Peas come in two categories. (1) Cool weather types. (2) Warm weather types.
The Cool weather varieties thrive in cool weather and young plants will tolerate light frosts. Once germinated, peas adapt well to the cold, damp climate of early spring. Peas must be planted as early as possible in the spring to get a full harvest before hot summer temperatures arrive and put an end to production. Plant peas about a month prior to your last average frost date.
Note: For a fall crop, you’ll have to nurse the seedlings through late summer heat with shade and diligent watering and mulching until cool weather arrives.
Days to maturity listed on the seed packets are calculated from the date of direct seeding, but soil temperature determines how long it takes for pea seeds to germinate.
For example, if the soil is 40F(4.5C) degrees, pea seeds may take more than a month to sprout, while at 60F(15.5C) degrees or above, they take about a week. So, the days to maturity can be very misleading. Caution: Use this information only as a guide for determining early, midseason, and late varieties.
Peas prefer a fertile, sandy loam that drains well, but will tolerate most soils except heavy, impermeable clay. Work in plenty of compost to keep the soil friable. A pH level of 6.0-7.5 is preferred. Where soil is very acidic, apply dolomite or agricultural lime.
Cool weather varieties include but are not limited to ‘Garden peas’, English peas, Snap peas, Snow peas, Sugar peas, Sugar snap peas.
Sow peas thickly (many people recommend) planting in wide rows. Peas grown close together shade out weeds, keep the soil cool helping to increase yields, and make the most efficient use of garden space.
Simply broadcast the seed in the row, allowing the seeds to fall as they may, some even touching. Cover with an inch of soil in the spring or two inches of soil in the summer for your fall crop. Don’t thin the pea plants when they germinate.
Don’t over fertilize. Peas are light feeders and don’t generally require fertilizer. In fact, too much nitrogen will make the plants develop lush foliage at the expense of pod production and be more susceptible to frost damage.
Watering your pea patch. Water deeply once a week. Never allow the soil to dry out totally or you’ll drastically reduce pea production. The critical time for watering is when the plants are blossoming and producing pods. When pods are maturing in hot weather, water daily if needed to maintain pod quality.
Hints: Use Raised beds: to get peas in the ground and germinating as early as possible in the spring, raised beds warm up faster than the surrounding ground.
Legume inoculant? Like other members of the legume family, peas have a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobia bacteria that colonize the roots of the plants and help them ‘fix’ nitrogen in the soil. After soaking the seeds overnight in lukewarm water, drain them and sprinkle an inoculant over them just before planting. This will boost the pea plants and produce higher yields.
Using Mulch. Because peas’ feeder roots run shallow, mulch is essential to keep the soil around the roots moist and cool. When the seedlings are two inches tall, apply a mulch of clean straw, chopped leaves, or compost. As the pea plants mature, you can add more mulch as needed.
Using Support(trellis). All peas, even the dwarf varieties, grow best with support. Peas are productive and less susceptible to rot if given some support or, for taller varieties, planted along a fence or trellis. Interlace untreated twine between posts to act as a trellis. At the end of the season, just cut down the twine, pea vines and all, and toss on the compost pile. Use broken tree branches shoved into the soil of the pea bed to provide support for the ‘bush’ types.
To determine when to pick shell peas, check the pods. If the pod is round, has a nice sheen, and is bright green, it’s ready. If the seeds have made ridges on the pod and the pod is a dull green, it’s past its prime. You can pick snap and snow snap peas at any time, but they’re tastiest when the pods still have some play around the peas when you squeeze the pods.
Hint: Pick snow peas before the peas start to enlarge in the pods.
Pick pods carefully. Pea stems snap easily and the root systems aren’t very deep. If you are not careful, you can damage the plant or even pull it out of the soil. Use both hands one to hold the vine and the other to pinch off the pods.
Frequent harvesting will increase yields. When the harvest starts, spring or fall, pick every other day to keep the pea plants in production. Picking frequency definitely affects total yields. Pick any pods that are overly mature, if left on the vine they will decrease your yield.
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