Peas are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables with evidence that they were used as a food source as far back as ancient Egyptian times. Although it is technically a fruit peas are treated as a vegetable for cooking purposes and can be used in soups, salads, and stir-fry or as a side dish. They are easy to grow but their growing season is short as they don’t tolerate warmer temperatures too well. Over the years it has become traditional to plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day but you can plant them as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring as long as the soil is not too wet.
Peas can be grown in USDA Zones 3 through 11 which mean they can be grown just about anywhere in the United States. Peas can be categorized in several ways. Sometimes they are grouped based on how high they grow as there are very tall varieties and dwarf varieties as well. The most common categories usually center on their shell otherwise known as a pod:
- Garden Peas also known as Sweet Pea. The pods on these varieties are not edible.
- Snow Peas have an edible pod and the size of the pea inside the pod is small
- Snap Peas also have an edible pod but the size of the pea is much larger than a Snow Pea
Growing peas successfully requires some good advance planning. First, you want to choose a spot located in full sun with soil that drains well and doesn’t retain too much moisture. The soil doesn’t have to be overly rich but it should be loose and easy to work with in the spring. If your soil sticks to a shovel or requires a lot of effort to break up clumps than you’ll need to build it up by using materials such as compost. Sometimes it is better to prepare the soil in the fall so that it is ready to plant when spring arrives.
Peas can usually be planted 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Once the soil temperature is above 50 degrees you can plant the pea seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. If you get a late season snow don’t worry; your peas can take it. However, if you are hit by a large snow storm and the peas are buried for more than a few days you’ll probably have to replant them. You may also want to plant seed in 2 week intervals, as long as outdoor temperatures remain below 70 degrees, to ensure you have peas to harvest for the entire spring.
There seems to be one thing that all peas need and that is support. Peas are climbers and wrap their tendrils around whatever is around them in an attempt to boost themselves up toward the sun. Even dwarf varieties need some support so a trellis, fencing or some other type of support is needed to keep them off the ground and less susceptible to attack from slugs and aphids. Regardless of how you do it though, you’ll want to find room in your spring vegetable garden for peas.