Peas: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Growing, Storing, and Cooking with Peas

Peas

Peas prefer cool weather, so they do best when grown in the spring or early fall. There are several types of peas. Snow peas have tender edible pods, which are often used in stir fries. Snap peas have crisp, edible pods, but the sweet peas can also be removed and eaten on their own if you allow them to mature fully. English peas (also known as shell peas) develop big round peas that should be removed from their pods, because the pods are tough and fibrous. In addition to growing peas for their seeds and pods, you can grow them for their green shoots, which are delicious in salads.

There are two types of pea plants: bush and pole. Bush varieties provide ripe peas earlier, but pole types produce more abundant and longer-lasting harvests. Most home gardeners grow the pole type, whereas the bush types are more often grown by commercial growers, though some home gardeners plant bush types early in the season for an early harvest.

Peas require support to grow, so you’ll need to add stakes, a trellis, or some other support system. Add your support structure before planting, because if you do it after the seeds have sprouted, you might damage their roots.

What are the health benefits of peas?

Peas are an excellent source of protein and fiber (which help to regulate digestion rate and blood sugar), and like other high-protein, high-fiber foods, they provide a feeling of fullness without too many calories, so they’re a good choice for those who want to lose weight.

Peas also contain vitamins C, B6, and K, as well as folate, iron, and a variety of phytochemicals that help to protect against cancer (especially stomach cancer) and other diseases. In addition, peas have anti-inflammatory effects due to their omega-3 fatty acid content.

When should I plant peas?

Peas can be planted in the early spring and late summer (specific dates will depend on your climate and last and first frost dates).

The spring crop should be planted 4-6 weeks before the last frost date and the fall crop should be planted 12 weeks before the first frost date so that they can ripen in time. You can start your spring planting a bit earlier if you use protection, such as cloches, or you’re growing peas in containers that can be placed in a warmer, sheltered spot and your climate isn’t too cold or wet.

You can grow peas throughout the summer in milder climates, but plant them in the coolest spot in the garden if you want to grow them in hotter temperatures.

Peas require a minimum temperature of around 35 degrees Fahrenheit to sprout. Good growing temperatures for peas range from 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit (13-21 degrees Celsius), with 60-65 degrees being ideal. When temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit and above, pea plants will usually stop producing.

Succession sow peas every 2-4 weeks for a continuous crop.

Some gardeners soak pea seeds overnight before planting to speed up the germination process.

Where should I plant peas?

Plant peas in a sunny, sheltered spot (high winds can damage plants that are not sheltered).

Peas are usually direct sown outdoors because they dislike transplanting. However, some gardeners start their peas indoors to get an earlier start on the growing season, and to protect the seeds from birds, rodents, and soggy conditions. If you want to try this, grow individual plants in soil blocks or cell packs to minimize root disturbance when you put them outdoors, and harden them off by putting them outside for increasingly long daytime sessions each day before transplanting.

Some gardeners get a head start by pre-sprouting their peas (placing pea seeds in a plastic bag, spritzing them with water, closing the bag, and waiting a few days). Once the peas begin to sprout, they can be planted outdoors around an inch deep. If you do this, handle them gently, as the sprouts can be easily damaged.

How far apart should I plant peas?

Plant peas 2-3 inches apart. If planting in rows, leave at least 4-6 inches of space between them. You can grow approximately 8 pea plants per square foot.

How deep should I plant peas?

Plant peas 1-2 inches deep.

How long do peas take to sprout?

This will vary based on the temperature. In warmer temperatures, seeds may sprout in as few as 6 days. In cooler temperatures, they can take weeks.

How big do pea plants get?

Pea plants can grow anywhere from 1-6 feet tall and from a few inches to 2 feet wide. The vine types grow taller, whereas the bush types tend to grow wider.

What type of soil do peas need?

Peas prefer soil that has a pH in the range of 5.8 to 7.0 (neutral to slightly acidic), is rich in organic matter (compost), and well-drained so that the plants don’t get water-logged. Loamy soil is ideal. Dig in a couple of inches of compost before planting.

If your soil is compacted, loosen it before planting.

Can I grow peas in a container?

Yes, peas do well in sufficiently large containers. The minimum container depth for success with peas is 8 inches. Pea roots don’t go that deep, but they spread out horizontally, so a wider container is ideal.

Can I grow peas in the shade?

Peas can be grown in partial shade (only a few hours of sun per day), but the yield will not be as high, and they may not be as sweet.

Should I fertilize peas?

Peas actually add nitrogen to the soil, enriching it for future crops, so it’s a good idea to grow leafy crops such as lettuce in a spot where peas were recently grown. However, peas don’t actually produce nitrogen. They host nitrogen-fixing bacteria that can usually be found in the soil, but if this bacteria isn’t in the soil to begin with, pea plants will remove nitrogen just like other plants. You can ensure that this helpful bacteria is present by inoculating your pea seeds before planting (you can buy the inoculant from garden stores in the form of a dust that can be used to coat the seeds or granules that you mix with the soil).

Nitrogen-rich soils and fertilizers can actually be a problem, because too much nitrogen will encourage pea plants to put more energy into growing lots of leaves rather than pea pods. However, pea plants do require phosphorus and potassium. If you’re starting with good soil, you shouldn’t need to add anything, but if your soil is poor and therefore likely to be deficient in these nutrients, ask for fertilizer recommendations from your local garden center, or add some liquid seaweed fertilizer.

