Shelling peas, snow peas, and snap peas are all cool season crops that require the same growing conditions. Choose a spot in your garden that gets full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day is required for pod formation.
Peas like soil in the acidic to neutral range of 6.0-7.0. A soil test will help you figure out where your soil falls and if you need to amend it to change the pH. Soil too rich in nitrogen will produce very healthy plants with little to no fruits, and sometimes cause the flowers to abort before pods have a chance to develop. Working in some wood ash or bone meal will help bring up the levels of phosphorus and potassium which will help fruit production. Because peas are a legume, they produce their own nitrogen, so if you fertilize during the growing season, choose a fertilizer with a 0 as the first number. For example, 0-5-5.
Snow peas are a cool-season crop that will not grow or produce peas once the temperature reaches about 80°, so it’s very important to get an early start as soon as the ground can be worked. Ideally, you want to plant the peas 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost, when the soil temperature reaches about 40°, and when the daytime temperatures are between 60-65°. In warmer climates with milder winters, you can plant your snow peas in the fall and grow them over the winter. Cooler climates may be able to get a second fall crop with the help of row covers.
Peas, like all legumes, have very long tap roots and do best when direct seeded outside in your garden beds. Soak your seeds overnight, or up to 24 hours before planting to make germination easier. Plant seeds about 1” deep and spaced 4” apart. For both bush and vining varieties, planting in two rows, spaced about 24” apart is actually easier because you can run the stakes or trellising down the middle and hold the plants up/train for climbing from the center. You should have your trellis installed either before or at the time of planting to give the fast growing plants a place to go. Even bushy types that don’t send up runners will be heavy and full and should be tied to your supports to keep them off the ground.
Water thoroughly at the time of planting and check the soil for dryness every day until your seedlings are about 3” tall. Don’t water unless your soil is dry below the first digit on your finger because peas are prone to rot if they stay too wet. As they grow throughout the season, water only if needed to achieve the 1” of needed water for most vegetable crops throughout the growing season. As the plants begin to flower, you may need to water more often to ensure pod production if you are not getting much rainfall.
When you plants are 2-3” tall, apply a couple inches of mulch to control weeds and keep the soil temperature regulated.
The pods will start to form after the flowers start to die back. For shelling/English peas, wait to harvest when you see nice, full pods with a hint of the shape of peas visible beneath the pods. For snow peas, the pods are best when young, tender, and just starting to fill out. Snap peas are somewhere in between. You want a nice, full pod, but if you start to see the pea shapes in the pod, they are less sweet and more fibrous at this point, so pick before you see the pea seeds. The more you harvest, the more pods the plant will produce. To harvest pods, hold the vine gently with one hand and delicately pinch the pod from the vine with the other hand. Don’t tug on the vine or it may snap. Pea varieties mature at different rates, but your plant will start to bear pods anywhere from 50 to 70 days after planting.
Pea, Pisum sativum
Pollination, self; Life Cycle, annual; Isolation Distance, 20 feet
Like most legumes, peas are a self-pollinating annual with perfect flowers. Cross-pollination is unlikely, but it's prudent to leave at least 20 feet between varieties. To encourage optimal pod development, water very little and don't feed the seed plants or pick from them for eating. At the end of the season, pick the pods when they have turned crisp and brown. With bush-types, the whole bush can be uprooted and hung upside down to dry. Leave the seeds in the pod until very dry, then crush pods to release seed and winnow away the chaff to clean.