Days to germination: 10 to 12 days
Days to harvest: 60 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun, can tolerate some shade
Water requirements: Occasional watering
Soil: Added inoculant can help (see below)
Container: some varieties work well
Terminology for peas can be a bit confusing, considering there are some varieties where you eat the pods and some you don’t. In this case, “green peas” is referring to the traditional garden pea that you shell out of the pods.
Peas hold a special place in most gardeners’ hearts because they are usually the very first plant to produce a harvest, providing those first fresh vegetables after a long winter. They are often the first thing to go into the garden, and are a great kick-off to the season.
Like many garden plants, you can get varieties of peas that grow in long vines, or in more compact bushes. Dwarf varieties are ideal for small garden spaces. Some vining peas have beautiful flowers and can be grown for their looks as well as their fruits.
Peas that are shelled can be eaten raw, right out of the pod but are usually cooked for use in meals. Green peas are high in vitamin K, C, B1 and folate. For a vegetable, they are fairly high in protein too.
Starting from Seed
Peas are not grown from seedlings because they do not transplant well. You’ll be planting them out right into the garden as soon as the ground thaws enough to dig. This can be up to 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, and it won’t harm the plants at all.
Because you are going to be sowing your seeds into fairly cold ground, its a good idea to get seed that has been pre-treated with a fungicide to prevent rot. If you prefer to use untreated seed, you should plant more than you need to account for the ones that won’t sprout.
Another thing to consider when it comes to seed is inoculant. It’s not necessary, but it can help your plants thrive by aiding their extraction of nitrogen from the soil. It’s a powder that can be purchased at most garden stores. Just add the powder into the soil when you plant your seeds. Bonemeal is another good addition to the soil for peas.
How you space your pea seed will depend on whether you are growing bush peas or not. Vining peas are usually sown in a row without much regard to the specific spacing. Bush peas can be grown close together, about 10 to 12 inches apart. The plants don’t mind being crowded. Your seeds should be in about an inch deep.
Peas don’t grow well in the hot summer months, but you can usually get a second harvest if you plant again once the hottest part of the season is passed.
Though you should never let your plants dry out, you don’t need to worry about watering your peas as much as some other garden vegetables. Give them a good watering about once a week.
Bush peas can be grown in cages, or loosely tied to sturdy stakes to help keep the plants upright. Otherwise, you will need a trellis or net to keep the vining plants up off the ground. Letting pea vines grow along the ground isn’t recommended because the cooler weather makes them susceptible to rot.
Some varieties of early peas will start to produce a harvest within 2 months, but you can also get longer maturing types of peas that won’t mature for up to 4 months. By planting some of each type, you can stretch your harvest period out past just the early spring.
If you want to grow peas in containers, look for dwarf bush varieties like Little Marvel. You should still use inoculant when you plant into a container, and the pot should be wider than it is deep because peas have pretty shallow roots. A container that is around a foot deep should be fine.
The soil in a container will warm up faster than soil right in the garden, so be careful that your container peas don’t overheat as the weather outside gets warmer. Water more frequently than garden peas, and you might even want to move the the pot into a shadier spot during the warmer parts of the day.
Pests and Diseases
A common insect threat to garden peas is the pea moth. The moths lay their eggs in the pea flowers in early summer, then the larvae eat the developing peas as they start to grow. If pea moths are a problem in your area, you can early varieties of peas that go to blossom before the pea moth is out laying her eggs.
Powdery mildew can attack peas, just like several other garden vegetables. It looks like white dust on the leaves. You can prevent mildew problems by not letting the leaves get soaked when you water the plants, as it thrives in moist conditions. A little bit of mildew won’t kill the plant, but it can overwhelm it if left unchecked. Fungicides can help if you catch it early enough.
As mentioned, cool wet soil can also cause root rot in new seedlings but it can also kill older plants as well. If your weather is quite cool, don’t let the soil get too soggy. Let it dry out somewhat between waterings. You can help reduce root rot occurrences by rotating your pea crops to different parts of the garden each year.
Harvest and Storage
Your peas are ready to harvest when they have gotten plump and the pods are well filled-out. When you pick the pods, use one hand to grasp the vine near the pod and pull the pod with the other. The plants are delicate and just yanking on the pods will likely damage the entire plant.
If any pods are missed, the peas will grow large and begin to harden. These can be used in soups or just discarded. You should still remove them from the plant because overripe peas will cause the plant to stop producing more flowers and pods.
Expected yield can vary quite a bit between dwarf, bush or vine varieties. Green peas that you have to shell out of the pods do not produce a large harvest per plant, so you can expect maybe a half pound of peas per plant.
Fresh peas can be stored in their pods in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them. They freeze well after a quick blanche in boiling water, and drying peas is still a popular way to store them as well.