Peas are one of the first crops to be planted each year as they can germinate in cool temperatures, and the plants can withstand light frosts. They’re also a low-feeding and relatively fast-growing crop, enabling the gardener to plant a full crop of peas in the spring and then, upon harvesting the peas, plant a different crop in the same place in the garden in late June. They also help to fix nitrogen in the soil. As such, they are a very productive plant in the garden.
There are three types of peas:
Shelling peas (also known as English peas)
Snap peas and snow peas are collectively called sugar peas. They can easily be distinguished from one another as snap peas have wide pods so that you can’t clearly see the seeds inside, while snow peas have thin pods and each seed can be clearly seen and felt along the pods. You can eat the pods of both snap and sugar peas. For shelling peas, you only eat the pea seeds inside the pod.
Before planting peas, find a sunny place in your garden, preferably with morning and early afternoon sun. Plant peas near a fence line or something that can easily be trellised and aim to make it near a path or somewhere easily accessible as peas need to be frequently harvested once they begin to produce. Finally, peas prefer slightly acidic soil.
Before planting the seeds, try to loosen and fertilize the soil. The most important fertilizer is any type of organic matter to help support soil microbes. Legumes are typically a host to symbiotic bacteria that help convert nitrogen from the air into nitrates that are usable by the plants. Beyond the basic nitrate requirement, peas do not need any other nutrients that can’t be provided through compost – mix ½” into the soil before planting.
Plant peas as soon as the soil is workable, as early as late March, as it can withstand a light frost. It will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 4oC, but it prefers and will germinate faster in temperatures of at least 10oC. The seeds should be planted ½” to 1” deep, and they should be planted (or seedlings should be thinned) to 4-6” apart.
Once the peas have been planted, avoid placing anything in the onion family next to them as legumes and onions do not get along and will stunt each other’s growth.
The most important elements of ongoing maintenance for peas include:
Placing a trellis above the seeds to enable the plants to grow upward. The vining plants will begin to produce tendrils to find and hold onto the trellis to support themselves.
Not watering too much in the early stages of growth since peas are somewhat susceptible to root rot. Increase watering once flowers appear on the plants and continue to water regularly as the plants set fruit.
Adding a little bit of extra phosphorus once the plants flower to provide larger harvests.
Pests and Diseases
Peas are susceptible to a few pests, including aphids and nematodes. To prevent aphids, attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps by planting lots of dill, Queen Anne’s lace, fennel, and yarrow nearby. Prevent nematodes by planting peas in April and harvesting in June, which tends to be before nematodes are overly active. In addition, planting marigolds near pea plants has been shown to reduce nematodes in the soil.
Peas are also susceptible to a few diseases, including root rot, powdery mildew and blight. The easiest way to reduce or prevent these diseases is through crop rotation. Ensuring that legumes don’t get planted in the same place for at least three years will prevent any spores in the soil from last year’s crop having easy access to a new crop of peas growing above. In addition, amending your soil to ensure that it is well-draining will lead to healthier pea plants and less risk of root rot. Finally, root rot is also prevented by avoiding overwatering in the early stages of plant growth.
Harvest peas when the pods reach sufficient size according to each variety and your own preference. Specifically, you are looking for the size of the peas inside the pods. Be sure to sample before doing a big harvest so that you can ensure you’re harvesting at the right time based on your taste preferences.
© Homestead Toronto / Derek Barber