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Pea Growing and Harvest Information

by chuck.mcmullan

Where to Grow Peas

Peas are a cool-season vegetable, and do best in a climate where there are two months of cool growing weather, either spring planting in the northern regions or fall planting in the warmer, southern regions. They are hardy to frost and light freezes.

Recommended Varieties of Peas

Peas have smooth or wrinkled seeds. Most of the varieties grown are wrinkled seeds since these are sweeter and more flavorful. The advantage of smooth seed is its toughness in withstanding rot in cold, wet soil, although many wrinkled seed varieties are now treated with a mild fungicide to prevent rotting. Plan on an average of 25-60 plants per person depending on how much you want to freeze, dry, or can for winter. Pole and climbing peas produce over a longer period and up to 5 times more than dwarf bush varieties.

Smooth seed – Alaska (55 days)
Early – Sparkle (60 days, dwarf), Frosty (64 Days); Little Marvel (64 days, dwarf)
Midseason – Lincoln (67 days); Wando (69 days), heat resistant)
Late – Green Arrow (68 days, long pods); Alderman (74 days, long pods)
Edible pod – Little sweetie (60 days, bush); Sweetpod (68 days, tall-growing) Mammoth Melting Sugar (tall-growing)
Field peas or cowpeas – California Blackeye (65 days); Brown Sugar Crowder (90 days)

Soil for Growing Peas

Peas can be planted as soon as the soil in your garden thaws. They will germinate once the soil temperature approaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and won’t grow much in temperatures much less than that. They prefer a sandier soil than most, with good drainage, but it is important that they do not dry out for extended periods of time. If your garden has heavy clay soil, generous amounts of organic matter mixed in with your soil is the best way to improve it. Also, remember that peas have the ability to “fix” or generate nitrogen in the soil, and can actually leave the soil richer than it was prior to planting. Legume inoculates are available from seed suppliers for seed treatment and is recommended, especially if beans or peas have not been grown in the soil before.

Planting Peas

Germination in 8-10 days.

When –

The earlier the better. Seeds should be planted in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Do not plant in the hot summer months. Where winters are mild, a second fall crop could be planted in late summer, but where the summers are long and hot, this is not practical as the plants do not thrive, producing poor flowers and a disappointing crop. The simplest way to prolong harvest is to plant early, mid-season, and late varieties at one time rather than sowing every 2 weeks. Gardeners with mild winters can plant peas in both spring and fall.

Germination40 - 70 F
For growth60 - 65 F
Soil and Water
FertilizerLight feeder. When inoculated, peas are N-fixing and need low N. Apply liquid seaweed 2-3 times per season.
Side-dressingWith vines about 6" tall, apply compost or an amendment high in P and K and low N
pH5.5 - 6.8
WaterHeavy after blooms form
Seed Planting Depth1"
Root DepthUp to 3'
Height20 - 72"
Width6 - 10"
Space between plants
In Beds2 - 4"
In Rows1 - 3"
Space Between Rows18 - 48"
Average plants per person25 - 60
If a plant has only a few peas on it, pinch back the growing tip to encourage further fruiting. When pea pods are plump and before they begin to harden or fade in color, harvest them with one clean cut. Sugar snaps are best picked when plump and filled out. Harvest snow peas when they are young and underdeveloped. Pick peas every day for continuous production. Pea shoots, the last 4-6" of the vine, can also be harvested for stir fry dishes and salads.
First Seed Starting Date: 35 - 56 days before last frost date
Last Seed Starting Date: 70 - 100 Days before first frost date
CompanionsAll beans, coriander, corn, cucumber, radish, spinach
IncompatiblesGarlic, onion, potato

How –

Plant dwarf varieties about 8 seeds to a foot, about 1/2 – 1″ deep; and in rows 18-24″ apart. Tall-growing varieties should be planted in double rows 4-6 inches apart, 2 1/2 feet between double rows. Supports for climbing vines can be put in at planting time, or just as seedlings are 3 inches high. Peas can cross-pollinate, so for seed-saving, space different varieties at least 150′ apart. Dwarf varieties don’t need a trellis if you plant them close together. For support use twiggy bush, chicken wire fencing, or weatherized trellis netting sold commercially for vine crops.

Peas have fragile roots and don’t transplant well. While some gardeners recommend presoaking seeds, research has indicated that presoaked legume seeds absorb water too quickly, split their outer coatings, and spill out essential nutrients, which encourages damping-off seed rot. Yields can increase 50-100% by inoculating with Rhizobium bacteria.

How Peas Grow

Peas grow on pretty vines to 3 and 4 feet tall; their pinnate leaves are topped by a curly tendril, which grasps onto a support. The flowers are miniature sweet pea flowers, and pods begin to develop soon after the flowers drop. The dwarf peas do not grow taller than 2 feet and do not need to be staked for support.

Cultivating Peas

Keep the rows weed free or mulch. After sowing, a thin line of fertilizer can be traced along either side of the row and worked in 3-4 inches from the plants. Too much nitrogen encourages foliage growth and not pods. Peas need constant soil moisture to keep developing well, and the ground should be watered when there is a lack of rainfall.

Storage Requirements
Blanch shelled regular peas, whole snap peas, and snow peas before freezing.
TemperatureHumidityStorage Life
32 F95 - 98%1 - 2 weeks
MethodTasteShelf Life
CannedGood12+ months
FrozenExcellent12+ months
DriedGood12+ months

Harvesting Peas

Peas are ready to harvest in approximately 60-70 days. When pods of the peas appear to be swelling with rounded pea forms visible, they are ready for picking. Take a test picking every day or so, and note the appearance of the pods with the sweetest peas. If the pods are left on the vines too long, they become tough and starchy. Pick black-eyed peas slightly before maturity. They should still be a light green with a purplish eye. They are still easy to shell at this stage and taste delicious. Pick the pods just before cooking, since they, like corn, deteriorate quickly after harvest. Choose a cool morning, not the heat of the day, or just after a cooling rain. The edible pod peas should be picked when the pods are well developed, but before they become swollen with the outline of peas.

Peas usually develop from the bottom of the vine up. Pull firmly but gently, and hold the vine with one hand so it is not jarred loose from its support when picking. When peas start to ripen, pick them often, and pull all ripe pods present each time to encourage the development of more pods; otherwise the crop stops developing. You can pick peas for about 2 weeks once they start coming. After the harvest, turn under the plant residues to improve the soil.

Pests for Peas

  • Pea aphids -rotenone or pyrethrum

Diseases of Peas

  • Damping off -Buy treated seed
  • Downy mildew – Grow resistant varieties (green arrow)
  • Fusarium wilt – Grow resistant varieties

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