The only truly fresh peas are the ones that you grow yourself. Pick and eat them before they know what’s happened, before they lose any of their flavour and texture. If you want to know how to grow peas that are still crisp and sweet when you eat them, then read on.
Fresh is best because the sugar in peas turns to starch a few hours after they are picked. Those sold as “fresh peas” are hours or even days old and they lack the sweetness and sheer deliciousness of home grown ones.
Green peas are one of the earliest vegetable crops to sow in your vegetable garden in spring. Being a cool-season crop, they are best grown in spring and autumn and do not produce well in hot summer conditions.
Sow the first crop a month before the last frost is expected and your peas can be harvested in 65 – 80 days, depending on the type. The seed packet will usually tell you how long the growing period is. For succession crops sow seeds 3 – 4 weeks apart. Here in New Zealand, it has long been the tradition among home gardeners to have peas fresh from the garden ready for Christmas dinner, which is in the first month of our summer.
Choose Your Peas
You can grow different types of peas to suit your growing space and your taste preferences. There are four main categories, varying in seed and pod characteristics.
A. Shelling Peas.
As the name suggests, you remove the mature peas from the pods – the pods are tough, stringy, and not pleasant to eat. Discard them, preferably into the compost bin. The trick to knowing when to pick them is to look at the pods: when they are plump and starting to develop a waxy sheen, they are ready.
B. Snap Peas.
There’s no waste with these little beauties: you eat both pods and the seeds (peas) inside. Both have a sweet taste and are crunchy. They are ready to harvest when the pods start to fill out. Taste-test them at this stage because some people prefer the peas a little larger and more mature.
C. Snow Peas.
These produce flat edible pods with very small peas inside. Use them whole. They are popular in some forms of Asian cuisine but are often used in Western-styled dishes as well. They are also tasty eaten raw or included in salads. You can also add the tender vine tips to salads or stir fries. Waste not.
D. Soup Peas.
These are different – you let them grow on until the pods and the peas dry. The starchy peas are dried indoors until you are sure they are thoroughly dry and stored like dried beans. To use them, you soak them in water for 8 hours or more before cooking them – again, like dried beans.
Within these categories you’ll find two types of growth: tall, twining (or climbing) and bush or dwarf. The tall peas need a trellis or fence for support. The shorter bush and dwarf peas are sometimes said to be self-supporting but are best if you assist them with strings or short stakes. The support keeps the crop off the ground and makes it easier for you to harvest them.
How to Grow Peas
1. Preparing the Ground
- Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day
- If necessary install a trellis fence or other support for twining peas
- You can grow peas up other plants – be imaginative. Avoid overcrowding, though, or your plants will be more susceptible to disease
- Loosen the soil to a depth of 20 cm (8 in). You can also grow peas in a no-dig bed or a large container.
- If the soil tends to be dry, dig in some compost to help it retain moisture. Well-rotted manure is another useful addition if you have it. Peas don’t need nitrogen fertilizer but phosphate and potassium are helpful. Don’t over-fertilize. If the soil is still dry, water it the day before you plan to sow the seeds
- Soak the pea seeds overnight in water to assist germination.
2. Sowing the Seeds
Make a trench 2 – 5 cm (1 – 2 in). Use the deeper measurement if the soil is light and dries out quickly. You should sow the seed more deeply from mid to late Spring or early in Autumn. If the trellis is not against a wall or fence, you can make another trench on the other side of it for planting there too. This will double your crop. If you are placing a trellis near a wall, allow about a hand-width of space between it and the wall. This lets air circulate better, and help to prevent plant diseases like powdery mildew.
- Sow the seeds 2 – 4 cm apart (1 – 2 in) for climbing peas and thin to about 4 cm if necessary. Bush or dwarf peas can be sown 2 cm (1 in) apart and in rows 60 cm (2 ft) apart. The close sowing in rows will help the plants to support one another.
- Cover the seeds and water the area unless it is already wet.
3. How to Care for Your Plants
Now you wait for the peas to come through the soil. Things to watch for are:
- Slugs and snails. A good way to discourage these creatures is to surround the peas with diatomaceous earth, which is highly recommended by many organic gardeners. You could, however, use crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, sawdust or similar dry material instead. If you have it, you could place copper wire around the edge of the growing area where it forms an effective barrier. Some people suggest using salt to kill them but this is not a good practice. Salt can damage the soil structure and limit or prevent growth.
- Birds. Tie old CDs to the trellis or to stakes to discourage birds; tie black sewing thread to small stakes and stretch it along the rows – this is said to confuse the birds. However, leaving a dish of fresh water in the area may also help – the succulent shoots are a source of water for thirsty birds. Remember that birds help to clear pests such as slugs and snails from your garden so don’t frighten them away altogether.
- Watering. Check the soil around the peas often and if it seems dry then water the area. Peas do not like dryness. But be careful: they will not grow well if the soil is too heavy and over wet. Good drainage is essential. In drier areas, a mulch would help you provide more even moisture.
How to Grow Peas in Pots
Are you short of space? Peas will grow well in large pots or other containers. Fill the pot with good quality potting compost and space the seeds as you would in the garden.
Don’t forget to put in support. Here are two suggestions.
- Tepees of bamboo canes that have been cut to a suitable length – suitable for both tall and dwarf peas.
- A cylinder of plastic or wire mesh made to the size of the pot. Attach this to stakes embedded in the pot. I weave each stake through the mesh and push one end into the pot. Four or five stakes are usually enough.
If you have ideas for providing support, please share them with us in the comments.
Learning how to grow peas is a no-brainer. Even newcomers to gardening can do it successfully. With preparation, correct planting, and a little care you will be rewarded with a generous crop. Keep a watch out for creatures that might damage the young pea plants, especially slugs, snails and birds. Once the peas are planted and growing there is not much more work to do. However watering needs to be done as required. Peas grown with insufficient water are hard, dryish and have a disappointing flavour: don’t let that happen when it’s so easy to have them crisp and sweet.
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All About Growing Peas http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/growing-peas-zmaz09fmzraw.aspx
All About Peas http://www.burpee.com/gardenadvicecenter/vegetables/peas/all-about-peas/article10250.html
Gary’s Sugar Snap Peas and Pea Blossom By Cheryl, https://www.flickr.com/photos/eraphernalia_vintage/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Rasbak (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons