Growing peas is nothing short of wonderful. Freshly shelled peas are something you just can’t buy at the store as their shelf life is very short. (I’m talking hours. They turn to starch very quickly after picking.) This post will walk you through how to grow peas, how to trellis peas, how to harvest peas, plus I’ll share my favorite varieties of all 3 types of peas.
Peas are a cool season crop that usually does well in almost any soil type. There are some varieties that are dwarf, but most need to be trellised. Peas do not like hot weather and will usually stop producing when the temperature gets above 75 degrees.
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Types of peas
There are 3 main types of peas-snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas, also called English peas, sugar peas, or green peas. There are also sweet peas, but they are a flowering vine that doesn’t produce edible peas.
This is one type of pea you eat pod and all. The pods are fleshy and sweet and the peas inside are plump and full.
This is another type of pea that you eat the whole thing. The difference between these and snap peas are that the peas in snow peas are not filled out. The pods of these are much thinner as well. These are often used in Chinese cuisine.
This type of pea requires the most work at harvest but it is well worth it. Once picked, these peas should be immediately shelled and cooked, or blanched and frozen. But the taste is just something you cannot buy anywhere. Nothing compares to freshly cooked peas straight from the garden.
How to plant peas
Peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. However, really cold soil will lead to slow germination. An ideal soil temperature for peas is above 45 degrees. Growing peas in raised beds can help the soil warm up sooner. You can also warm the soil up a little more quickly by planting in black plastic, though I do recommend putting mulch over the plastic once the soil warms up. Like I said earlier, peas don’t like hot weather.
Peas should be sown directly in the ground as it would be very difficult to get a substantial crop by starting them indoors. Be sure your planting area receives sun most of the day. Most pea varieties can handle some frost.
Most catalogs recommend planting peas in a single row. I don’t do single row crops. It wastes too much space in the garden. I plant the peas by digging a wide furrow in the soil about 1-2 inches deep on either side of my trellis. Then I drop the peas seeds in the row. It is easier to plant and you can harvest more this way. I’ve never had a problem growing peas in wide rows.
You can also plant peas in a circle using a tomato cage as your trellis. This is a great method if you are utilizing the square foot gardening method. I am trying this in my garden this year.
To increase your harvest you can inoculate the seeds with a nitrogen-fixing product by sprinkling it into the row as you plant. Peas (and beans) are able to pull nitrogen from the air and convert it to a usable form of fertilizer for your garden.
Peas can also be planted in the fall though they need to be started at least 2 months before your first frost. For best results choose varieties that mature quickly. Fall planted peas need to be watered regularly and mulched well to help keep the soil cool. You won’t harvest nearly as many peas as in the spring, but nevertheless, homegrown peas are always worth the trouble.
Trellising your peas
Since most peas need to be trellised, you will need to determine what type of trellis you will use. If you are only planting a few peas you can use a tomato cage, however if you are planting larger amounts, you will need something bigger.
Once easy way to make a pea trellis is to purchase several stakes from your local home improvement store and some trellis netting. You need a stake at least every three to four feet of garden space so plan accordingly. You can also use rabbit netting between the stakes. I actually used this last year since I had some left over from another project. It worked surprisingly well.
Another option is to purchase cow panels from a farm supply store. These are super sturdy and will last for many, many years. However, most come in 16 foot lengths so they will need to be cut to fit your garden area. This probably isn’t the most practical solution for a small gardener.
The one thing you want to remember is to be sure to use something with fairly large holes for your trellis. Chicken wire and other small netting such as bird netting, will make it very difficult to pick from. These materials will also be very difficult to clean all the dead pea vines from later.
What to plant with peas (and what not to)
Peas can be interplanted with radishes, lettuce, spinach, and carrots. I’ve read that peas can be planted with cucumbers, but I’m not sold on that idea. Cucumbers tend to be a summer crop, while peas are a spring crop. If you’ve had success planting them together, please let me know.
