- Pisum sativa
Peas are a frost-hardy cool season vegetable that you can grow here
in early spring and during fall and early winter. You can begin
planting peas when the soil temperature reaches at least 45°F
– usually sometime in mid-February.
Peas date back in history to the beginnings of agriculture and
beyond – at least 9,000 years. They are thought to have been
first cultivated in the region that is today northern India and
were grown for drying and storage – often referred to as “pulses”
they were the staple food for many. Of course, today’s varieties
barely resemble those early cultivars. When we think of peas, it
is usually the sweet fresh green stage, with or without edible pods.
However, those early peas had a lower sugar content than the cultivars
we usually grow today.
Terminology in pea varieties differs some from catalog to catalog,
but usually falls into three basic categories.
Shelling Peas – varieties developed
for producing fresh green peas (shelled). They can also be left
to maturity, shelled and dried for storage. They are best harvested
when the seeds are fully developed or slightly before. Shelled peas
are a little like corn – the sugars turn to starch quickly,
so don’t store them long in the frig.
Edible Pod or Sugar Peas –
varieties developed to produce edible fruit – seeds and pods.
They are best harvested when the seeds are forming, but before fully
developed in the pod.
Snow Peas or Chinese Peas –
varieties developed to produce an edible pod. They are best harvested
when the pods are fully formed, but the seeds are just beginning
to show. When the pods begin to curl their flavor declines.
Within these categories, your choices range from tall to short
to dwarf growth form. Selecting the varieties that fit your gardening
situation may require some trial and error.
Planting and Timing
Although peas seeds will germinate at 45°F, you will have much
better germination in soil temperatures between 55-65°F. For
a spring crop plant peas in mid-February, which will give you the
60-70 days required until harvest - May temperatures can get to
the upper 90s, which reduces the flavor of most varieties. If you
are late getting started, the shelling pea variety “Alaska”
and the edible pod variety “Cascadia” both holds their
flavor in the heat and produces well here.
For a fall and winter crop of peas, begin planting in August. Mulch
the soil well to reduce temperatures and conserve moisture in the
Peas grow best when sown 1-1 ½ “deep and 2-3”
apart. Providing trellis support even for short varieties will increase
yields considerably and prove well worth the effort. I plant peas
on a 4-5” grid in broad beds as well as in rows and use bushy
branches stuck in the soil for a trellis.
For fall and winter crops you might want to explore some of the
“powdery mildew” resistant varieties – as that
can be a problem here in early fall as nighttime temperatures drop
If you have not planted peas in the space before, you will have
a much better harvest if you inoculate the seed before planting.
Be sure to purchase inoculants for peas, not for beans or clover
or some other legume type. If you have grown peas in the space before,
inoculating again is not important.
Down Below – Peas and Roots
Besides being tasty and easy to grow, peas are good for your garden
soil. As a member of the Legume family, they form special associations
with bacteria in the soil that enables the plants to fix nitrogen
– to take nitrogen from the air trapped in the soil pores
and convert it into a form that the plants can use. These rhizobia
bacterial enter the hair roots and reproduce, eventually forming
nodules within the roots. If you see lumpy nodules on the roots
of peas and beans, it is most likely rhizobium nodules and not root-knot
nematodes nodules. Soil temperatures above 80°F, water stress
and/or soils rich in nitrogen will reduce nodule formation.
Although peas can send roots down to 4 feet, most of the root growth
is in the top 12” of soil, so you can grow them in pots in
a sunny location. Because of this shallow rooting, peas can be easily
water stressed and disturbed by cultivating – particularly
in late spring.
For a food that is easy to grow, easy to eat and good for the soil,
try one or more of the many varieties of garden peas showing up
in the annual flood of seed catalogues.
Good Gardening and Good Eating,
Doña Ana Extension Master Gardener