What ongoing care do peas need?

Weed regularly by hand when the plants are small. Once they reach full size, they usually compete well with weeds. You can apply a mulch to discourage weeds and conserve moisture.

Pinch off the tops if the peas grow taller than your supports – this tender new growth is edible and quite delicious in salads.

Water regularly if you’re not getting regular rainfall. If the plants dry out, your harvest will be disappointing. Regular watering is particularly critical when the plants are flowering. On the other hand, overwatering in a rainy climate creates a risk that the plants will develop mildew or root rot. If you’re not sure whether to water, dig your fingers a few inches into the soil when the topsoil looks dry; if the soil is also dry several inches down, add water.

How long do peas take to grow?

Sugar and snow peas take approximately 8 weeks to ripen, and English peas require around 10 weeks. The harvest period typically lasts for 4-6 weeks.

When do I harvest peas!

Harvest snow peas when the pods have stopped lengthening, snap peas either at the pod stage or after the peas have filled out (whichever you prefer), and English peas when the seeds have swollen to full size. It’s important to harvest at the right time, because peas are at their peak flavour for a short window of time, after which they become starchy and their pods develop a leathery texture. If you’re not sure whether your peas are ready to harvest, taste them at different stages.

Harvest regularly, as this will encourage the plants to produce more pods, and eat them the day you harvest them for best flavour, because the sugars in peas begin to break down after picking (they become less sweet and more starchy).

Pods mature from the bottom of the plant upwards, so check the lower parts of the plants for mature pods. If you don’t pick all of the pods and some mature completely on the plant, the plant may stop producing because it has achieved its goal of making fully grown seeds for the next generation.

When harvesting, either cut the pods off with scissors or hold the vine while pulling the pod off so that the plant isn’t yanked in the process. Peas  have shallow roots that can be damaged easily.

You can also harvest the tips of the growing vines at any time. They’re great in salads and stir fries.

When the harvest is finished, cut the plants off above the roots and leave the roots in the ground to rot (this keeps the nitrogen in the ground). You can either compost the tops of the plants or dig them into the soil to enrich it directly by decaying on site.

Why didn’t my pea seeds sprout?

There are a few possibilities. In wet, soggy conditions, pea seeds can rot in the ground. They may also be eaten by rodents or birds. If you suspect that your pea seeds are being eaten, use netting or cloches to protect them.

Why do my pea plants have white patches on them?

Peas can be infected with mildew (which manifests as white or gray fuzzy patches). Mildew is particularly like to attack plants that grow in damp conditions.

To reduce the risk of mildew, grow resistant varieties, space plants further apart, weed regularly to allow for better air circulation, and water the base of your plants rather than spraying water over the leaves.

If your plants are showing signs of mildew, remove any leaves that are heavily infected and dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in a quart (4 cups) of water and spray the mixture over the rest of the leaves. You may need to do this every few days.

How can I get rid of aphids on my peas?

The best and safest way to remove aphids is to spray them off with a hose. You can reduce aphid populations in your garden by growing plants that attract aphid predators, such as ladybugs (see the ladybug plant gallery). For more non-toxic garden pest solutions, see Natural Garden Pest Control.

Why are my pea plants yellowing or turning streaky and dying?

There are a couple of common culprits. Fusarium wilt causes the leaves of pea plants to turn yellow and the plants to become stunted and eventually wilt. Mosaic virus (enation virus), a disease spread by aphids, also causes pea plants to become stunted, and their leaves to develop mottling and pale streaks or translucent patches and warty lumps. There are other viruses and fungi that can infect pea plants as well.

To reduce the risk of diseases, grow peas in a different spot each year, grow them early in the season when temperatures are cooler (before the aphids show up), remove infected plants immediately, control aphids, and grow resistant varieties.

How do I store peas, and how long will they keep?

You can keep peas in a plastic bag or container in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks, but they won’t taste very good if you don’t eat them soon after harvesting (if you’re storing the shelling type, don’t shell them until you’re ready to eat them). Peas quickly lose their sweetness, so if you don’t plan to consume them within a day of picking, the best way to store them is to freeze them. Blanch the pods or individual peas, spread them out on a tray to freeze, and then transfer them to a sealed container for long-term freezing, where they will keep for up 12 months if they stay frozen and the container is completely airtight.

How do I save pea seeds?

Saving pea seeds is easy. Just let the pods mature and dry on the vine. If you live in a very rainy climate, cut the pea vines and dry them in a sheltered spot.

Once the pods are completely dry and brown, remove the seeds and store them in a cool, dry place.

Pea varieties will cross-pollinate, so if you are likely to have more than one variety flowering at the same time and you want to save seeds, you should have them separated by at least 150 feet.

Pea seeds, if properly stored, should keep for around 2 years.

How do I cook peas?

Pea pods can be eaten raw as a snack on their own or with dip, or added to salads and stir fries. For a healthy, low-fat option, sauté peas in a few tablespoons of chicken or vegetable broth for three minutes.

For pea recipes, see BBC Goodfood’s Pea Recipes, Bon Appetite’s 10 Things to Do with Frozen Peas, The Guardian’s 10 Best Pea Recipes, and Saveur’s Recipes for Young Green Peas.

For more vegetable and herb gardening articles, see the main Gardening page.

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