Peas, like lettuce, are a cooler season crop. To grow peas, the plants must flower and start bearing fruit prior to 80 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Remember to plant your peas in your vegetable garden early to beat the heat.
Peas are grouped into three basic categories: garden peas, snap peas, and snow peas. Garden peas, also called English peas or Green peas, are to be shelled. The Garden pea, itself, can be wrinkled or smooth. The smooth ones are better to be used as dried peas or soup peas. The wrinkled textured Garden peas are popular for home vegetable gardens, because they are sweeter. With Snap peas, you eat the pod, too, like with Snap beans. And Snow peas, also called Sugar peas, are the very tender, flat pea pods.
Popular pea varieties for home vegetable gardens:
Eclipse, Dakota, Tom Thumb, Knight, Canoe, Caseload, Alaska, Green Arrow, Little Marvel, Thomas Laxton, Wando.
Sugar Snap Pole, Sugar Ann, Snappy, Sugar Bon, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap, Sugar Sprint, Amish Snap, Cascadia.
Oregon Sugar Pod II, Oregon Giant, Dwarf Grey Sugar, Mammoth Melting Sugar, Snowflake, Snow Sweet.
Dwarf varieties are great for container gardening!
Preferred Growing Conditions
Peas do like full sun. But, because peas are a cooler season crop, they can stand a little shade as the temperatures start to climb.
Garden soil for peas should have around a 6.5 pH level. Compost is the best advice I can give to make your soil the healthiest. It fills your soil with nutrients, and organic matter that helps water retention for moist soil that peas love.
How to Plant Peas
Plant peas in early spring from seed. Peas do not transplant well, so don’t even try to start pea seeds indoors. Plant seeds 1 ½ inches deep with about 3 inches between each seed. Rows should be about 18 inches apart.
Looking to get more peas into a smaller gardening space? Plant a double row of peas, but leave about 8 inches of space in between the double row. That way, you can get your trellis in between the rows for support for tall varieties. Short growing varieties of double rows can support themselves, making double pea rows even cooler!
Want peas for the fall season crop, too? There are heat tolerant varieties that can be planted in the late summer, and harvested in the fall.
Here’s a tip for planting peas from seeds: Use an inoculant on the seeds for nitrogen fixation, just like with growing beans.
Companion Plants for Peas
Growing these companion plants around pea plants will be helpful: carrots, turnips, radishes, cucumbers, corn, and beans. Corn grown by pea plants can be a trellis for support, too!
Some plants actually are bad to the health of pea plants. Avoid these plants around pea plants: garlic, onions, leeks, and shallots.
Maintaining Pea Plants
Vine pea plants will need to grow on something for support. You can stake or trellis these, or just plant in front of your fence. Pea plants will easily grab onto a trellis with very little effort. Don’t worry, it won’t be another scene from Little Shop of Horrors! Just give them something to grow on—trellis, fence, chicken wire, strings, tomato cages, or get creative!
When to Use Organic Fertilizer
Steer clear of high nitrogen fertilizers for peas. Over fertilization of pea plants, gives you great looking green plants. But, you will not have many peas. Stick with low nitrogen organic fertilizers for your peas, please.
Don’t forget what kind of pea is growing in your vegetable garden. The pea type will determine when it should be harvested. Some pods you eat before the peas inside grow. Some pods are meant to be shelled, and you want a fully grown pea inside. Other peas, like the Snap peas, you eat the pod, but you want a tender pea inside the pod.
Harvest tips based on pea category:
Remember these are your shell peas. You want these peas mature, but still tender. Pop open the pod, and taste right in the garden if you are unsure. They should be sweet and tender, and have a round, waxy pod.
Harvest Snap peas when they have a full pod. Remember, the pod is edible with Snap peas. The peas inside should be still tender.
The pods will be flat. With Snow peas, you don’t want them to fill out, and don’t want the pea to develop.
The best way to eat peas is raw! Edible pod peas are great on a salad or to dip in salad dressing. Most of our peas are eaten in the garden, and don’t always make it to the refrigerator, or even the kitchen for that matter. What peas do make it inside, should be stored in the refrigerator, keeping them crisp and less starchy. For later use, blanche and freeze peas.
Just remember, you have to cook all peas. Just cook the shell peas that are meant to be soup peas. These soup peas are varieties, like Alaska, Blue Podded, and Carlin. Even though you don’t eat these raw, they’re pretty cool because they can dry right on the vine! So, if you want to put away dried peas for soup in the winter, grow a soup pea variety.
Pea Pests and Diseases
You might not be expecting me to say that rabbits and rodents are two of your biggest pea pests. The good news is they are easier to spot than another pea pest, aphids. The bad news is rabbits and rodents can devour your pea plants. Look into an organic rabbit or rodent deterrent, because these critters are quick to get through fences. For aphids, you can squirt them off, gently now, with the water hose, and then follow up with Neem oil.
Keep an eye out for the pea plant problems: root rot, powdery mildew, leaf spot, fasarium wilt, botrytis, and pea viruses, like pea enation mosaic, and pea stunt. Here’s a very helpful site on garden pea disease identification from Penn State University.
Check out pea resources for home gardeners. And, this is a great article from Mothers Earth News: All About Growing Peas.