Peas are always one of the first vegetables I plant in the spring. As soon as there's a sunny day in late February or March, I bundle up and head out to the garden to sow snap and shelling peas along trellises in my raised beds.
Peas are easy and rewarding to grow. Honestly, there's nothing more astonishing than the difference in flavor between sweet, crisp home-grown peas and the soggy, bland frozen or canned peas found at the supermarket. Are they really the same vegetable? I'm not convinced. I'm a staunch believer in eating peas raw; I eat most of my harvest right off the vine.
You might not "make friends with salad" but peas are another story. According to my grandmother, whenever she planted peas along the fence in her backyard, usually private and busy neighbors would suddenly show up with time to chat, nonchalantly picking and eating peas as they talked. So, if you want the neighborhood gossip, planting peas is the way to go. Here's how to grow them.
- Snap peas: fat and juicy edible pods filled with peas.
- Snow peas: flat, edible pods with barely-formed peas that are quite good in stir-fry dishes.
- Shelling peas: well, the name says it all. Split mature pods open to harvest the sweet, plump peas inside.
Pre-planting, amend your soil with 1"-2" of a high-quality compost, digging it in at least 6" deep. You may also want to add a vegetable fertilizer or bone meal to the soil.
Ideally, plant in full sun. I've had success planting in part-sun locations as well. A little afternoon shade in the height of summer will help extend the season.
Plant anytime from mid-February through early April in the PNW, when soil temperature is at least 40 degrees. Look for enation-resistant* varieties, especially if you plant after mid-March.
Sow seeds according to packet directions. Generally, 1"-1 1/2" deep and between 1" and 3" apart. Optional: coat seeds with an inoculant - a powdered beneficial bacteria - to encourage strong roots and higher yields. If you choose to plant starts (baby plants), gently loosen the roots but don't worry about separating out the individual plants. Peas like to grow in thick clumps.
Water gently and deeply after sowing and keep the soil moist during germination. Then provide regular, deep watering. Always provide support (a trellis, fence, etc.) for climbing pea varieties or try the dwarf, bush varieties that don't need any extra support. Pea plants do not need to be thinned.
Pick peas regularly and they will keep producing through early to mid summer! If your snap peas have grown too large and are tough, you can use them as shelling peas and discard the pods.
I like to try new varieties this year and often sow seeds as well as plant starts. This year, I'm testing out 'Carruther's Purple-Podded Shelling Pea' seeds from Deep Harvest Farm on Whidbey Island and 'Magnolia Blossom Snap Pea' seeds from Renée's Garden Seeds. Both have bi-colored purple flowers! I'm also planting two of my old favorites: 'French Petits Pois Shelling Peas' (from starts) and 'Cascadia Snap Pea' seeds from Botanical Interests.
Here are a few other varieties we love:
- Snow Peas: 'Oregon Sugar Pod' and 'Oregon Sugar Pod II'
- Snap Peas: 'Sugar Ann', 'Sugar Snap' and 'Cascadia'
- Shelling Peas: 'Green Arrow' (heirloom) and 'Tom Thumb' (dwarf)
So, there you are. Now, go forth and plant some peas. And don't forget to fill me in on any neighborhood gossip you might hear along the way ;)
*Pea Enation Mosaic virus causes "windowing" of the leaves, giving them a mosaic-like look. It also distorts the pods and reduces yields.
Editor's Note: A version of this post was published in March 2015.