How to Plant Peas

Early spring? No, winter’s back. Wait, it’s gone again and it feels like spring. Is it time to plant peas? No…yes…hang on… Will the ground finishing thawing or will it freeze solid again? I’ve been playing the wait-and-see game for three weeks. On April 19, confident the ground won’t freeze again and while the soil is miraculously dry enough to not just turn over with a small rototiller but to drive the tractor on, I tilled a large part of the garden, and I planted the peas. This is the earliest I’ve ever planted peas. Do you know how to plant peas? It’s easy.

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Peas are simple to plant. As always, amend the soil. If you have the results of a soil test and know what your soil needs that should already be done. If not, do it now. I like to add compost to the soil and turn it in before I plant.

Things you should know about how to plant peas

  • Peas don’t need high fertility so you don’t need to give them the very best spot in your garden.
  • Peas like cool soil. You’ll probably see “as soon as the ground can be worked” on the package of seeds. This means as soon as the soil is dry enough to not form a mud ball when you squeeze it in your hand or not drip water it’s ready to be worked.
  • Well-drained sandy loam is the best soil for peas, and they like a pH of 6 to 7.5 which is average for the backyard and homesteader garden.
  • You can plant peas when the ground is ready even if it’s there’s a chance of snow in the forecast.
  • Plant peas a month before your last average frost date. If you don’t know when your area usually has it’s last frost of spring you can ask your neighbors or cooperative extension.

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And now, how to plant peas

  1. In freshly turned, airy soil, make a one-inch deep groove in the soil. Plant the seeds two inches apart. If you’re making a groove in the soil without tilling first, plant them three-quarters inch deep. The loose airy soil will settle more than soil disturbed with a hoe.
  2. Cover the seeds with soil and tamp it down with the hoe.
  3. If the soil is dry, water it.
  4. Poke in any seeds the water pushed out or you missed.
  5. If you’ve planted varieties that are more than 18″ tall you should provide support. It can be as simple as wooden stakes five feet apart and woven with jute or as strong as cattle or hog panels. Weave the plants that don’t grab the support, then tuck in tendrils and shoots that don’t behave. Support makes picking easier, keeps slugs off the pods, and helps prevent mold.

I’m growing three varieties this year. Oregon Giant Snow Pea is my favorite snow variety. They’re good even if I miss peak by a few days because the tiny baby peas aren’t starchy. Oregon Giant Snow Pea needs 60 days to maturity. Start counting 60 days when you see the first true leaves. The first “leaves” up are cotyledons, sort of the Army that goes ahead to see what’s up there above soil level.

I also planted Early Frost Shell Pea, another 60 day variety. They’ll be shelled, blanched and frozen. In early July I’ll plant Cascadia Snap Pea for a fall crop.

What’s the difference between snow peas, snap peas and shell peas?

Well I’m glad you asked. Snow peas are an edible pod pea. They’re small pea pods you find in stir fry and Chinese food. You pick them before the peas develop so the pod is tender. Snap peas are eaten whole, shell (pod) and all. They’re tender if you pick them on time. Shell peas have to be shelled because the pod is tough and stringy. Shells go into the composter, a hole in the soil, or the composting worm bin.

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So there you go. Now you know how to plant peas, or maybe you knew and learned a helpful tip. Do you have a question or tip to share? Comments are open (please don’t make me beg for comments as I like to pretend I have dignity).

If you’re unfamiliar with the USDA Hardiness Zones you can read more about them on their page.