Cool Pea Plants

peas on a trellis

The above title has a double reference:  pea plants are both cool to grow and they prefer cool weather. Plant peas in the early spring and again in time for a second harvest before fall frost sets in. You can increase your harvest even further by planting heat-tolerant varieties during the hottest days of summer.

If you’ve never grown peas, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easily you can grow a plentiful crop of these wonderful pods. Simply provide your pea plants rich, well-draining soil, and a trellis to climb on (depending upon the growth habit of the varieties you choose), adequate moisture, and at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Peas prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 and must have good drainage to prevent root rot, one of the most common errors novices make when growing peas.

Standard, or bush-type garden pea plants, such as our Lincoln Pea plant, produce 4 to 5-inch pods containing 6 to 10 peas each. The pea pods should be harvested when the pods are plump, well-rounded and you can feel the mature peas inside with just a light squeeze. In many instances you’ll be able to see the bump that each individual pea makes. When ripe, the pod should easily release from the vine, with just a light pull, right where the crown meets the stem.  As does the Lincoln Pea plant, most varieties of traditional English peas will mature within 60 to 70 days. The Lincoln pea plant is particularly resistant to heat and humidity and has superior resistance to wilt. Novice gardeners will even have bragging rights when growing this one!

Bush- or vine-type garden or English peas should be removed from their protective pods within just a few days of being picked so they retain their moisture and sweet flavor. They are a crunchy and satisfying raw snack, especially when chilled, and can be added to summer salads of all kinds; you can also boil, steam or microwave them as you please. Some gardeners love the flavor of the pea tops, or tips, the vine ends, leaves and tendrils and will add them raw to salads or use them in their favorite stir-fry recipes. If not using your peas immediately, they should be canned, frozen or otherwise processed.

Snap peas are similar to a Chinese pea pod, and are meant to be eaten in their entirety, the peas inside being smaller and the pods being tenderer. Stringless varieties, such as the Sugar Sprint, are the most succulent. Snap peas are delicious raw when eaten right out of the garden or when chilled for a handy finger snack or as an addition to cold salads. They can be cooked immediately or stored for up to a week in the refrigerator. They work well in stir fry dishes, though their mild, sweet flavor also lends itself well to pickling, canning or freezing, as well. They mature fully at around 60 days, though you can also harvest these when babies. Remove any crown or stem still attached to the pod before eating. Sugar Sprint will be happy on the vine for longer periods of time than many pea varieties and is resistant to powdery mildew and pea enation mosaic virus (pemv).

Peas can be planted from seed, directly into the garden, or you can save the work and transplant well-established pea seedlings. Small garden spaces or container gardens may determine whether you will grow a bush-type or vining pea plant. Also take into consideration the number of days to maturity, your climate, disease resistance and how you intend to prepare or preserve your pea harvest. Peas, since they are a cool weather vegetable, prefer to be one of the first vegetables in the ground in the spring, making them one of the first to be harvested in early summer.

Most varieties of pea seeds require a soil temperature of at least 45°F to germinate and should be sown about 2 inches apart and 1 inch deep. The mature width of the pea variety you grow will determine how far apart to thin the seedlings as you choose the strongest and discard the weakest (you can add these to your compost bin, feed your chickens, or even offer them to pet rabbits). Thin your pea plants once the second set of leaves is well grown. The tallest varieties will require support for their vining habit, which should be put in place as you thin your seedlings. For their nutrient needs, apply an application of fish emulsion when the plants reach 6 inches tall and then again after the first harvest.

We recommend you alternate the rows in which you grow your pea plants each season, preventing the decline of any one nutrient necessary for healthy growth. We also suggest you remove the dying pea plant stems and vines, as well as all other garden refuse, at the end of the growing season. This prevents overwintering bugs from taking up residence and will help to ensure a disease free garden for next year.

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