It’s Time for Peas

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Rita's Monthly Gardening Tips,  February 5, 2016

There are three types of peas:

  1. English or garden peas (also known as shelling peas since the peas are removed from the pod and only the peas are eaten.)

One variety is Wando. It produces well in hotter, dryer conditions than most peas typically can handle. It would be good for a late spring or late summer planting when it can get hot suddenly. It produces short vine.

Another variety is Frosty, which, as you can imagine from the name, can tolerate the colder range of temperatures and grows on a relatively short vine of 30 inches.

  1. Chinese or snow or sugar peas (picked when the pods have reached full size but flat and the peas are still very small. Pod is eaten.)

Two common varieties are Oregon Sugar Pod and Dwarf Grey Sugar. Both grow on short vines. Oregon Sugar Pod is noted for having multiple disease resistance and comes as an organic seed.

  1. Snap peas (picked when both pod and seeds are mature, pod is rounded and peas are full size; both are edible and eaten as a whole).

Sugar Snap is a tried and true variety of good old-fashioned peas whose plants grow up to 6 feet tall.

Step 1: Prepare your soil

Peas need soil with plenty of organic amendments and good drainage. If you have an already-established garden plot, your garden will be ready to go. This is not a good time of the year to till or cultivate heavy, clay soil because the winter rains have already made them too wet. Tilling in wet soil risks soil structure damage. Add organic matter to your soil a few weeks before you intend to plant to give the initial chemical reaction of decomposition time to mellow, or use well-rotted compost. If your soil does not have enough organic matter or does not drain well enough, consider planting peas in raised beds or containers. Use bagged potting soil rather than garden soil for containers.

Step 2: Prepare a pea trellis (depending on type of peas you choose)

Be creative and resourceful in using recycled materials to build a pea trellis. You could use your tomato cages, tall garden stakes, fencing, or even pruned tree branches. You could also use three 2x4x6’s to make a frame and twine to make the trellising. See for an example. The advantages of using a trellis are that the plants will have less chance of getting a disease, will take up less space, and will grow more fruit if they are supported. Even the shorter varieties grow better with a trellis. It just doesn’t need to be as tall with the shorter varieties.

If planting in a container such as half a wine barrel, you could put several approximately six-foot-long stakes in the soil and tie them together at the top teepee style. Or you could put a couple of stakes deep down into the soil and attach a piece of lattice of about 3 feet wide and 5­–6 feet tall. You could also put your container next to a fence or trellis and train the little tendrils to grow vertically.

Although instructions for planting dwarf or bush peas say they don’t need to be trellised, it still helps to keep them up off the ground. Whichever type of trellis system you choose, keep in mind these points:

  • The plants should be easy to reach
  • The trellis should be durable enough to last a couple of months with the weight of the peas growing on it
  • It should be easy to disassemble if you need to when it’s time to move on to your warm season crops

Step 3: Choose your seeds

Get seeds of the type of peas you enjoy eating. Dwarf peas take up less space, need little trellising, and do well in containers but don’t produce as many peas.

You can buy an inoculant that helps with nitrogen fixation. Nitrogen fixation happens when legume roots partner with specific bacteria. This symbiotic relationship offers both of them more chance to do what all living organisms ultimately want to do—reproduce. The bacteria enter the roots, enabling the plant to absorb nitrogen from the air. Both live happily ever after.

But, alas, soil chemistry is a complicated story. If your soil is rich in nitrogen or you use a nitrogen fertilizer regularly, the happy little partnership between legume root and bacteria may not have much purpose. On the other hand, if you have not planted peas in your soil before, there may be insufficient bacteria present for nitrogen fixation to occur. Adding inoculant will increase the odds of successful growth of this year’s peas and that of future years’ peas. In organic gardening, chemical fertilizers are not used to supply nitrogen, so creating healthy, life-promoting soil with compost and using an inoculant is a good way to go.

Plant your pea seed directly in the soil. Plants grown from seeds adjust better to your climate and growing conditions. You can presoak your seeds for an hour or so to decrease the time it takes for them to germinate. On their own they can take up to almost two weeks to germinate.

The seeds can be planted anytime in January and February in this area. You can increase your yield and space out your harvest by planting in 2- to 3-week successions and/or by planting more than one variety with different maturity dates.

The window of pea opportunity is rather limited. They want to grow in the early spring when the unseen forces of nature are calling to them. Any earlier and it’s too cold; any later and it’s too warm. Keep in mind that the more clay in the soil, the longer it takes for soil to warm, and raised beds warm faster than ground planting. Peas want neither a very cold soil nor a warm soil. If planting in rows, making your rows run north and south increases sun exposure and air circulation. Plant your seeds 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep.

When it comes time to harvest, good luck trying to make it into the kitchen with them. If you do, let me know your favorite recipe or way to prepare them.

Happy Gardening!