Peas are the cool ladies of the spring and fall garden. Like every other vegetable I can think of, they’re just so much better when they’re fresh from vine to plate — plus they’re easy to grow. Varieties generally fall into one of two categories: shelling peas, also called English of garden peas; snap peas, and snow or sugar peas.
Shelling peas are usually prepared by removing the peas from inside their pods before they’re cooked. With snap peas the pods are eaten whole and are sweet and tender even when mature. Just like green beans, they also give a great snap when bent in half. Snow or sugar peas are those small peas that are associated with Asian or Chinese dishes. Pods are harvested young and even if they’re left on the vine, they don’t split when they’re mature like shelling and snap peas do. Like beans, peas are a legume and they’re roots are “nitrogen-fixing.”
This means that they produce their own nitrogen and give it back to the soil through their roots. If this is the first you’ve grown peas in that bed, you may want to consider purchasing seed that’s been inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria, which helps them fix nitrogen. Delicate pea vines are extremely light and you can get away with the most basic structures as supports. Light-weight netting and twine work just fine for these climbers.
How to Plant Peas
I’ve always soaked pea and bean seeds in warm water overnight before planting the next day and it seems to me that they come up faster. However, it isn’t necessary for germination.
Peas can be started indoors, but it’s much simpler to plant them in their permanent place outdoors. Plant the seeds 1″ deep and 4″ apart in organically rich soil. That may sound like they’re closely spaced abut they’ll tolerate it especially in loamy, prepared soil. Peas do like good air circulation, but if their bed is in an open area, it’ll make up for the cozy spacing. Full sun is ideal but they’ll tolerate light shade without a problem.
Water your peas regularly until the flowers show up and give them a bit more from then on. By “regularly” I don’t mean over-watering. Just keep them evenly moist because water-logging will slow plant growth, while drought will stress the plant and leave you with a low yield. I don’t fertilize my peas much; I just water with some compost or manure tea every now and again. If you’d like to fertilize them, they can use it most while they’re young, as it takes weeks for peas to begin producing their own nitrogen.
When to Harvest Peas
Harvest snow or sugar peas when they’re 2″-3″ inches long and before the pods swell. Snap peas should be harvested after their pods swell — they’ll also snap like a green bean. Shelling peas (English or garden peas) should be harvested when they’re bright green and have a cylinder shape.
No matter which peas you’re growing, collect all of the mature pods as soon as you see them (and they can be hard to spot) so that the plant continues to reproduce. Plan on eating your pea harvest as soon as possible after they’ve been picked; their sugars will begin to be converted to starch as soon as they’re off the vine.
Photo of trellised peas by Craigsyboo
Photo of pea pods by Soomman
Photo of peas and blossoms by SMcGarnigle
Harvested peas by Le Grande Harvest Market