How to Plant Peas

Carouby de Maussane snow pea; the shoots and flowers are (almost) as delicious as the peas

This morning was loud with geese, still symbolic even though they don’t migrate much any more. Everyone is either wearing something green or else proudly pointing out they’re NOT wearing something green. It isn’t time for us to plant peas quite yet – spring and St. Patrick notwithstanding – but those in slightly warmer climes are clearly already at it. The post with directions for building a simple pea trellis is close to the top of the frequent hit list.

The original Sugarsnaps aren’t just the best tasting snap pea; they’re also very heavy-bearing.

This pea planting guide assumes you’ll be planting them in the ground, the only sensible place to plant them. Peas aren’t good container plants, so if your garden is contained in anything smaller than a railroad car I wouldn’t advise using precious space for a crop so iffy and ephemeral.

Or rather I wouldn’t advise it if we’re talking about the best use of the container. If we’re discussing how to get peas more wonderful than any other peas, the container will have to oblige because everything that used to be true of corn (starts getting starchy the instant it leaves the plant; get the water boiling before you pick) still applies to peas.

The ones from the farmers’ market can be quite good; they can be a revelation, even. But they can’t be as good as the ones you eat while standing there next to the plant.

Peas in Containers

Peas want cool moist soil. Containers are by nature hot and dry, so you’re more or less working uphill all the way. And even when everything goes perfectly, peas stop producing and get ugly just when the container should look good and be delivering dinner.

That said, it can be done – if you start by not living in the Deep South, where it probably can’t be done. Growing peas in the ground there is hard enough.

1. Select the peas – Choose an early, bush variety like Little Marvel (shelling), Sugar Ann (snap) or Dwarf Grey Sugar (snow). Yield will be smaller than from later, vining peas, but bush peas have a better chance of putting out a crop before the weather turns hot. Bear in mind that you’ll get more to eat if you choose a snow pea or snap pea.

Find a large container – at least 14 inches wide and deep. Something much larger, like a half whiskey barrel, is much better. A light color is better than a dark one; consider painting the barrel. Fill it with a mixture of 3/4ths soilless mix like Promix and 1/4th compost.

Presprout the seeds about three weeks before the last frost date for your zone. Soak them overnight. Cover a plate with a double layer of dampened paper towel, spread the soaked seeds on it and cover with more damp toweling. Put the whole thing in a plastic bag, leaving the bag slightly open at the top, and put it aside somewhere out of direct sun. Check daily and add water if necessary which it probably won’t be because it’ll only take them a couple of days to sprout.

Arrange the sprouted peas 1 inch apart each way all over the surface of the container. Cover with 2 inches of your planting mix. Water thoroughly. Have coverings handy in case there’s a frost before the baby plants are well established. (Once they get going a light frost won’t hurt.)

Fertilize at planting and then every three weeks with a mixed seaweed and fish emulsion liquid fertilizer, diluted to half strength. Stop when they start flowering.

Pick religiously; they’ll be looking for any excuse to stop producing and just a few developing seeds will be enough to let them bow out.

Think Ahead – If the container is going to stay in place all season, remember the peas will become history right around mid July, when most garden centers have stopped selling any annuals (except big ones that cost princely sums). You can get around this by growing the replacement annuals yourself, if you have room;  by planting a fall crop such as Swiss chard  or by putting in some chrysanthemums. Small chrysanthemums planted in July will be more huge and gorgeous in autumn than plants bought in flower at chrysanthemum time.

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