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Freshly Picked Off The Vine: Garden Pea

by a Friendly Gardener
Opened pea pod

The Pisum Sativum or garden pea is especially appreciated when freshly picked off the vine. A bit of crunch and fresh flavor is undeniably preferred to canned and frozen versions of these vegetables. As often the first crop that is harvested in the springtime, the delicious flavor of freshly grown peas offers the first taste of the bounty of summer just around the corner.

A relatively easy-to-grow crop, it is limited to cultivation during cooler weather and fresh peas need to be enjoyed immediately because they do not keep for long.

A selection of various pea types is available for cultivating, each flavorful and worthy of consideration.


Fat or Skinny Peas?

Large green peas

There are fundamentally two categories of peas: those with an edible pod and those that grow within a non-edible pod. Within these categories, multiple varieties will either be dwarf or tall kinds. The dwarf type is also known as a bush type of pea plant that will grow to thirty inches in height. Telephone or tall types can grow to more than three feet in height.

Dwarf bush cultivars produce their peas all at one time whereas the tall types will continue to bear fruit for a longer period and are somewhat easier to harvest although they do require trellises or support.


Non-Edible Pods

Garden, sweet, or “English” peas are enclosed in a non-edible pod. These peas must be removed from pods before they can be consumed raw or cooked.


Edible Pods

Occasionally referred to as Chinese pea pods, Snow Peas or Pisum Sativum var. Saccharum, are enclosed in a flat stringless pod that is edible. They contain tiny peas and are often a fixture in stir-fry recipes.


A Blend

Peas like the “Sugar snaps” are a blend of snow and garden peas. They are plumper and resemble garden peas, but they feature an edible pod-like snow peas.


When to Plant

Peas growing with leaves

Peas need to be planted in early spring so that you can harvest while the weather is still colons plan on February, March, or April depending on where you reside. Seeds should be sown four to six weeks before your final frost is expected, and the soil is cool or at an appropriate temperature. If your spring is usually longer and relatively wet, consider planting your crop in raised garden beds.

Your peas are not at risk if it snows, but if temperatures remain too low for too long, peas may not survive, so prepare a second planting.

How to Plant Peas

Select a location with good sun exposure and prepare the soil bed when the temperature is a minimum of 45°F. They can survive in atrial shade. This legume likes well-drained soil that is amended with rich organic matter. The soil pH ideally should measure between 6 and 7.5.

The Pisum Sativumis a cool-weather crop that is frost-hardy.Seeds should be planted as soon as your soil is tilled. To speed up germination, you can soak your seeds in water the night before planting.

If you reside in a warmer climate area, plant your seeds as early as possible because once the temperature hits 85°F. it will be too hot for your crop.

Seeds should be planted about an inch and a half deep and at least one inch apart in rows. The rows should be spaced one to one and a half feet apart. Once seedlings emerge thin them to approximately three inches apart. When thinning, select the stronger plantlets.

Seeds can be started in biodegradable containers and when you are ready just plant the entire container in the ground.

To water your pea crops, a drip line is a suitable option. As these plants require a substantial quantity of water, particularly when pods are forming, an inch of rain weekly is best. If there is not sufficient rain in your area, you will need to water. You can add mulch to help retain moisture.

Test your soil and add phosphorous and potassium as needed. You can avoid adding nitrogen because peas will gather their own. Any weeds that appear should be removed manually.

Peas should not be planted in the same location more than once every four years.


Peas Care

Pea pod growing with leaves

If you have selected a bush type of pea plant, it can grow as high as thirty inches. Tall pea types can grow to six feet. You can choose to support your plants, especially those over two feet with trellises, strings and poles, chicken wire, or others. Stake your plants before the seeds germinate to avoid disturbing roots.

Fertilizing will not be necessary if you mulch with a biodegradable material such as straw, hay, or shredded grass, or leaves.


Harvesting Peas

Green pea texture

Peas are usually ready to be harvested from 60 to 70 days after planting. These legumes mature quickly. Check daily for flowering. Once blooms appear harvest your peas after the morning dew has evaporated. Always harvest with two hands so your lant remains undamaged. Harvest regularly to stimulate the plant to produce more pods.

  • Snow peas can be harvested when pods show seed development.
  • Snap peas should be harvested when pods are plump and glossy.
  • Garden peas need to be picked before pods appear waxy.

If your pods are hardened, they have overmatured. If you have peas past the peak harvesting moment, pick and dry them for use in winter dishes.


Storing Peas

Fresh green peas

Fresh peas will last in the refrigerator for three to five days. Place them in a paper bag and then in plastic.

Peas can be frozen. Sweet peas should be shelled and blanched and then emerged in ice water. Drain them and then pack them into airtight sealed containers for freezing. Snow and snap peas can be prepared in the same way after destringing.


Pests and Diseases

All crops are susceptible to some pests and diseases. Peas are no exception, so watch for these pests:


·         Aphids

Aphids will cause foliage and flowers to be misshapen and turn yellow. You will also find sticky honeydew on the plants. They can be removed by water sprays, insecticidal soaps, or neem oil. You can also repel them by planting basil or rosemary as companion plants.


·         Mexican Bean Beetles

With an infestation, leaves will appear lacey, and pods will feature dark holes. Beetles should be removed manually, and severely compromised plants should be destroyed and disposed of.


·         Root-knot Nematodes

Roots will knot and the plants will wilt. Destroy any infested plants. Look for resistant varieties to cultivate.


·         Wireworms

These worms affect new plantlets and seeds. They will hollow seeds out and sever seedlings. You can attempt to trap by digging holes every 3 to 10 feet that are 4 inches deep. Fill traps with a mix of germinating corn, beans, peas, or potato sections. Cover these traps with soil or a board and after a week uncover and collect worms.


Peas are susceptible to the diseases:

·         Downy Mildew

A fungus that will create angular yellow spots on foliage that gradually turn brown. White, grey, or purple cotton deposits will be found on foliage undersides. Avoid overhead watering and remove infected parts.


·         Fusarium Wilt

Plants infected with this fungal infection wilt on one side and leaves turn yellow. Infected plants must be destroyed.


·         Powdery Mildew

This fungal infection will produce a powdery floury coating on leaves. Infected leaves and plants should be destroyed.


·         White Mold

Pods near the ground feature cottony deposits and black spots. They will also be slimy. Remove infected pods and compost them. Avoid overhead watering.


Pea Varieties


Garden Peas

  • Green Arrow
  • Lincoln
  • Little Marvel
  • Progress No.9
  • Wando


Snow Peas

  • Snowbird
  • Oregon Sugar Pod II
  • Mammoth Melting Sugar


Snap Peas

  • Early Snap
  • Sugar Ann
  • Super Sugar Mel
  • Sugar Snap


A Final Thought

The pea is a king among vegetables for its ability to support frost without a problem. They are easy to grow and delicious whether eaten raw or cooked.

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