas can be grown without support (but it will require some bending or knee harvesting later on). Sow bush peas in wide-row blocks; scatter the seed over the bed 1 inch apart and later thin plants to three inches apart. Don’t plant in wide rows so wide that you can’t reach the center at harvest. Wide-row or block-planted peas do not need staking or trellising. Some of the plants on the edge of the block may flop over, but generally, block-planted peas will offer a very good yield. (Use knee pads, a patch of carpet for your knees, or a small stool to make harvesting easier.)
Planting peas in twin furrows
Sow peas in twin furrows (narrow grooves in the ground), one furrow on each side of the trellis about 6 inches apart. Sow the seed in each row every 2 inches; stagger the seeds on each side of the trellis. Make the furrows 1 inch deep in sandy or cool soil and 2 inches deep in heavy or warm soil.
Inoculate the seed before planting peas
Peas and other legumes sown in planting beds that have not grown peas or beans in the last three years will grow better and be more productive if treated with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria Rhizobia before sowing. The Rhizobia bacteria form nodules on the roots of legumes; the nodules change nitrogen from the air into nitrogen that pea and bean roots can absorb and use. Treat or inoculate pea seeds by rolling wet seeds in inoculant powder available from seed companies. (One packet of inoculant is usually enough for a pound of seed.) Once seeds have been inoculated it is not necessary to add nitrogen fertilizer to the soil. The bacteria will live in the soil for many years and new seeds will not require inoculation.
Support peas if not grown in blocks
Peas benefit from support. If grown in blocks or wide rows, pea plants will support one another. If not, even dwarf varieties will benefit from a trellis to climb on. Place metal posts or stakes into the ground down the center of each double row; use stakes at least as high as the variety you are growing. Make sure the posts are securely anchored. Tie hardware cloth, chicken wire, or reinforcing wire to the stakes; be sure, the mesh is large enough to put your fist through at harvest time
Caring for peas
Peas want consistent soil moisture. Keep the soil moist but not overly wet. Peas will not germinate, grow, or bloom if the soil is dry. Pea pods will not fill out if the soil is dry. Stick your finger in the soil near your peas. If it is dry when you remove it, water. If it is glistening, the soil is too wet. If your finger is damp, the soil is just right.
When the first blossoms appear, give peas about an inch of water (almost a gallon) each week until the pods are filled.
Peas grow best in soil rich in organic matter and compost. Peas and beans produce their own nitrogen, so there is little need to add manure to your soil.
Companions for peas
Interplant peas with radishes, spinach, lettuce, or other cool-weather greens. In the late summer and fall, plant peas with corn, pole beans, or tomatoes that will shade them until the weather turns cool.
Peas insect pests
Watch for aphids, pea weevils, and thrips. Beneficial insects will control aphids and thrips. You a stream of water from the garden hose to knock these pests off the plant. Use floating row covers to control weevils. Avoid pest problems by rotating your crops. Don’t plant peas in the same spot more than once every five years.
Plant disease-resistant varieties and rotate crops every year to avoid diseases that live in the soil. Peas are susceptible to leaf spot or scab, blights and rots, fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, botrytis and molds, damping-off, and mosaic virus. Good drainage will control root rot fungi. Powdery mildew may appear when the weather warms. sulfur dust applied early can control powdery mildew.
Birds and peas
Birds are particularly attracted to young pea plants. Cover rows of pea seedlings with netting or chicken wire until the sprouts are up 5 inches.
Tie-in pea vines
When vines are 12 to 15 inches high, tie in the row by looping twine between support poles to hold the new growth in and up. Tie-in vines as it grows up every 12 to 15 inches. This will keep wind and rain from whipping vines sideways.
Peas will be ready for harvest 55-70 days after sowing, about three weeks after blossoms appear. Pick when pods are just bulging but before they are full size. Pick daily as the plant reaches maturity so that new pods will form. Store peas in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. Dried peas can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.
Pick snap peas when the pods are plump and bright green; pick garden or English peas for shelling when they are plump as well. Pick snow peas while the pods are still nearly flat–the seed will be barely developed.
Pinch pea pods away from the vine with your finger and thumbnail or use scissors. Hold the upper stem with one hand and pinch the pod away with the other; to avoid injuring the plant avoid pulling pods away from the stem.
Peas: types and varieties
Garden peas or English peas for shelling
The pods of shelling peas are not eaten. Varieties include ‘Knight’, ‘Oregon Trail’ (a prolific producer), ‘Coral’, and ‘Green Arrow’. ‘Maestro’ and ‘Eclipse’ are good for warm regions. ‘Tall Telephone’ also called ‘Alderman’ grow to 5 feet and has long pods. ‘Alaska’ is a short-season variety. ‘Little Marvel’ and ‘Wando’ are heat tolerant.
Snap peas are eaten fresh or cooked without shelling. Varieties include ‘Sugar Ann’ a dwarf, early variety. ‘Super Sugar Snap’ is a pole type that is resistant to powdery mildew. ‘Cascadia’ is resistant to enation (a disease characterized by bumps on the leaves and pods). ‘Sugar Pop’ and ‘Sugar Daddy’ are stringless varieties.
Snow peas are eaten whole usually after cooking. Varieties include ‘Oregon Giant’ is disease resistant. ‘Oregon Sugar Pod 2’ is good in cool regions. ‘Dwarf White Sugar’ is good for stir-frying.
Peas in the kitchen
- Fresh eating peas. Peas are the sweetest tasting right after picking; eat fresh peas within a day of picking. Snow peas can be eaten raw or added to stir-fried dishes. Snap peas can be eaten raw or cooked like snap beans. The seeds of English peas are shelled and cooked fresh or dried for later cooking. Just steamed bright green peas can be added to a salad or tossed in butter with new potatoes.
- Peas for soups. Peas for soups or to use like dried beans are left on the vine until the pods turn brown; shell dried peas and let them dry for three weeks or dry them in an oven for three hours at 120°F. Cool the peas and store them in an airtight container. Later separate the two halves of the pea with a mortar and pestle to prepare split peas.
More pea growing tips at:
How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Peas
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