Green peas are one of those tastes that embodies spring: crisp, sweet. Knowing how to grow peas means we always have access to that wonderful flavor. But peas have an interesting history, too!
Before agriculture was developed by humans, peas were a staple food that hunter-gatherer peoples would forage regularly.
Interestingly, the Romans believed that freshly picked peas were poisonous, so they dried all peas before consumption. This was the common practice until a French gardener under the reign of King Louis XIV developed a pea hybrid called petits pois.
These smaller, delicious fresh peas exploded in popularity with the king, and thus spread to worldwide appeal. Now people all over grow peas.
Pea Plant Varieties
The pea comes in three varieties – among them are the following:
English or Garden Peas
The most common pea plant variety is the garden or English peas. You can grow them because of their pea pods that can then be shelled as a means of releasing the plump peas you can find within.
Depending on your chosen variety, expect the peas belonging in this category to have a sweet taste – one that is moderate to intense. The cultivars of the garden peas, including the Little Marvel, Early Frost, and Tom Thumb are specifically perfect for container gardens.
- Green Arrow: Heavy yielder that resists wilt and powdery mildew. Grow peas of this variety in 68 days. 24″-30″ tall.
- Little Marvel: Ready in 62 days. Dwarf heirloom variety with 18″-28″ vines and small pods.
- Tall Telephone (Alderman): Old heirloom variety, grows up to 6′ in height, and grows slowly for 75 days. Requires support.
- Maestro: Under 3′ in height. Tolerant to many pea diseases, and harvest-ready in 60 days.
- Lincoln: Heirloom variety, 18″-30″ in height. Requires trellis. Matures in 62 days.
- Dakota: Quicker-growing variety ready in 57 days. Early season variety grows 22″-26″ in height. Disease-resistant.
Despite the small size of the snow peas, you can still expect them to deliver a sweet taste/flavor. You will also like the snow peas pods recognized for being edible. You can use the snow peas in a wide range of dishes, including stir-fries, salads, and soups.
- Little Snow Pea: Early season dwarf variety, ready to harvest in 50 days. 24″ or shorter with purple flowers.
- Dwarf White Sugar: Stringless early dwarf variety with white flowers. 50 days from when you grow peas from seed to harvest.
- Golden Sweet Peas: Golden podded snow pea with attractive purple flowers. Harvest in 61 days.
- Royal Snow: A rare purple-pod variety that grows in 61 days. 30″ vines with pink flowers.
- Mammoth Melting Sugar: High-yielding flat pod pea that matures in 65 days, 4′-5′ vines. Requires support.
- Oregon Sugar Pod: Ready in 68 days.
Sugar Snap Peas
The third variety includes the sugar snap peas. The sugar snap peas serve as a cross of the two varieties of peas we have previously talked about in brief. It is a versatile variety, which allows shelling peas or using them in the pods.
- Sugar Sprint: A prolific and stringless pea that grows in 62 days. Requires trellis. Sweet peas.
- Cascadia: Heavy-yielding over 60 days, grows to about 3′ tall. Disease-resistant.
- Sugar Magnolia: Grow peas from seed with deep purple pods and make for easy harvesting after 70 days. Lots of tendrils.
- Sugar Ann: Early variety snap pea, stores well in the refrigerator. Fast-growing peas at 52 days
- Spring Blush: 70 days to harvest. Rare two-toned snap pea pods that grow up to 6′. Requires trellising.
- Sugar Daddy: Self-supporting 24″ pea plants, ready for harvest in 65 days. Good disease resistance.
- Super Sugar Snap: Tall 5′ vines, requires support. Great flavor you can harvest in 58 days.
Basics of Growing Peas from Seeds
If you plan to grow peas from seeds, then the best way to do it is to sow seeds directly outdoors. Do this specifically at a time when you can already work on the soil during the spring. Ensure that you plant the pea seeds in an area with proper drainage.
It is important to keep the pea seeds moist but avoid letting them sit in the water for a prolonged period; otherwise, they will rot. The perfect time to sow seeds is starting from the early to late spring so you can enjoy harvesting them in the summer. Sow the seeds again during the summer, around July to August, so you can enjoy a fall crop.
When sowing pea seeds during the spring season, there should be a one-inch deep and one-third-inch spacing. If you are going to do it in the summer, there should be around 2-inch depth. This should help in making the seeds cooler while keeping them fully protected from the sun’s heat.
Also, note that on average, it takes around a week or two for the seeds to germinate. However, using warmer soil can encourage the quick germination of the seeds.
Plant various varieties – a minimum of ten feet apart. This should help in preventing cross-pollination, which is a good thing if you intend to save the seeds.
If your space allows it, you should consider installing a trellis. The reason is that most pea varieties require something where they can climb while growing. In this case, you should plant peas in two rows – one row per side of the trellis.
Make sure to plant the peas around an inch or two inches apart. It would be unnecessary to thin the planted peas as you can expect them to grow perfectly using that spacing.
Retain the moisture of the soil until you notice the peas germinating, which often takes around 7 to 10 days. You can speed up the germination by soaking the pea seeds overnight before planting.
Choosing the Right Pot or Container
You can also grow your pea in a container. Just like many container gardening tips, keep in mind that your choice of a gardening container or a pot can greatly contribute to the successful and healthy growth of the peas.
