Some say President’s Day, others say St. Patrick’s Day. Any way you look at it, prime pea planting time is upon us. There’s no better way to give your gardening muscles a wake-up call before spring has fully sprung than to plant a couple rows of peas. It’s a springtime ritual here in the Northwest and one of the most satisfying vegetables to plant with kids. The pods are not only fun to find and open, tender sweet peas are an ideal snack for a warm day in the garden.
The soil should be Goldilocks-perfect — not too cold and not too hot — somewhere around 50 degrees, damp but not too wet. As far as your planting spot goes, four hours of sunlight is sufficient, six even better. Once they’ve germinated and grown a couple of inches, you can keep the soil cool with straw or shredded leaf mulch. This will also help keep the pods drier and cleaner as they ripen. The good news is that peas along with other legumes don’t need excessively rich soil. They feed themselves by pulling nitrogen from the air and storing it in nodules that grow on their roots. Bone meal added to the soil can be beneficial but lots of fancy fertilizers aren’t necessary. As long as the soil is well-drained, there’s no need to rototill, which I never do anyway. Just scratch out a shallow furrow and plant the seed 1 – 1 1/2″ deep and 1″ apart. You should start seeing their little heads poke out in 6 to 14 days. Oh, and don’t bother to thin peas because they grow better in thick stands.
For the highest yield, you can buy a packet of a specially formulated inoculant, a bacteria that helps the plant receive proper nutrition. This is especially helpful if you’re planting in a brand new garden spot. Simply coat the seeds by gently shaking in a jar or bag with the inoculant or sprinkle some of the powder into the planting furrow. Just make sure the powder has contact with your seed.
Peas, both vining and bush types, need support. Staking helps to keep them cleaner and safer from insects and mildew. I found some ideas for very cool pea trellises in the latest issue of Organic Gardening magazine. Those of us that have been at this for years may remember this incredible resource. (In the 1940′s, J. I. Rodale offered “life subscriptions to Organic Gardening at $35 each saying “Regardless of your age, you will receive the magazine for the rest of your life.” Twenty-five of these subscriptions are still active – most of which must have been given as gifts to young people. What a gift!) When pea season is over, you can use your trellis for cucumbers.
Knowing which varieties to grow can be confusing since there are shelling peas, sugar snaps and snow peas. In my experience, sugar snaps are the easiest to grow and obviously don’t require the time spent shelling. Even so, I love the taste of shelling peas and will plant those instead. You can extend your pea season by planting two different varieties, an early and a later type or plant some seeds and then more of the same a week or two later.
Seattle Tilth is having an early spring edible plant sale this year on March 20 from 9-2 at Magnuson Park. Their plant list is a wonderful resource if you’re trying to decide what to plant in your garden. They’ll have 6 different varieties of peas, all of which sound interesting. If March 20th rolls around and you haven’t gotten a chance to plant your own seeds, you still have a chance at having a pea crop. Some of their varieties are ornamental and could be fun to try as part of an edible landscape even if you have the more common types in your vegetable garden.
I promise to have some recipes for you once the peas begin to ripen in about 2 – 2 1/2 months. That is, if they all don’t get eaten before they make it into the kitchen.
Here’s Krista’s newly constructed pea trellis to give you some inspiration.