The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Time to Plant Peas

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

If you are so anxious to plant something now that you are contemplating the germination potential of the poppy seeds on your breakfast muffin, peas are your spring fever cure. They take the cold, look lovely and are tasty too. Plus they grow before any self-respecting insect pest emerges.

Peas can be planted as early as March 1 in our area. They germinate best when soil temperatures are at least 45 degrees F. Usually the seeds are sown directly into the garden. If it's particularly cold and wet, they can be started indoors in individual pots. They can also be pre-germinated in a moist paper towel in a warm spot indoors. Once the roots emerge in a few days, the seeds need to be planted immediately into the garden or into pots. Peas are planted 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and one inch apart in single or double rows.

For gardening purposes, peas are classified as garden peas (English peas), snap peas and snow peas (sugar peas). The Southern pea (cowpea) is an entirely different warm-season vegetable that is planted and grown in the same manner as beans.

English peas are grown for the immature seed and the outside pod is tossed into the compost pile. English pea varieties have smooth or wrinkled seeds. The smooth-seeded varieties tend to have more starch than the wrinkled-seeded varieties. The wrinkled-seeded varieties are generally sweeter and usually preferred for home use. The smooth-seeded types are used more often to produce ripe seeds that are used like dry beans and to make split-pea soup.

English peas must be shelled before eating. They are harvested once the peas are fully mature, but before the pea seeds are hard. Peas are best picked and shelled immediately before cooking unless they have been grown as a dry pea. They can also be canned or frozen for later use. Good varieties for our area include: Daybreak (54 days to harvest, 20 to 24 inches tall, good for freezing); Spring (57 days, 22 inches tall, dark green freezer peas); Sparkle (60 days to harvest, 18 inches tall, good for freezing); Little Marvel (63 days, 18 inches tall, holds on the vine well); Green Arrow (68 days, 28 inches tall, pods in pairs, fungal disease resistant); Wando (70 days, 24-30 inches, withstands some heat, best variety for late spring planting).

Snap peas are similar to English peas but the pod is eaten along with the immature seeds inside. Late harvests can be shelled and eaten as garden peas. Good varieties of snap peas include: Sugar Bon (59 days to harvest, 18-24 inches, resistant to powdery mildew); Early Snap and Sugar Ann (60 days, 20 inches); Sugar Daddy (72 days, 24-30 inches, stringless) and Sugar Snap (74 days, 5-6 feet, needs trellis or fence).

Snow peas are meant to be harvested as flat, tender pods before the peas inside get bigger than BBs. Pods are great stir fried, steamed or eaten right off the vine. The tender shoots (called Dow miu) and leaf buds are also eaten.

Varieties for our area include: Snowbird (58 days to harvest, 18 inches tall, double or triple pods in clusters); Dwarf Gray Sugar (65 days, 24 to 30 inches); Snowflake (72 days, 22 inches; high yield).

Even though smaller varieties are called self supporting, they perform better if given some support. Trimmings of tree branches stuck in the ground at planting time are enough. Taller varieties need a simple trellis or let them scramble through a chain link fence. Peas should be harvested every day or so to keep the vines productive.

An excellent reference Vegetable Gardening in the Midwest By C.E. Voigt and J.S. Vandemark. Also check out the U of I Extension website hort corner

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