Also, keep in mind that the root system of pea plants is kind of shallow. With that in mind, it is possible for peas to grow happily and healthily if you put them in planters that are moderately deep.
Width is also more essential than depth when it comes to growing peas. This signifies that it is possible for the pea plants to grow successfully even in troughs and window boxes.
If you choose to grow peas in a container, then note that the plant varieties also have a say on the specific pot or container you should use. If you decide to grow bush or taller varieties, choose a container that allows planting them at eight to twelve inches deep. There should also be a space of three to five inches in between each plant.
If you go for the dwarf variety, then planting them at a 6-inch depth would suffice. These are also smaller plants that you can grow with a space of two to three inches in between them.
When picking a pot or container for pea planting, go for one that is large enough that it can sufficiently hold the plants. There should also be some drainage holes at the bottom of each pot or container.
Also, note that clay pot or terracotta pot soil tends to dry quicker compared to the one that you put in a plastic container or pot. Ensure that the pots are clean. The bottom should come with drainage holes to promote efficient draining.
In case the pots you are using are kind of shallow, make it a point to use a quick-draining potting mix. With that, you can prevent the plant from developing root rot.
Caring For Pea Plants
Now it’s time to talk about the care needed to grow peas from seed. Stick to these tenets and you’ll be set!
Sun and Temperature
While peas can handle full sun (8 hours a day) conditions, they are more tolerant than other plants of part-shade conditions. The minimum amount of light is 6 hours per day, but you can grow peas on as little as 4 hours of full sun if they get occasional dappled shade.
55-70 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for pea production. They grow well in cooler temperatures as well, but may not produce as heavily until the temperature warms to 55 degrees or higher.
Peas don’t like hot conditions. Temperatures that regularly reach 75+ degrees will cause heat stress. Over 80 degrees, they wilt and die back. You’ll need your plants to reach full maturity and produce before the weather gets too warm.
It can be tricky to find the right balance of moisture for your pea plants. While peas do like moist soil, they don’t like wet soil as they are susceptible to root rot.
Water about a half inch per week during germination and when the plants are small. Gradually increase to 1” of water per week to promote production when the plants reach maturity.
Warmer weather causes dry soil. Place about 2” of mulch around your plants to keep the moisture from evaporating. The goal is to keep the soil uniformly damp.
Generally, peas do not require much fertilizer. If you wish to, use a balanced low-NPK fertilizer to offer a small boost. However, if your soil is organic matter-rich and has some aged compost or aged manure worked in, there’s no need for fertilizer.
Pruning & Training Peas
While the self-supporting shorter pea varieties don’t need training, the vining types do. As the plants grow, gently hook the tendrils onto the bottom of your trellis. Use either a trellis made of strings attached to posts, or a commercially-made wooden trellis.
The pea tendrils will wrap around the trellis and hold on. As they continue to grow, they may occasionally require a little direction. Even without human assistance, they’ll find their way up on their own.
While peas do not require much pruning, many people harvest small amounts of the pea tendrils or shoots. Tender and tasty, these bits of young plants are an edible and delicious addition to salads or other culinary delights.
To harvest tendrils and shoots, wait until your plant has gotten above the base of the trellis and is anchored. Trim the first pair of leaves and any attached tendrils beside them, leaving all other leaves and tendrils to hold on. This encourages the vine to fork and produce more growth.
Pea Plant Propagation
Unlike other plants, peas are easiest to propagate from seed. To harvest peas for seed from your plants, allow some fat, perfect-looking pea pods to remain on the plant. The higher the quality of the pods you leave, the better the seeds will be.
Leave the pods on the plant. Over time, they will yellow and dry out. You’ll know it’s time to harvest peas for seeds when the seeds rattle inside the pod. At that time, pick your pods and remove the pea seeds.
Dust off any chaff or material that’s clinging to the exterior of the peas inside, spread them on a tray, and allow them to dry in a comfortable indoor location. Chaff that remains on the peas could rot or mold, so it’s important to be sure the seeds are clean.
Harvesting and Storing Peas
It is actually simple and easy to harvest peas. You just have to pick the sweet peas as often as possible once they mature. More frequent picking also translates to the production of more peas that you can harvest.
Note, though, that when picking, you do not do it similar to when you pick beans. The reason is that pea pods are stronger and sturdier compared to beans. With that in mind, use one hand when pulling the pod out of the plant and another hand as a means of securing the plant.
Avoid picking with just one hand as it may put you at risk of pulling out the plant from the ground. Upon picking the harvest, store and preserve it using the following methods:
Storing in your fridge
Just toss the harvested peas in your refrigerator and you can expect them to last for around 5 to 7 days.
You may also want to freeze peas. It is even possible to freeze those that are in the pods, especially if the peas you are growing are those with edible pods, allowing you to eat them. However, if your chosen variety does not come with any edible pods, then shelling peas before freezing is a must.
Another method is cleaning and blanching the peas before freezing. By doing that, you do not have to exert too much effort to thaw them before cooking.
If you are one of those who intend to use your harvested peas when preparing soups for the winter, then the best way to store and preserve them is through drying. Just make sure that you follow the drying methods recommended for each pea type or variety that you have in your garden.
Canning your harvested peas may not be an easy task. The reason is that it involves shelling peas then cleaning them before you actually can them. Despite that, it is still rewarding as it can further increase their shelf life.