Peas are known for being able to grow in cold weather and being one of the first plants you can grow in the spring. This is true, but peas still need warmth to germinate. Peas can survive weather down to 40º F but cold, damp soil will retard germination and make the seeds susceptible to fungus & insect damage. The pea plants never quite recover from the shock and produce poorly.
One way to prevent this problem is to germinate the seeds indoors. Pea seeds are easily sprouted between damp paper towels. Once the root appears from the seed, it can be planted outdoors with a higher chance of survival. If you live in a colder area where the ground is still thawing the seeds can be grown as transplants for a couple of weeks longer.
Peas should be grown on a trellis, tee pee stand or netting. This should be done before you plant the seeds or transplants so that you do not disturb the roots of the plants. Most peas only grow to a little more than three foot but a few of the heirloom varieties could grow to 6 foot.
The Novella II is a semi-leafless pea variety and can actually support itself with out trellising if they are planted about an inch apart. I grew these one year and trellised half the crop and left half to support their selves.
Choose a site that gets full sun and has soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8
Make sure your soil drains well. Peas do not tolerate wet soil. If you add compost to the soil this will help the soil to breath and rain better plus give the soil more nutrients.
I either grow my peas in raised beds so that I can add more soil and nutrients or in bushel baskets or containers.
There are three types of peas:
- English or garden peas (only the seeds are eaten),
- Chinese or snow peas (picked when the pods have reached full size but the seeds are still small and eaten pod and all),
- Snap peas (picked when both pod and seeds are mature; both are edible).
If you sow the peas directly in the garden wait until the soil can be worked. If the soil clumps its too wet and cold and you will damage the soil structure. If your spring is not a wet spring you can usually work the soil five weeks before the last expected frost. I cheat and use row cover so I don’t worry about the last frost as much.
Plant the seeds an inch deep, 3 to 4 inches apart. If you plant in rows they suggest having the rows 3 foot apart. I plant in blocks to help control weed and save space. Encourage you pea plants to climb and vine onto your support as early as possible. If I have an uncooperative plant I will tie it in place with a piece of pantyhose.
Peas grow rapidly so successive planting is encouraged for a continuous crop. I plant an early variety pea first. Then a few weeks later I plant a heat resistant pea in an area that will get a little more shade and less direct sun. My last planting is planned for an autumn crop.
- For peas to “fix” nitrogen or convert it for use certain bacteria must be present in the soil. If your garden is new more than likely you will need to coat the seed with a powder called an inoculant. You’ll find inoculants at nurseries and in seed catalogs. Even in a garden that is not new I still use an inoculant. I find I have a better crop.
- Make sure young plants get about 1/2 inch of water a week (1 inch in very sandy soil). When plants begin to flower they need an inch per week regardless of soil.
- Liquid seaweed or compost tea used twice during the growing season will give you a bigger crop.
- Pea vines are delicate and break easily. Use care when weeding and harvesting the crop.
- Peas can suffer from several diseases, including powdery mildew, fusarium wilt and root rot. Choose disease-resistant varieties rotating crops and make sure your soil temperature is warm enough or that you start the seeds indoors in cold weather conditions.
- Peas will be ready to harvest about three weeks after the plants begin to flower
Peas are one of my favorite crops and have wonderful vitamins. I myself prefer them raw in salads or as a snack but many people cook and freeze them.