Growing Garden Peas Successfully Is All About The Timing

Peas are the earliest vegetable in my garden.

It is a delightful vegetable to plant because just when you think winter is never going to be over, the snow melts and you can immediately plant. The plant, with its small white or purple flowers, wonderfully strong tendrils for climbing, and bountiful harvest is one of the wonders of the early garden. The nice thing about this vegetable is that they are almost a plant-and-forget-them type of crop. The only real work is ensuring the weeds are kept at bay and harvesting those long tender pods.

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Pea flowers


I'm sure if you remember your high school biology- and who would want to forget those high school lessons- you'll remember Gregor Mendel and his experiments.

In fact, Pere Mendel was a newcomer to this vegetable.

Ancient Peas

Archeologists have discovered peas in tombs from as far back as 1450 BC in Troy but nobody really knows when people started to grow them. According to Chinese legend, the Emperor Shen Nung discovered the vegetable nearly 5000 years ago.

In the European Middle Ages, they were stored, dried and used as a hedge against food storages and famines. Because the seed will store indefinitely, it was a staple food for colonists in North America.

Modern Peas

The pea as we know it was developed in England and with the structure and location of modern varity flowers, the plant is self-pollinating while still in bud. Modern breeders have developed plants with improved vigor, disease resistance, flavour and keeping qualities, not to mention increasing yields by impressive amounts.

The biggest improvement came when Calvin Lamborn, a plant scientist discovered an unusual form in his trial beds that came to be known as "snap" peas. After rigorous testing and further development, ‘Sugar Snap' won the 1979 All America Awards.

Snap pea is the working name for our edible-podded sugar peas. These are wonderful pods for fresh eating (as some of my kids discovered and used to wander about the farm with pockets and hats stuffed with freshly raided pods for snacks).

You can also cook them in stir-fries or shell and cook them as normal.

Preferred Location

Your preferred garden site for growing great plants is one in full sunlight or at the very least, a full six hours of hot sun. This plant grows well in almost every kind of soil although they prefer a sandier soil with good drainage. Improving the soil will increase the yield and the easiest way to do this is to add organic matter.

Add as much as you can afford and dig or turn this into the soil to a depth of six inches. Like most vegetables, stay away from fresh manure if you have access to it. Use the composted manures freely.

Peas, like the bean, are legumes. This means they have the ability to "fix" or create nitrogen in the soil and leave it richer than before they were planted. Nodules on the roots store any excess nitrogen produced by the plant and as the roots decompose, the nitrogen is released to the soil.

At the end of the growing season, the vines can be simply dug into the soil; there is little reason to compost them.

The easiest way to grow them is to sow the seed directly into well-dug and prepared garden soil. Peas are quite frost tolerant and germinate well in cold soil.

The easiest way to calculate your date of sowing is to count back four to six weeks from your last expected frost date (we normally figure May 17) so planting on St. Patrick's Day makes some sense (always assuming the and having a saint's help can't hurt in our gardening ventures.

Sow seeds of dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties one inch deep. Plant two rows a few inches apart and then leave twenty-four inches between these double rows.

Seeds should be planted three to four inches apart in the row. Sow seeds of taller varieties one inch deep in single rows with each seed two inches apart in the rows that are twenty-four inches apart. You can let them grow without support but you'll find the pods are easier to find and harvest if they are grown up a fence.

The easiest thing to do is use some old fencing or piles of brush to support the vines. The seeds will start better if you water them right after you sow them. Seeds germinate in seven to ten days and you do not need to thin seedlings, just let them grow.

Some people start their seeds indoors but this is a whole bunch of work that usually doesn't pay off.

Don't bother buying them in garden centres either, a pack of seeds is cheaper and more effective.

To get more peas, plant a succession of sowings every two weeks until the middle of May. Or, you can obtain early and late harvesting varieties and sow them all together. To increase the harvest, consider mulching the plants. This will keep the soil cool and moist. Fertilize with compost. Water if the soil is dry, remember that peas are mostly water and your harvest will be much higher if the peas are not water-starved.

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Other than that dad-watted-wabbit, there are remarkably few pests of peas.

Aphids might be a problem but a sharp spray of water will knock them off. And harvesting them is done by judging colour and touch- the plump pods are best judged by touch. And the best thing to do is harvest them right before you want to use them to maximize the sweetness and tenderness

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