I disappeared once when I was about three. My parents frantically searched the house looking for me, only to find me in the garden… eating all the peas.
A few years have since passed (just a few), and if I have peas growing in my garden I will make no promises as to how many will be brought into the house to be shared. Survival of the fittest, right?
*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*
There is really no comparison to peas fresh from the garden, and there’s actually a biological reason for that. The sugars in peas start to convert to less sweet starches very quickly after they are picked. This is why frozen peas will actually taste better than fresh at the market because freezing essentially stops that process from being able to continue. However, even frozen peas can’t compare to those you picked just a few moments before eating. Which means you should grow them yourself. Really, you should.
Before you do, you will need to know what type(s) you want. There are three main categories of peas: shelling, snap, and snow. Depending on the variety of each of these types you plant, they may also be “bush” peas that grow shorter and don’t require a trellis, or they may be “vining” and need some sort of support since they can grow several feet. Be sure to put in any supports (trellises, chicken wire, garden stakes, etc.) at the time of planting so roots are not disturbed later on.
- Shelling: pods are not meant to be eaten and will be tough and thin. These will need to be “shelled”, having the peas inside removed. There are tough, fibrous “strings” along the pod’s seams which you pull, starting from the stem end, to help remove the shell.
- Snap: pods are thick and fleshy and are meant to be eaten, however if the pods go too long on the vine they can become a bit tough. Look for varieties that are “stringless”, meaning there is not a tough fiber running down the seams of the pod. The strings aren’t fun to eat.
- Snow: these are meant to be grown for the pod, not the peas. You find these featured in some Asian dishes. The pods are sweet while the peas are very immature and small inside, but can become bitter if they are not picked early.
Peas are a cool weather crop, but they actually prefer warm soil temperatures for germination. That means they are ideal for fall planting, especially in warm zones like my own zone 9 garden. Ideal soil temperatures (which are typically cooler than air temperatures) are in the mid to upper 70s F, however they will germinate in colder soil but will do so more slowly. No matter what zone you live in, you will want to make sure that you select a variety that will produce before frosts occur, or wait till spring after frost danger has passed. For warm zones, be sure to plant early enough in spring that they can mature before summer heat starts as they will start to drop off production and eventually die as it gets too hot.
You will need to protect the young seedlings from a variety of intruders. Birds love to eat them, as do slugs and snails. I don’t deal with deer or rabbits, but I have a sneaking suspicion they can be a problem, too. I have an easy solution for the birds, click here!
Shelling and snap peas are ready when the pods have begun to fill out and the peas have enlarged. Cut the pods off the plant, don’t pull. Open a few to see whether they have reached proper size, as well as taste, and then you can plan the rest of your harvest. The pods won’t reach maturity at the same time, so the harvest goes on as long as the growing conditions allow.
If pods get left on the plants too long, the peas will become very tough and dry. At this point, just leave them on the plant to be harvested when the pods dry. These can become seeds for the next planting time or you can eat them like regular dried peas. The flowers on legumes prevent cross pollination with other plants, so the seeds are “true breeding”, meaning they will grow into the same kind of plant as the parent plant they came from.
Peas, like other legumes, are a great crop for rotating throughout your garden area. They are “nitrogen fixers”, which means they have the ability with the help of microbes to take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into nutrients in the soil that plants need for growth. In other words, they help fertilize the soil. When the plants have died back in your garden, you could break them up into small pieces and just churn them into the ground for additional nutrient return.
- Height: depends on variety, 2-7 feet
- Width: long thin vines, not much spreading, can be grown close together
- Sun: full sun, will want some morning or afternoon shade in hot areas to help extend harvest season
- Water: regularly, do not let soil get dry
- Soil pH: neutral
- Soil type: amend heavy clay or loose sandy soil, but do not overly enrich
- Key nutrients: it is best not to fertilize legumes like peas, otherwise an excess of nitrogen can build up which will suppress flower development, which means no peas!
- Planting time: best to start in fall as temperatures drop or in early spring after danger of frost is past