Peas don’t do well with onions and garlic, so leave some room between these crops.
How to harvest peas
Peas need to be harvested as soon as they are ready as they do not keep well on the vine. Leaving peas too long will cause the plant to stop producing prematurely.
Snap peas are ready to harvest when the pods and the peas are plump. Some varieties have strings that need to be removed once harvested. You should be able to easily break the tip off and pull the string down the length of the pea.
Snow peas are ready to be picked as soon as the pod reaches the length stated on the seed packet. You want to be sure to pick them before the peas start developing. This can happen very quickly. Once the peas start swelling inside the pods, the pod itself quickly becomes tough.
Shelling peas or garden peas, also called sugar peas here in the south, should be picked as soon as the pods swell with the peas. Leave this kind too long on the vine and they quickly become starchy and bitter tasting.It’s better to pick these too early rather than too late. (Though the chickens enjoy the big ones.)
When picking the peas, be gentle pulling the pods from the vines. It is very easy to pull the entire plant out of the ground. (Ask me how I know!) I usually hold the vine with one hand and pull the pea pod off with the other. Sometimes, I will even snip them from the vine with a pair of my garden scissors.
Diseases that can plague peas
Powdery mildew seems to be the most prevalent disease in peas. It is more common in humid areas and during rainy spring weather. Neem oil usually works well to combat the problem. Planting disease resistant pea varieties can also help prevent powdery mildew.
I have also heard that a mixture of 1 Tablespoon of baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap added to one gallon of water will also work. Please note that if you try this, it is at your own risk. I have never used this combination, though I will most likely test it out this spring.
If your pea plants do end up with powdery mildew, do NOT compost them as the disease can persist in a compost pile. However, the peas from the plants are safe to eat.
Usually the biggest pest of peas is aphids. They love to feast on our fresh spring pea plants. The best treatment is usually an insecticidal soap. I don’t recommend spraying them with water as some suggest, because this can increase the chance of powdery mildew.
Another pest of peas is bunnies. They love our pea plants too. And once they find your pea patch, it will be hard to keep them from returning. You can try a spray containing cayenne pepper to keep them at bay, but it will have to be reapplied after every rainfall.
Favorite varieties of peas
Sugar Snap Peas
My favorite variety of snap pea is Super Sugar Snap. It produces high yields of plump pods that are ready in about 60 days. The pods are stringless and the plants are remarkably disease resistant. This variety is also very tall so it must be grown on a trellis.
I have also planted Sugar Sprint and Sugar Ann peas before. Sugar Sprint tends to tolerate hot weather a bit better than other varieties. Gardeners in need of a snap pea with good disease resistance will appreciate Sugar Sprint too. Sugar Ann is the best choice for containers or smaller gardens as it doesn’t require staking.
The only variety of snow peas I have grown is Mammoth Melting Sugar. This is a sweet, stringless variety of snow pea. These performed well in my garden, but overall, my family just isn’t a fan of snow peas.
Sugar (Shelling or English) Peas
My favorite variety of sugar (shelling) pea is called Alaska. This is a small, sweet heirloom pea and my kids love to eat them fresh from the garden. Last year, I don’t think I brought any indoors as they ate my entire crop raw! It is getting more difficult to locate Alaska pea seeds, but I have found them at my local Walmart. If you see this variety, I suggest you snatch the seeds up quickly.
I have also grown Lincoln peas with good success. Lots of other gardeners I know recommend Green Arrow peas. It is an heirloom variety that has fairly good disease resistance. This is a compact variety that doesn’t need trellising.
What kind of peas do you grow?
So whether you choose to grow snap peas, snow peas, or shelling peas, I highly recommend giving peas a chance in your garden this year. (You can find many of these varieties at your local garden center. You can also find some of these varieties in small sampler packs at SeedsNow for as low as 99 cents a pack.)
Have you ever grown peas before? What is your favorite variety?
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