Growing peas in your garden is one of the easiest things you can do in your garden. This post will tell you every thing you need to know about growing peas.
The gardening season is getting so close I can almost feel it!! As the first of March approaches I start getting really excited to get planting! And one of the very first seeds we plant in the garden is peas. So it’s time to get off our tails and get planning. Here’s everything you have ever wanted to know about growing peas.
Types of Peas
There are 4 main types of peas, Shelling (sometimes call garden peas), Snow, Snap and dry.
Shelling peas are the type we are all use to. These peas are grown strictly for the “pea” inside the pods and the pods themselves are tough and uneatable. Shelling peas are the most work at harvest time because you have to shell them to remove the peas from the pod. This is a pretty manual process and is best done with a couple of adults and 3 or 4 kids. The adults are there to keep the kids from eating all the peas!!
Snap peas have a more tender pod that can be eaten, but the pods are allowed to develop like a shelling pea so that the peas inside are mature as well. Snap peas are perfect for stir fry’s!!
Snow peas are grown for their eatable pods. They are usually harvested while the pods are still small and the peas inside are immature. Snow peas usually have a very broad flat pod. They are great in stir fry’s, but don’t forget to eat them raw as well. Our kids love May and June because they can have a big handful of raw snow peas for lunch every day!
Drying peas are grown for the peas. They are allowed to stay on the plant for much longer than the other types of peas so that the pods and peas dry out. The peas are then shelled and are great in soups.
Peas are a cool weather veggie. So what does that mean? Peas prefer temperatures between 55° and 75° F. Peas really start to suffer when the temperatures get above 80° F. You need to get them in early so that they can mature before the real heat starts! Maturity dates for most varieties of peas range between 60 to 70 days from germination, so use that as a guide when planting. Our March 15th planted peas are usually ready to eat beginning the end of May through mid June.
Soil & Sun
Growing peas prefer a well drained soil, with lots of organic matter. Work 2 inches of compost into the top 4 to 6 inches of the soil in the fall, then the bed is ready for planting as soon as things dry out in the spring.
Peas also need full sun. Be careful to avoid parts of the garden that are shaded by trees or structures while the sun is still low in the sky during the spring.
Because of their love for cool weather, you will traditionally be growing peas in the early spring. In our zone 5/6 garden we target March 15th each year. That of course depends a lot on the weather and soil conditions. Peas will germinate with soil temperatures as low as 40°F but they prefer soil temperatures between 55°and 65°F. If your soil temps are between 55° and 65° then your seeds should germinate in about 7 to 10 days. Generally accepted planting times for peas in the northern hemisphere are between March 15th and May 1st. That of course depends a lot on your latitude and elevation. In warmer climates peas can be planted in the fall and grown over the winter and planted again early in the spring.
I bought this little soil thermometer for only $5. It comes in really handy for telling me if it is time to get seeds planted. In this photo its reading 40°F my bare minimum for germination. But 40° means a slow germination, so here’s a little trick I learned in my master gardener class.
Cover the bed you are going to be planting in with clear plastic for a couple of weeks before you plant. This will bring the soil temps way up and also keep the soil from getting soaked in a late winter snow storm. Be sure to use clear plastic, it lets the UV rays into the soil and keeps the heat in.
Planting your peas
The night before you plan on planting your peas I suggest you soak the peas in water. This softens up the dried up seeds and promotes quicker germination.
Plant your peas ½ to 1 inch deep and about 1 inch apart. Most growing guides recommend planting in rows 12-24 inches apart. My personal opinion is 24 inches is way too far apart. 12 inch spacing between rows is perfect and allows the plants in the rows to support each other as they grow.
Snap peas and sugar peas are usually taller growing and require some support. I will often just use my tomato cages for my snow peas as the peas will be done long before the tomatoes need the cages. Shelling or garden peas are usually self supporting. I have found that at the very end of there production the plants will fall over. If you want to help avoid this you can simply run some garden twine between some sticks to offer them some support.
Caring for your peas
Weeding is important; keep those weeds! This is especially important during the first 6 weeks of growth when the plants will be most susceptible to competition from weeds. Mulches, compost or even grass clippings will help with weeds.
Frequent water is vital for peas. Be sure you keep the soil moist. The nice thing about growing peas is Mother Nature usually helps with the watering in the spring, but be sure to watch them close between rain storms. Water is most important while the peas are flowering. Be sure to keep the soil moist during the time the pea pods are forming.
If you have amended your soil well with compost and other organic materials you shouldn’t need to fertilize your peas. In fact, never fertilize with a nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen will cause excessive leaf growth and will often delay flowering risking your entire crop. Most peas actually take nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in their roots via the aide of soil bacteria in their roots. Because of this, planting peas will often improve the soil for the crops that follow.
The appearance of flowers on your pea plants is the indication that your harvest is coming soon. You should expect your first harvests about 3 weeks after the flowers appear. Be sure to harvest often, every day in fact. With most pea varieties the harvest will last about 3 weeks.
The first week will have a small amount harvested, followed by a week or so of huge harvests, which is then followed by a few days of a low trailing off harvest. You can of course extend your pea harvest by staggering your plantings by a few weeks. But I prefer to get it all over with at once!! Expect about 20 pounds of shelled peas from 100 feet of plants. So for example the bed I showed you above is 25 feet long. We plant 3 rows of peas in that bed and end up with around 12 to 15 pounds.
You begin to harvest your shelling and snap 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 above shows the various stages of pod development. From left to right: First on the left, this one 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 one the right is too old if you’ve waited this long you’ll be disappointed.
Preserving Your Harvest
Of course you want to eat as many of your peas fresh as you can!! There is nothing better than a fresh picked pea either eaten raw or cooked. But peas are actually one of the easiest veggies to preserve. Peas can be canned (but you MUST use a pressure cooker), dried or our favorite frozen.
For shelling peas we simply shell them, wash them and freeze them on a cookie sheet, then put them in a bag after they are frozen. Follow this link for a quick tutorial on how we freeze peas.
For Snap and Snow peas you must first blanch them for 2-3 minutes in a steamer before freezing.
Pests and Diseases
Peas are actually one of the least disease & pest prone plants I know. I’ve never really had any problems with peas. They are however susceptible to a few pests and diseases. If you would like more information about these pests and diseases I will refer you to this excellent publication by Utah State University.
Birds can be a big problem to growing peas. You are growing peas early in the spring when there is not a lot of food for the birds. I have seen birds dig up new planted seeds. Also birds will eat the newly sprouted seedlings. In our area Quail seem to be the biggest offenders. You can easily deter them by covering your beds with a good fabric row cover until the plants have grown to about 6 inches in height.
A few other thoughts on growing peas
Peas are self pollinating and pollination on most varieties actually occurs before the plants flower. Because of this peas are one of the easiest plants to save seeds. Very little, if any, cross pollination occurs when growing peas. If you have planted an open pollinated or heirloom variety you can simply let some of the peas ripen on the plant and save them for use next year!
You can also try growing peas in the fall. Your success will vary a lot with fall crops. For us here in Utah planting time for fall peas is between July 15th and August 1st. That’s a very hot time of year for us so the plants are usually under a lot of stress. That causes our crop size and over all quality to be pretty poor. Most years we don’t bother (although we do plant snow peas some years). Also we always seem to go from summer to winter and pretty much skip fall around here, so we some years don’t even have time for the pods to mature. But if you live in an area that has long cool falls then by all means plant a big crop of peas in the fall as well!
I’ve given you the basics on growing peas, so get out there and get your peas planted.