Peas are often the first thing that gets planted in my garden each year. I am talking about garden peas, like English peas or sugar peas. I am not talking about southern peas like black eyed peas… they love hot weather. Garden peas do not like our hot summer weather in the Carolinas. Plus, they are not bothered by frost or light freezes. Pea blossoms can be damaged by cold weather, so they grow best in late winter into spring as opposed to fall into winter.
Since peas wilt when it gets hot, we want to time the plant to be done and harvested in April, before it gets hot. Different pea varieties are ready to harvest between 55 and 70 days… so to harvest peas before it gets too hot, you will need to plant your seeds around February 1st. It’s ok to plant pea seeds as early as mid-January… however if you wait until mid-February, you run a greater risk of hot weather killing the plants before you get any peas.
When choosing which pea to plant, you have a choice between an English pea, that you have to shell and only eat the seed, or a pea with an edible pod like a snap or snow pea.
Planting peas is easy. Each seed should be planted one inch deep and two inches apart. Common planting methods include a single row of seeds, a double row 2-4 inches apart, or a wide row which would be 6-18 inches wide with seeds randomly scattered in the row then covered with 1 inch of soil.
Regardless of how your peas are planted, rows should be spaced two feet apart.
Peas do best when they get to climb up something. It also makes it easier to find and harvest the pea pods. A trellis, netting or wires works great for the pea tendrils to cling to and grow vertically. Make sure you read your seed packet to find out how tall your seed variety will grow to know how tall your support system needs to be. Also, be sure to install the support before the peas start to grow to avoid damaging the roots.
Peas are legumes, and make their own nitrogen, so they are great plants for the garden, and will improve your soil. Remember while fertilizing that peas do not need nitrogen and giving them too much will actually reduce pod production.
When watering peas, it is best to water in the morning, so that the plant is dry by nightfall. Also, a good soaking will encourage the roots to grow deeper, which will help the plant when it gets hot. 2-3 inches of organic mulch material like pine stray or shredded leaves around the plants will help keep the soil cool and moist.
Pick the peas when the plants are dry to avoid spreading plant disease. Use two hands and be gentle when picking the pods. If you are too rough, you could damage the plant or even pull the roots out of the ground.
The sugar in peas turns to starch very quickly, so it is best to eat, freeze or can the peas as soon as possible. They are most delicious right after you pick them. Enjoy!