*This will be the first in a long list of growing guides that I hope to publish here on Stoney Acres. We love gardening and hope to be able share our enthusiasm and knowledge with others who want to learn more about growing your own Veggies!!
Growing Shelling Peas
The last two weeks of June are pea season here at Stoney Acres. 2012 has been one of our best years and I have had a lot of questions both in the comments section and on Facebook about how we are growing shelling peas. So I thought I’d give you a break down of pea growing according to the Stoney Acres methods. Now I don’t always follow conventional wisdom with our peas. I will lay out some guidelines that you may need to adjust a bit depending on your climate.
Peas like well drained, fertile soil with plenty of organic mater. But I have found that peas will still do well in less that ideal soil conditions. In fact peas can improve your soil because they fix their own nitrogen and therefore add nitrogen to the soil. I’ve also found that peas do better in real soil. I grow peas every year in at least one of our box gardens (I have a rotation so that each box gets a nitrogen boost from the peas) but the peas I grow in the mixed soil of the box garden never seem to do as well as the peas in my main garden.
Peas are a cool weather vegetable. As such they are really pretty hardy. We usually try to get peas planted as soon as the soil dries out. That is around mid March here in Utah. But the target time is around 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. Peas are hardy but they can’t handle the really hard freezes you will get before that time.
You can also plant in mid-summer for a fall crop. Don’t expect the yields in the fall that you get in the spring. Peas are a cool weather crop that will grow in warmer weather, but they don’t do as well in the fall. We usually target around 8 to 10 weeks before the first frost for a summer planting. So for us that is around July 15th.
Before planting I always soak the seed for about 24 hours. That gets them softened up and they germinate more quickly. Peas need to be planted about 1 to 2 inches deep. Most planting guides will suggest spacing the seeds about an inch apart, but I have found peas handle intense planting very well. We plant our peas ½ inch or even less apart. Our rows are also spaced only about 12 inches apart, which is about half the recommended distance. Again peas are one of those veggies that deal very well with intense planting.
Peas are pretty easy to take care of. If you live in an area with a wet spring you may not need to water until it starts to get warmer. We usually don’t start watering our peas until they are 4 inches high and the spring rains have stopped. Once the weather starts getting warm you will need to keep the peas watered well.
Any method of watering works but I have found that peas really like drip irrigation. Our simple drip system seems to do really well with the peas.
Peas are such vigorous growers that if you get them planted early they will be able to stay ahead of most pests. They can suffer from powdery mildew, but powdery mildew is a warm weather problem so if you get your crop in early by the time you have a powdery mildew problem it will be time to pull out the plants.
Most bush varieties of peas don’t really need trellising. This is especially true if you plant them very intensely, they will just support each other. If you like you can surround your patch with a single strand of twine wrapped around sticks on the perimeter. Set the twine at about 12 inches and this will help support the plants when they get close to harvest time. This makes harvesting easier but is not really necessary it just makes things a little easier. Of course if you are growing a vine variety you will need to offer them some type of trellis.
A few weeks before harvest time your pea plants will blossom. This means a yummy harvest is on the way. Start watching for peas a weeks after the blossoms. Most bush varieties will blossom all at once and most of your harvest will be finished in about a two week period. Some other varieties will bloom a little longer offering a longer less intense harvest.
You begin to harvest your shelling peas when the pods have swelled to almost a round shape. You want the pods to be full and solid but not bulging. The photo below shows the various stages of pod development. From left to right: First on the left is just getting started way to soon to pick, second from the left is close but not quite ready, the middle one is perfect, second from the right is still okay but is getting a little old, the last on the right is too old if you’ve waited this long you’ll be disappointed.
Most pod pea varieties are ready to harvest in a pretty short window. Our peas take about 10 days to 2 weeks from the first pea ready to the last. So you need to be prepared to spend some time harvesting. We usually try to harvest about every 2 or 3 days. Any longer and you will have some peas that get to old and no longer taste as good. Your first 2 pickings will be small, the middle 2 or 3 pickings will be huge and your last couple will be small again.
As your pea harvest progresses you will notice your plants starting to look pretty rough. They will wilt and start to turn brown. This is all normal. Once the plants have finished producing they die off pretty quickly. If you (or a neighbor) have chickens you can feed the spent plants to your hens. Peas are “nitrogen fixers” meaning they actually pull nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in little nodules in the roots. So when I get rid of my peas I actually break (or cut) the plants off at ground level leaving the roots in the ground. They quickly dissolve and leave all that nitrogen behind in the soil!
There are few things from the garden that are better than fresh peas! So be sure to eat plenty of them fresh and raw!! But if you have a good sized harvest you can preserve them for future use. Freezing is our preferred method; you can click here for a guide on freezing peas. Peas can also be canned or dried. If you want to try those methods I would suggest you buy a good preserving guide like the “Ball Blue Book” to give you the instructions on those methods.
Season: Cool season best in spring but can be grown in the fall
Best soil: Rich, pH 5.5 to 6.8
When to plant: Spring: 6 to 8 weeks before last frost. Fall: 8 to 10 weeks before 1st frost
Planting: 1 to 2 inches deep
Spacing: ½ inch apart to as much as 2 inches apart
Yield: 2 to 6 pounds per 10 foot row
Harvest: 55 to 70 days after sowing