One of the earliest springs crops you can plant are peas. They have a very specific growing conditions and a short season but are always worth it. They are happiest in cool spring weather and dislike summer heat. While the plants are frost tolerate the flowers are not so fall plantings are not usually very productive.
In my garden the majority of peas are eaten fresh out of the pod. They are a delicious and sweet, healthy snack. I always try to shell a few batches of peas and cook them for a few meals, but they rarely make it that far. There is an amazing difference between steamed fresh and frozen peas. My last option, if any peas are remaining, is to try to freeze some. Truthfully the majority get eaten fresh. I never seem to have enough peas to preserve so I am always increasing my plantings.
Meet the Pea
Peas are part of a group of plants called legumes. Legumes bear pods with the seed inside. Peas are different from their other legume friends in that they can be enjoyed fresh. Other legumes like lentil, cow-peas, and beans are eaten dried.
There are Four Types of Peas:
Shelling peas: Shelling peas have rounded vibrant green pods with starchy, sweet, round peas inside. These peas are meant to be shelled from the pod. They can be enjoyed fresh, canned, cooked, or in soups.
Edible pod peas: These include snow peas which have flat pods with the peas visibly bulging from the pod. The pods are enjoyed fresh, in stir fry's, and salads.
Snap Peas: Snap peas have rounded edible pods. They are best when slightly cooked and eaten fresh. They develop a string that is easily removed by peeling it back from the pod.
Dried or Field Peas: These are allowed to mature in the pod until dry and stored and used in soups or stews.
|My spring garden. Snow peas are planted around small round tomato cages.|
The vine types vary in size some reaching 4-5 feet tall. They need trellising. Last year I grew Telegraph peas which mature to 5 ft. The trellis needs to be very sturdy so it will not blow over in the wind. The vine types are more productive because they a indeterminate meaning they produce flowers and fruit over an extended period.
Tall Telephone peas are a climber reaching 4-5' and are an heirloom dating back to 1881.
Peas as a Soil Builder
Peas and other legumes belong to the plant family known as the Fabaceae, which is also commonly called the bean family or the pulse family. In fact, commercial production of peas is commonly placed within the category of pulse production, and like its fellow legumes, peas are often referred to as "pulses."
Peas are the garden workhorse. They produce fruit and improve the soil. They belong to a unique group of plant called nitrogen fixing crops. This includes all legumes. They have a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that causes them to convert nitrogen gas into a usable form of nitrogen in the soil. Some gardeners inoculate the soil with the live rhizobial bacteria to further facilitate this process.
Another benefit is that once picked the pea plants break down quickly and can be worked into the soil. In order for your soil to benefit from the nitrogen fixing ability of peas always leave the roots to decompose in the soil. Clip the tops off and put them in the compost pile if you need the space to plant summer crops or incorporate the plant into the soil to decompose.
|I finally broke down puchased pea fences. They are great.|
As soon as the soil temperature warms to 40 degrees you can plant peas. That can be in late March or early April. I reccomend waiting until the soil is a little warmer because they germinate faster. Those planted too early will germinate but are slow.
You can make additional plantings through early May.
Plant the seed 3 times the size of the seed and space them 2 inches apart. I plant a row down both sides of the trellis. Trellises don't have to be vertical. I have used the small round tomatoes changes which are too flimsy for tomatoes but perfect for peas.
Peas do not need fertilizer if you properly prepare you beds each season. That means that each spring and fall you add compost and a dry organic fertilizer. If your beds are new you will need to work this into the soil but established healthy beds only need this applied to the surface. Preparing you beds in the fall means all you need to do is plant in the spring. Have a soil thermometer and when soil temps are between 40-50 degrees and your soil can be worked then go ahead and plant.
As soon as the pod begin to swell , it is time to harvest. Check daily. Peas left too long on the vine turn starchy and the pods become fiberous. On indeterminant vine types, frequent picking encourages more production.
The top 6 inches of the pea plant including the pea tendril can be cut and used in salads and stir fry's. They are sold in bunches at farmer's markets. Cascadia and Oregon Sugar Snaps are good varieties to use as pea tendrils. Make a specific planting to use in this manner because once you cut the tendrils they are not going to produce flowers and fruit.
Snow or edible pods: Oregon Sugar Pod II (OP), Avalanche
Shelling: Canoe (OP), Lincoln (OP), Green Arrow (OP), Maestro, Dakota (OP), Tall Telephone (H) 1881 this one is a climber 4-5'
Snap: Cascadia, (OP), Sugar Ann (OP),