Growing Peas is the Perfect
Beginner Gardening Project
Growing peas is particularly satisfying for gardeners who are just starting out – or for anyone who likes to see fast results. Snow peas are particularly delicious picked and eaten raw straight from the vine. Wait until the peas just start to swell so you can see their outline through the snow pea pod for the sweetest taste. You’ll want to check your garden frequently when your peas start to ripen. The pods can grow almost an inch in just a day.
Snow peas, sugar peas, and garden (English) peas are good choices for late winter and early spring vegetables. They take only 50-70 days from seed planting to harvest. The heat of summer can quickly kill these plants or significantly slow their growth and production rate. They like cool weather above freezing. So, try growing peas as a fall crop as well as a spring crop depending on your zone.
Soil pH should be near neutral (somewhere around 6.8). If your soil is too acidic, you may need to add dolomitic limestone. Snow peas prefer full sun in earth that retains moisture well. Use soil amendments that contain plenty of organic matter for robust growth and a plentiful harvest. The ground should be rich in phosphorus and potassium. Since peas are true legumes, they are nitrogen fixers. In other words, they don’t need any nitrogen fertilizers.
Planting & Care
Plant seeds about 1 inch deep and about 2” apart (wider spacing may work best in poor soil). Mulch will help slow weed growth and retain moisture in the soil during dry spells in the early summer. This is particularly important for maturing plants. Just be careful not to mulch too soon. This can actually impede early crop growth. Wait until the plants are well established and climbing vertically before mulching.
What about weeding your growing peas? These plants have shallow roots which make them prone to damage from weed pulling near the plant stems. Weed very carefully around your plants (if at all). Root disruption from vigorous weeding makes pea plants particularly susceptible to the effects of drought.
Although peas will sometimes grow in partial shade, they need more care in these conditions and your yield will be much lower. Proper garden placement should allow these plants to grow 3-6 feet tall depending on the variety. With enough light and space, a single plant can grow multiple stems. Pea plants can rapidly cover an entire garden trellis.
Growing peas can withstand a light frost fairly easily when the seedlings are young. The key to success is to never plant too early or too late. A deep freeze can kill or severely damage a mature crop. Large late season plants are more prone to damage because of a smaller root to stem ratio. Thorough watering can help protect them from extreme conditions (both heat and cold).
If you time your planting properly, you can harvest ‘earlies’ two to three weeks in advance of what it is typically considered normal for your area. A late harvest in the fall before the first major freeze can provide delicious snacks for several weeks into the winter season, especially in southern zones.
Snow peas will bloom almost as soon as their tendrils start to grab hold of the nearest plant, pole, fence, or trellis. It’s best to provide a wire trellis to keep peas from straggling all over your garden. Growing peas that are well supported tend to develop faster and bloom earlier.
When you harvest peas, don’t let any part of the pod remain on the vine – break it off above the stem. Regular picking every other day will stimulate the formation of additional blooms. This will also guard against the pods becoming tough and unappetizing. Many gardeners like to gather slightly immature snow pea pods to ensure their tenderness. Snow pea pods typically only take a few days to mature enough to pick after a full bloom under the best growing conditions.
Sugar snap peas should be harvested after the peas inside the pod have filled out but before the peas start to harden. They should still be edible, pod and all. If you accidentally wait too long before harvesting, shell the sugar peas and compost the tough pods just as you would with English peas.
Storage Tips: Fresh peas don’t tend to keep well. For best results, eat your peas raw, steamed, or sautéed within 48 hours of harvest. Store surplus peas in a sealed container and refrigerate immediately to preserve freshness, crispness, and flavor.
Image courtesy of CC license by Flickr user amandabhslater