In my part of the country, peas are persnickety. The Rocky Mountains are characterized by unpredictable springs. One week we get two feet of snow, the next week we enjoy seventy-degree weather. We might go for weeks at a time with no rain in sight, or it might pour for days. When summer arrives, it arrives with a vengeance. Temperatures in the eighties and nineties are not uncommon in late May and June. Peas don’t appreciate all this variance. They prefer the “classic” spring weather – consistently cool and moist temperatures from March to May. If you have this type of spring weather, though, peas are a cinch to grow.
Peas are cool-season crops that thrive in moist, cool conditions. They can even tolerate light frosts. As soon as temperatures rise above seventy degrees, they become petulant and mopey. Plant peas in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. In cool climates, plant them in full sun. In warm climates, they can take a bit of shade. In fact, in the south, gardeners often sow peas in the fall and allow them to overwinter for an early spring crop.
For spring plantings, peas grow best in a slightly sandy loam soil enriched with plenty of manure or compost. If you try planting peas in the summer or fall, a heavier clay soil works better because it stays cooler. Either way, peas prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5. Lime soils that are more acidic.
Plant pea seeds one inch deep in the spring. If planting later, plant the seeds deeper, which will keep them cool and moist. Space seeds three inches apart, and thin the plants to six inches apart later. Most pea varieties need a support to grow on. You can grow peas on a fence, a trellis, or even branches poked in the ground.
Some pea varieties are compact bush types that don’t require support. These peas produce a smaller harvest, but in some ways, they are easier to grow. If you opt for bush peas, plant them in a wide row. Peas grown in a wide row produce a larger harvest and have fewer weed problems.
Mulch the soil with untreated grass clippings or straw when the peas stand six inches high. This mulch helps conserve moisture and keeps the soil cool longer. Speaking of moisture, water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. Peas won’t germinate well in dry soil, and if the soil dries later, the plants will yellow and produce dry pods.
Top dress peas with rotted manure or a little fish emulsion after they start blooming. While it’s true that peas can fix nitrogen in the soil, this process takes some time. Peas benefit from a little extra fertilizer during the season, but don’t overdo it, or you’ll end up with lots of vines and few peas.
Pests And Diseases
Peas have a few enemies in the garden, namely fungal diseases and insects, including pea aphids and pea weevils. To combat diseases, rotate your crops and plant resistant types. Some pea seeds are treated with fungicide. If you live in an area prone to disease, you may have to consider trying these. To thwart aphids, spray them with a steady stream of water or apply insecticidal soap. The tiny pests not only suck the juices from your pea plants, but they also spread mosaic virus. Pea weevils are tiny worms that burrow into the peas. Dust plants with lime to combat them, and destroy all infested crops.
Many gardeners till peas into the soil because they contain nitrogen – a good practice unless the peas were infected by a fungal disease. In this case, destroy the pea plants at the end of the harvest to prevent diseases from living on in the soil.
Once peas start to ripen, you need to act quickly. The time between sweet, succulent peas and dry, hard peas is brief. Pick English peas before the peas are fully formed within the pod for the sweetest flavor. Snap peas can be picked after the pods are full, but don’t wait too long. Remove over-mature peas from the vines and compost them.
In hot climates, try an early variety. Heat tolerant varieties are a must for the South. Bush peas are your best bet if you are working with a small space.