Peas are one of those crops that can be planted in the ground before the last chance of frost, and are one of the first crops I get in the ground in early spring.
Peas are incredibly easy to plant, requiring little attention besides watering and harvesting. They rarely attract pests or develop diseases, and most seeds sold today are marketed as disease-resistant. Peas grow best in colder weather, and young plants can even withstand light frosts. As I mentioned, they can be planted early in the spring, as they do well when spring weather turns cold and damp.
That being said, make sure you plant your peas early enough in the spring so that you can get at least one full harvest before summer temperatures grow too hot for these heat-sensitive plants. If you live in a temperature zone, try to plant in March. In colder climates, plant a month before your last anticipated frost.
If you’re reading this in June and already missed that planting date, don’t fret. Peas can make it through warmer weather, provided that you give them plenty of diligent watering, shade, and mulch until fall arrives.
Peas are one of the oldest vegetables grown in the United States, and date all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. While they originally were only eaten as a dry good – it used to be believed that green peas were poisonous – today, they are one of America’s most popular vegetables. Peas are a great source of vitamin K, manganese, copper, vitamin C, and fiber, among many other nutrients. They also pack a delectable crunch, making them a good snack for picky little eaters!
There are many different kinds of peas, including bush and climbing varieties. Bush peas are great for first-time pea farmers, with popular choices including Burpeeana Early and Sugar Bon peas. Planting on a trellis can be helpful, too, if you’re low on space.
I’m trying a new variety this year: Wando Garden Peas. They’re supposed to be more heat tolerant than some other varieties, and are well suited to the South. I’m hoping to be able to continue planting them for a few more months, to extend the harvest.
How to Plant Peas
Peas can be started indoors to transplant outside later, but their roots don’t usually hold up well to the transplantation process. Therefore, most people sow seeds directly into the soil. For best yields, consider planting early, mid-season, and late varieties so that you can enjoy a pea harvest throughout the entire growing season.
If you’ve never seen pea seeds, this is what they look like. Essentially, they’re just dried, shriveled up peas. To save seeds each season, simply allow the vegetables to fully ripen and then dry completely on the vine. Then you can put them in an envelope or plastic container and save them to plant next year. Just be sure you allow them to completely dry and remain dry throughout the winter, or they will mold before you get the chance to plant them.
As you can see, my trellis fence is very simple. Just some stakes and wire fencing stretched across each other. It’s 4 ft. tall. Something taller would be ideal, since my pea vines have frequently climbed higher than my trellis.
You don’t have to use an official, store-bought trellis. Consider planting your peas with corn so that they can wind themselves around the stalks, or interlace twine between posts. You can even use broken sticks or stakes as makeshift trellises.
Sow thickly, placing the pea seeds 2-3″ apart, then cover back over them with a thin layer of soil. Once seedlings begin to emerge, usually around a week to a month after planting (depending on the temperature), mulch around them with straw or wood chips to help retain moisture in the soil. This also helps to prevent weeds and discourages the growth of pests and diseases.
Peas don’t require any fertilizer, and actually can add nitrogen back into the soil. Too much nitrogen can cause the plants to produce lush foliage but very few harvestable pods. A good idea, however, is to provide a legume inoculant. Many nurseries and greenhouses that sell seeds already do this. Peas have a symbiotic relationship with crucial bacteria. To inoculate your own seeds with these bacteria, simply soak them overnight and then sprinkle an inoculant powder over them just before you plant. This will help them set more fruit and be healthier plants overall.
Try to water at least once a week, but when you water, do so deeply. The soil should never be totally dry, as this can reduce pod production. Watering too much, however, can cause fungal growth. You might consider planting peas in raised beds or containers to help increase yields and provide for better control of moisture and other weather factors.
To harvest peas, first check to make sure that the pods are round, shiny, and bright green. Anything else indicates that they are either over- or under- ripe. Peas are the most delicious when the pods have some movement around the peas. Pick the pods by using both hands to pinch the pods away from the vine. Try not to pull too hard, as peas have delicate root systems and can easily be extracted by mistake. Try to harvest every day or every other day so that you can be sure to harvest fresh peas, and to encourage the plants to continue producing.
I don’t expect to have enough peas to can or freeze, but we don’t really eat cooked peas that often anyways. The children love picking fresh peas off the vine best, so as long as we have enough for grazing we’ll be happy. However, if you choose to preserve peas, there are a number of options in doing so. You can freeze peas immediately after harvest, but be sure to blanch to help them preserve their taste. They will lose some texture, but are still delicious steamed or in soups. Peas can also be dried by placing them in a dehydrator, but they become a bit starchy throughout this process.
I planted the rest of the bed with carrots, radishes, and leafy greens (spinach, lettuce, cabbage) as they are all good companion plants for peas as well. I even got fancy and planted red romaine and purple cabbage, so hopefully I’ll get a splash of color in the bed. We’ll see!
Do you plant peas differently? Any special tips to share?
updated by Rebekah White 06/19/2018