Food Garden: Peas

Last Updated: April 14, 2024

Where to Grow Peas

Green Peas thrive in cool weather and young plants will tolerate light frosts. Once germinated, green peas adapt well to the cold, damp climate of early spring. Peas must be planted as early as possible in the spring to get a full harvest before hot summer temperatures arrive and put an end to production. In temperate zones, the saying "Plant peas by St. Patrick's Day" holds true. Otherwise, plant peas about a month prior to your frost-free date.

For a fall crop, you'll have to nurse the seedlings through late-summer heat with shade and diligent watering until cool weather arrives.

Peas prefer a fertile, sandy loam that drains well but will tolerate most soils except heavy, impermeable clay. Work in plenty of compost to keep the soil friable. A pH level of 6.0-7.5 is preferred. Where soil is very acidic, apply dolomite or agricultural lime.

If you are without a garden proper or just low on yard space, most vegetables can be grown in containers; this includes growing peas in a container. Peas can be planted in a pot and kept inside or outside on a deck, patio, stoop or roof.

Planting the Seeds and Tending

Although peas can be started indoors in peat pots for transplanting, they really don't make the transition well. Disturbing the young roots can diminish yields later in the season. If this is the only way to get an early start, go for it. Otherwise, sow the seeds directly in the soil about a month before the expected last frost in your area.

Plant early, mid-season, and late varieties to get maximum pea production. In the spring, instead of planting different varieties at weekly intervals, plant peas all at once. They'll mature at different times, staggering the harvest.

Sow peas thickly, preferably in wide rows. Peas that are grown close together shade out weeds, keep the soil cool, increase yields, and make the most efficient use of garden space. Simply broadcast the seed in the row, allowing the seeds to fall as they may, some even touching. Cover with an inch of soil in the spring; two inches in the summer for your fall crop. Don't thin the pea plants when they germinate.

Peas are light feeders and don't generally require fertilizer. In fact, too much nitrogen will make the plants develop lush foliage at the expense of pod production and be more susceptible to frost damage.

Water deeply once a week. Never allow the soil to dry out totally or you'll drastically reduce pea production. The critical time for watering is when the plants are blossoming and producing pods. When pods are maturing in hot weather, water daily if needed to maintain pod quality.

Harvesting Peas

Keep your peas well picked to encourage more pods to develop. Pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried. They are crispiest then. Always use two hands when you pick peas. Secure the vine with one hand and pull the peas off with your other hand to avoid damaging the plant.

Peas can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Place in paper bags, then wrap in plastic. If you missed your peas’ peak period, you can still pick, dry, and shell them for use in winter soups.

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