Peas are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a garden or even in containers, if you remember to plant them early. They do not like our hot summers, but don’t mind light frosts, so they should be planted in March or early April so they can grow, bloom and be harvested before the heat of late June and July. A second crop can be started in mid to late August but results will depend upon our unpredictable late fall weather.
People have been enjoying garden peas Pisum sativum for over 8000 years; there are recipes calling for peas in ancient Roman cookbooks. They were a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who grew many varieties in his home garden. And, of course, the monk, Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, used peas for his famous experiments.
Besides being delicious, peas are a good source of fiber, folic acid and Vitamin A. Peas come in four common types. The standard garden or English peas are the familiar green peas you buy frozen or canned. They are picked when the shells are filled out but the peas inside are still tender and sweet. Once they start to form pods, test them for ripeness every day. Peas should be picked while they are still sweet, but before they become starchy which can happen in a day or two. The sugars in peas turn to starch within a few hours after they are picked, so pick them just before they are to be shelled and used. If this is not possible, cool them in ice water as soon as they are picked, drain, and keep refrigerated. Petit pois are a type of garden pea with very tiny small peas. A second type is dry or field peas. They are allowed to mature before harvesting and dried for making pea soup and other cold weather dishes.
A third type is the snow pea pods common in Asian dishes. The flat pods are picked before the peas develop and are most often used in stir fries, and sometimes raw in salads. The final type is edible pod or snap peas, developed in the last century. They can be cooked or eaten raw, pod and all, when the peas are filling out but not yet mature, similar to green beans. Most of mine get eaten while I am still in the garden. Both snow and snap peas may have strings which need to be removed before eating. Pea shoots, about 6 inches long, can be trimmed from younger plants and used in salads or lightly steamed or sautéed. Pea tendrils, just the very tips of the growing plants are now popular in salads and as a garnish.
Before planting your peas, decide which variety you want to grow and how tall they will grow. Some varieties can grow as bushes with little support; others will require trellises of chicken wire or netting. Bush varieties are often determinant, meaning they will produce all their peas about the same time, many of the taller varieties will continue to have peas as long as the weather remains cool. Some of the newer varieties are nearly leafless which makes it easier to see the pea pods and are also good for harvesting tendrils, if you want to try them in salads. Whatever type you choose, varieties that are resistant to root rot and powdery mildew will have fewer disease problems.
To increase germination, soak your seeds for an hour or two before planting. Plant the seeds as soon as the ground can be worked. Be careful not to plant in very wet soil, let it dry out before planting. Poke the seeds into the soil 1-2 inches deep and 2 inches apart in double rows about 6-8 inches apart with a trellis, if necessary, down the center. Leave 18 inches between each double row. Depending on the temperature, it may take nine days to two weeks for the peas to germinate, but you should be able to harvest them about 60 days after planting. Light frosts will not hurt, but summer’s heat will end the harvest. In this area, peas usually do not need to be irrigated, but give them water if the ground gets very dry. It is best not to water while the peas are in flower as this reduces the number of pods that set.
Peas are susceptible to root fungus, so do not plant them in the same spot again for four years to minimize disease. You can plant fast growing spring vegetables like radishes or spinach between the rows to save space. Once the peas are harvested by mid June, cut off or pull up the plants and replant with vegetables that enjoy our hot summer weather. In my garden the major pests are birds that seem to enjoy peas as much as I do.
It’s not too late to sign up for the last two sessions of the Home Horticulture Series. On March 17th is “The Galling of America,” presented by Joe Boggs, Extension Educator, OSU Extension, Hamilton County. On March 24th is “Rain Barrels & Rain Gardens,” presented by Lynn White, Kelly Crout and Beth Downs of the Butler Soil & Water Conservations District. At this session, for an additional fee, you can make your own rain barrel. Call (513) 887-3722 for more information and/or to register.
For more information on home, lawn, indoor, or outdoor garden care and tips, as well as other garden topics, visit www.ohioline.com and click on the Yard and Garden link, or call the OSU Extension, Butler County, at (513) 887-3722, or in Middletown at (513) 424-5351, ext. #3722.
News Release provided by Kathy Maurer.