Know Before You Grow: Peas

Know Before You Grow: Peas
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Know Before You Grow: Peas

Peas – So Many Varieties and Flavors

Peas are delicious fresh or cooked, frozen, or dried. They taste so good right off the vine that it is hard to save any to bring into the house. They are easy and fun to grow.

Choosing Pea Varieties

There are three types of garden peas: 1) those with edible pods that are eaten before the peas inside develop, called snow peas, 2) those with edible pods that are eaten when the seeds inside are big and round, called sugar snap peas, and 3) peas with inedible pods which are grown for the peas inside, called shelling peas or English peas. If it isn’t obvious whether the pea has an edible pod, spend a minute reading the label so you get the pea you want.

Peas are annual vines, and most varieties require something to climb on, but there are also bush varieties that that do not climb.

Pea varieties have a wide range of growth rates. Some will produce the first peas in 40 days, others require 70 days. Consider that when choosing a pea variety, particularly if you plan on planting several crops or a fall harvest.

When to Plant Pea Seeds

Peas are cool weather crops. They stop growing and die when the daytime temperatures consistently exceed 75-80° F. Plant pea seeds as early in the spring as the soil can be worked; they can be the first seeds sown each spring.

Peas can also be started in the fall, to produce a fall pea crop, since they grow quickly and are frost resistant.

For sustained harvest, plant more peas every two weeks, while there are still enough days before hot weather or severe frosts for the plants to mature.

Growing Tips for Peas

  • Soak the seeds (dry peas from the seed packet) overnight before planting. The seeds will take up water, getting larger, and making it much easier for them to germinate. Don’t leave them soaking for days because the seeds will drown.
  • Plant where they will get full sun, in rich but light, well-drained soil.
  • A few pea varieties can be transplanted, so can be started indoors, but most are much more successful when directly sown into the ground early in the spring.
  • Set the seeds 1-2” apart and cover 1 to 1 ½” deep. Vining pea varieties (most peas) will need support. Before sowing the seeds, set up a trellis of chicken wire or something else for the plants to climb. For greater efficiency, plant a row of peas on each side of the trellis. About every week, guide new shoots onto the trellis.
  • Peas have shallow roots and should be watered if the soil starts to dry out. Maintaining stable moisture will promote strong growth.

Pests and Problems to Watch For

Peas are tasty to rabbits and deer as well as people; you may need to protect them.

Peas can develop mildews and wilts, but these are uncommon.

Most of the troubling diseases are fungal and bacterial infections that are not easily treated. The best approach is prevention, by planting disease-free seeds that have been bred to resist wilts and mildews. Symptoms of disease include bud drop, blackened stems, shiny spots on leaves that become brown or translucent, and white to gray powdery spots on the leaves. If you have a problem with disease in your peas, destroy all the affected plants and rotate the garden so peas are not grown in that spot for several years.

Harvesting Tips

Snow peas, sugar snap peas, and shelling peas are harvested at different stages of maturity. Gather snow peas when the pod is still flat, and the peas inside have not started to expand. Pick sugar snap peas when the seeds in the pod have made it round and heavy but, for the best taste, while the pod is not fully ripe. Shelling peas pods should be allowed to fully mature; pick them just before the pod starts to dry out.

Peas will flower and produce fruit until killed by hot summer weather, or, in the fall, until severe freezes halt all plant growth.

Special Considerations

Peas are nitrogen-fixing plants that add nitrogen to the soil. Take advantage of this by plowing the old plants into your garden bed at the end of the season; they will enrich the soil.

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