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How to Grow Peas: A Delicious & Beginner-Friendly Crop

How to Grow Peas: A Delicious & Beginner-Friendly Crop

Peas are one of the easiest and most rewarding crops to grow in your home garden. The vines are forgiving of less than ideal weather and soil conditions, don’t hog too much space, produce abundant healthy green vegetables, and look beautiful while they’re at it!

 

The Three Kinds of Peas

There are three different types of peas, each suited to different ways of eating them. Here’s a guide to help you choose the best varieties for your garden.

 

Snap Peas

 

Snap Peas

Snap peas have fat, juicy and sweet edible pods. Some of these varieties are so sweet they’re like candy! If you’re looking for an addictive, healthy snack straight out of the garden, this is the type to grow. Kids especially love them. These are usually the earliest peas to mature, as some can be ready to pick in less than 60 days from planting.

Varieties:

  • Sugar Ann - Sweet little peas grow on bushy, compact plants and are ready in just 55 days!
  • Sugar Snap - The classic, original snap pea. 5-6 foot vines yield lots of crunchy sweet peas in 66 days.
  • Sugar Daddy - You can have whatever you like, as long as it’s heavy yields of big, crunchy sweet snap peas borne at the top of conveniently-sized 2-3 foot tall plants.
  • Sugar Magnolia - Bright purple snap peas! Beautiful and delicious.

 

Snow Peas

 

Snow Peas

Snow peas have edible pods like snap peas, except they are flatter, with smaller seeds. These are the peas you usually see in Asian-style stir fries. They are also great sauteed in butter or fresh in salads.

Varieties:

 

 Shelling Peas

 

Shelling Peas

Shelling peas, sometimes called “English” peas or simply “garden peas,” have fibrous, inedible pods. You only eat the seeds inside. These peas are particularly well suited to freezing and canning, so they are the peas that many of us grew up eating. But make no mistake, a batch of homegrown, fresh-picked shelling peas bears no resemblance to the canned green mush you were forced to eat before you could have dessert! They are fantastic when quickly sauteed in butter, mixed into a pasta dish, or even pureed on top of toast.

Varieties:

  • Little Marvel - A very early producer of sweet, delicious peas on tiny plants that grow to just 2 feet tall. Great for container gardening.
  • Wando - A relatively heat-tolerant selection, great for late spring plantings, or Southeastern growers.
  • Green Arrow - High yields of 5 inch pods on 2-3 foot tall plants.

 

Flowering Pea Plants

 

How and When to Plant Peas

When to Plant

Peas are one of the first crops you can plant in your garden in spring, since they are very cold-hardy. You can plant peas as soon as the soil is workable, which can be as early as mid- to late-February here in the Carolinas. (“Workable” soil can be crumbled in your hand - it’s not sloppy wet mud, and of course, not frozen.) If you don’t get them planted as soon as spring begins to stir, that’s okay too! Peas prefer cooler weather, but the planting window is fairly long. Try to have them in the ground by mid-spring for a late spring or early summer harvest. Peas can begin to struggle in the heat of summer, and won’t yield as much if you plant them too late. In cool climates, peas can make a good fall crop, too, when planted 6-8 weeks before the average first frost. In Southern growing zones, it tends to be too hot for peas around this time of year, making a fall pea crop a bit trickier.

 

Prep Your Soil

Peas are very sensitive to root disturbance, so they should always be direct seeded right where you want them. Make sure to choose a location with plenty of sun. Like most vegetables, they appreciate well drained soil high in organic matter, so it’s a good idea to amend your garden beds with compost before planting. That said, peas are legumes, meaning they fix their own nitrogen with the help of symbiotic bacteria, so there’s no need to provide them with high levels of nitrogen. They will tolerate most soils except the heaviest clays or soils that are very waterlogged.

 

Inoculate!

Before planting your pea seeds, make sure they have all the symbiotic bacteria they need by using a legume inoculant. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria occur naturally in soil to some extent, and if you have very active, rich soil, inoculating might not be necessary. But, adding inoculant before you plant is an easy and inexpensive way to make sure you get the best yield of peas possible. Check the label on the inoculant package for instructions. Usually, you simply mix your seeds with the powder and a little water right before planting.

 

How to Sow

Plant your peas in a row about 1 inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart, then water thoroughly. There’s no need to thin the seedlings later, peas like to be a little crowded! If you’re planting in cold weather, be especially patient as you wait for seedlings to emerge. Peas planted in cold soil can take up to two weeks to germinate.

 

Tips for Success

  • Provide a trellis: Peas are natural climbers, and need to be provided with a structure to grow on, such as a section of fence, wire netting, or even just string stretched taut between two t-posts. Even “bush” type peas benefit from some support, even though they only grow about 3 feet tall. Vining varieties can grow 6-8 feet tall. A good sturdy trellis keeps the plants up off the ground and allows good airflow and sun exposure, which are the best defenses against fungal disease.
  • Don’t over water: Pea plants only need about an inch of water per week, so pay attention to how much rain you’re getting, and take care not to over water. Waterlogged soil and wet leaves invite disease.
  • Look out for pests: The most common insect pest on peas is aphids, which cause yellowing or misshapen leaves and bumpy, misshapen pea pods. Insecticidal soap can keep them under control. Mexican bean beetles sometimes also feast on peas that are planted late. Adults look like ladybugs except coppery-orange colored instead of red, and the larvae are yellow, rounded and grub-like. They are fairly easy to pick off by hand as long as you catch an infestation early.

 

Freshly Harvested Peas

 

Harvesting Peas

When to harvest your peas depends on the variety and type. When you plant, check the days to harvest on your seed packet, and mark that date on your calendar. A little before that date, start checking your plants daily for peas that look ripe. Snow peas should be picked when the pods are full length, but still flat. They will be starchy and not very tasty if the seeds fill out before they are picked. Shelling peas are just the opposite; you should wait until you can see the round seeds filling out the pods before picking them. Snap peas vary a bit by variety, so you’ll have to experiment a little. Some varieties are still sweet when the pods are totally filled out, while others are better when picked a little younger. Pick a few pods at different stages and taste them. You’ll quickly get the hang of telling when they’re ready!

 

Shelled Peas

 

Storing Peas

You’ll probably find that very few of your peas even make it in from the garden before they’re eaten, but if you ever have extra, here’s how to preserve them!

 

Freezing Peas

Freezing is hands down the best way to preserve the fresh flavor and texture of peas. Blanch your peas in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then immediately cool them in ice water for five minutes before draining them thoroughly and transferring them to a freezer bag or sealed container. This process works for all types of peas.

 

Drying Peas

Peas can also be preserved by dehydrating them. Shelling peas are particularly well suited to this method, as they can be re-hydrated and used in soups or other dishes. Dehydrated snap or snow peas can make a crunchy healthy snack. It’s best to use a food dehydrator, but you can also use an oven if yours will run at below 200° F (check to see if it has a “warm” setting). Once your peas are crunchy-dry, be sure to seal them in an airtight container to keep out moisture.

 

Ready to add peas to your spring garden plans? Shop our full collection of pea seeds, then explore our blog for more spring garden inspiration and recipes!

Written by Sow True Seed's Agriculture Director, Leah Smith