Grow peas during the winter in mild-winter regions.
In cold-winter regions grow peas in the spring and sometimes in the fall.
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.
Peas germinate more slowly in cold soil, in about nine days in 60°F soil, 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 types. There are three kinds of peas to grow: Chinese pea pods (also called snow peas), snap peas, and English peas (also called garden peas). Snow peas–with tender, succulent pods–and snap peas–with tender pods and juicy seeds–are eaten pod and all; English peas–with fat seeds for fresh eating or drying–are shelled. Peas with wrinkled seed covers are generally sweeter than smooth-seeded peas. Choose from bush (dwarf) or climbing varieties; climbers will produce a greater yield but require support.
Soil. Peas grow best in well-drained soil rich in nitrogen and aged compost. Turn the soil with a spade to a depth of 10 inches or more then work in the compost before sowing. Sow peas in raised beds in spring or where the soil is heavy or drains poorly. Add a low nitrogen fertilizer to the planting bed such as 5-10-10.
Site. Grow peas in full sun. Set rows north to south so that plants get plenty of sun throughout the day. Sow peas in double rows–twin furrows 6 inches apart with a trellis between the rows; space double rows 24 to 30 inches apart. Sow seed two to three inches apart. Each row of earth will be planted with a double row of peas.
Support Peas. Peas benefit from support, even dwarf varieties want 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.
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.
Planting Peas in 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.)
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 seed by rolling wet seed 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 on in the soil for many years and new seed will not require inoculation.
Fall sowing peas in mild-winter regions. 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 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.
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.
Watering. Keep pea planting beds evenly moist; do not let peas go dry. When the first blossoms appear, give peas about an inch of water (almost a gallon) each week until the pods are filled.
Tie-in the 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 Harvest. Peas will be ready for harvest about three weeks after blossoms appear. Pick peas every day to encourage a greater harvest. 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 a 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.
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 peasand 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 Grow Peas.