Peas are the small, round green beans that grow inside the pod of the vine Pisum sativum. In some varieties, the pod is edible as well as the pea.
Peas are legumes, which means they are often grown as a 'cover crop' to fix nitrogen in the soil and make it more fertile for later plants. People have been eating peas for a very long time. They have been found on archaeological sites in the Near East that date back almost 10,000 year. They domesticated shortly after wheat and barley, approximately 7800 B.C.E.
Today, gardeners can choose from many varieties. There are very early, smooth-skinned peas, early-, middle-, and late-season wrinkle-skinned ones, and even a few heat-resistant varieties that can be grown into early summer. There are dwarf or bush peas and climbing or vine peas. There are also the 'snow-pea' type, which are grown for their delicious pods, and which also come in tall or short varieties.
These are all "green peas" or "English peas" grown for immediate consumption, not the varieties grown to be dried. They are cool-weather crops. Peas are probably the first vegetable you will harvest from your garden, and the entire crop will be over in time to plant something else in that space.
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Peas are cool-weather plants. If the temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees, the plants will turn brown and idea. Seeds tolerate frost well, which makes them an ideal spring crop.
Mature plants do not tolerate frost, so a fall harvest in areas with short growing seasons is unlikely. In warm climates, fall and even winter planting is fine. Some gardeners sow seed in the fall, leaving it to lie dormant through winter and sprout very early in the spring.
Peas will grow in partly shaded locations.
The soil should be kept evenly moist but not soggy. Don't mulch spring crops until the plants are about six inches tall, or you will prevent the soil warming up. Fall crops can be mulched lightly at planting, and more mulch can be added when the plants are about two inches tall.
Peas will grow in anything from a light, sandy loam to heavy clay soil. Sandy soil is good for early planting because it warms up earlier, and if it's in a raised bed it will warm even faster. Heavy soil is better for later planting, because it will keep the roots cool. Peas are "heavy feeders" while they are growing, so the soil should be very fertile. They return nutrients to the soil through nitrogen fixation as they mature. The soil pH should be 6.0 to 6.5; add lime if it is higher.
The soil should hold moisture without becoming waterlogged. Good drainage is also important as the seeds and plants will rot if too wet.
Pea seed is often treated with a fungicide, a useful precaution as peas are prone to fungus diseases that can ruin the crop and remain in the soil for a long time. The bright pink color on the seeds is the fungicide. Be careful that children and pets don't eat them as ingested fungicide can be harmful.
If you have a long cool growing season, you can plant together several varieties with different maturing intervals, so that you can pick peas over a longer time period. You can also plant seed every week or so in early spring for a staggered harvest.
Seeds should be planted one to two inches apart. In cold weather and wet soil, plant individual seeds one inch deep. You can just poke them in with your finger and pat the soil back over the hole.
In warmer weather and drier soil, make a trench about four inches deep. Water the soil thoroughly. Plant the seeds and cover them with about two inches of soil. As the seedlings go, you can leave the trench only partly filled so that it catches water, or you can gradually fill it and mound some soil around each plant to keep the roots cool.
Tall peas have to have support as they grow, and even bush varieties will benefit from it. You can grow them on a fence or trellis, or you can use pea sticks - well-branched sticks four or five feet tall thrust into the ground.The vines are quite delicate. Be careful not to step on them or move them around, and weed carefully.
Top-dress with a balanced fertilizer when the peas are about six inches tall.
Pick peas as soon as you can feel the round peas within the pod but the peas aren't hard. If you're not sure, open a pod and taste the peas. Pick them as early as you can, because the sugar in the peas will turn to starch and they will lose their flavor if they're left on the vine too long. Pea vine produce from the bottom up, so look at the base of the vine for the first mature peas.
Edible-pod peas are harvested when the pods are full-sized but still flat, before the peas form.
Pick peas as soon as possible before eating. The sugar starts to turn to starch as soon as they are picked.
If green peas are past their peak, you can leave them on the vine to harden and dry. Then harvest them as you would dried peas.
Varieties to Grow
- Little Marvel
- Sugar Daddy
- Sugar Snap
- Sugar Ann
Problems and Pests
There are many possible problems with peas, but often they flourish with no difficulties at all. Pea aphids and pea weevils can attack them. Dust the plants with rotenone. Mildew and root rot are possible. Fusarium wilt distorts the leaves and stunts the plants. Most problems can be avoided by rotating crops. If you suspect any viruses or fungi are present, destroy the plants after harvest instead of tilling them under. If you're sure the plants are healthy, turning them under at the end of the growing season will enrich the soil greatly.