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Growing peas in your spring garden...for me it involved several years of frustration and failure...until a friend gave me advice from his mother on how to grow peas successfully.
I followed her advice, and when I did my crop was the best ever. I have harvested over 30 pints of peas from one single experimental 20 foot row planting using this method.
I'd like to express my heartfelt thanks to my friend Brain Rohleder and his mother Shirley Millard for their assistance and advice on their method - the right way to successfully grow peas. Here's how it's done...
Although there are over 1000 varieties of peas in the world today there are basically only three types:
-Garden peas (the kind that you shell out and only eat the seeds),
-Snow Peas (the flat pods you see in dishes at Chinese restaurants),
-Sugar Snap Peas, which can be eaten pod-and-all even when the pea pod and seeds are fully formed.
Peas are one of the earliest of spring garden crops to be planted. Actual planting should be done in the late winter, as soon as soil can be worked. I plant peas in late February or early March, depending on the weather and soil conditions. Peas like rich well drained soil, and can benefit from the addition of compost to their soil prior to planting.
I followed recommendations and planted the "Early Alaska" variety, although I had some trouble finding them, they were well worth the effort. If you can't find Early Alaska, Laxton's Progress is another very good variety.
Plant peas in 5-6 very closely spaced rows to make one single row planting. In fact plant them as closely together as you can without digging up a row that is already planted. I managed to get my rows 3-4 inches apart.
Dig the first furrow and plant peas about 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Use soil from the second furrow to cover the first, soil from the third furrow to cover the second, etc... continuing on until you're done. You will essentially be creating a "wide row" planting.
Peas will begin to sprout in 7 to 10 days, and grow quickly after that.
If you plan on growing peas, remember that peas are vine plants, and require some form of trellis to grow up on so they can produce to their full potential.
I use steel fence posts every 8 to 10 feet starting at the end and down the length of the row.
Drive the posts in between the two center rows after your peas have started to sprout. Then tie 1/8" nylon cord between the posts starting with the first run about 6 inches above the ground, and set additional runs every 6-8 inches up the posts.
Your pea vines may need some help finding the first run of twine. Especially the ones on the outermost rows. Once the vines are long enough to do so, carefully move or bend them toward the trellis. place them under or around the first row of twine so they stay when you let go. The tendrils will automatically wrap around the twine very quickly once contact is made. Usually it happens in just a few minutes.
Once they catch the first row, just let 'em go, they can find the other rows on their own.
Now is also a good time to weed and mulch your pea vines. Weeds are small and easily pulled at this stage. Mulch with a generous layer of dry grass clippings, straw or dry leaves. This should control all but the most aggressive weeds for the growing season.
Peas are ready to begin harvesting about 60 days (2 months) after planting. Pick only full rounded pods to assure big ripe peas. Pick too early and you will have a few tiny peas.
Once peas begin "coming on", you should pick about every third day until hot weather stops them from blooming. You can refrigerate shelled peas for a few days until you have enough accumulated to either can or freeze.
There's something soothing and relaxing about shelling peas (at least to me). My mind calms and quiets down and time seems to pass slowly, but it feels like I could sit and shell them all day.
Well - Enough about the "zen of shelling peas"....
Peas are one of the earliest vegetables to be planted in the spring or late winter, and if you know what you are doing, you can grow a very successful and productive crop.
You can also plant a second crop in the fall figuring back from your first frost date using days to maturity to determine when to plant. Peas can stand a light frost, but a heavy frost or freeze can stop them dead in their tracks, so plan accordingly.
Growing and preserving your own peas can add healthy variety to your family's diet. It can also add yet another layer of self sufficiency to your arsenal, and one less thing you have to rely on the grocery store for.