With pretty flowers, crisp green pods, climbing tendrils and delicate leaves, peas are an attractive and delicious addition to any kitchen garden.
These little powerhouses may be low in calories but peas are packed with a surprising number of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents and are high in micro-nutrients, vitamins, fibre, protein and minerals that provide us with a wide range of health benefits.
Peas are annual vegetables – best eaten raw (straight off the plant before their natural sugars turn to starch and lose their sweet flavour).
They are easy to grow so are an ideal first crop for children and beginner gardeners.
How to Grow Peas
Peas love cool, frost-free growing conditions (they suit cold climates/cool seasons). Flowers are affected by frost and pods won’t form so check the best time to sow for your local climate. I get best results by sowing in the first moon quarter of the month to take advantage of moisture in the soil and a time of prolific growth for above ground plants like peas.
If you want ‘fast food’:
- Choose snow peas because you don’t have to wait for the pods to fill.
- Start with seedlings rather than seeds.
- Peas are low maintenance, easy plants to grow and after germinating, usually only need watering, support and harvesting.
- Peas like well drained loamy soils, with plenty of organic matter and a soil pH 6.0-7.5. They love a sunny spot but not extreme heat or too much wind. They like moist soil but not waterlogged feet!
Avoid planting peas in the same container or near garlic, onions, chives and shallots that compete and stunt plant growth. (I’ve tested this out and it’s the same result for beans!) They seem to grow well planted with beans or with low-growing carrots, radish and turnips.
Sowing & Spacing
- Pre-soak seeds overnight in warm water to soften the seed coat. Spraying liquid seaweed on the seeds when planting helps stimulate germination and promote stronger growth.
- As a general guide, sow seeds directly into moist soil or seed raising mix 2-3cm (1in) deep.
Sow 10cm (4in) apart or in rows about 60cm (24in) apart to help air circulation and prevent disease in a garden bed.
If you are growing more than one variety, separate them in different containers or garden beds if you want to save seed so their vines don’t intermingle and you can correctly identify them.
Both climbing and dwarf pea varieties need support. Maximise vertical space by training climbers to grow up corn stalks; a boundary fence; lattice; stakes; a trellis; tepee/tripod; or frame with wires, string or horizontals every 20cm or so to support their growth.
Some more ideas to inspire you:
[See DIY Tutorial: How to Make a Bamboo Tepee in a Minute]
Via Garden Therapy
Dwarf peas grow better supported by pruned sticks or bamboo canes to help minimise pest and disease problems.
- Peas are light feeders and produce their own nitrogen in the soil so they are a cheap crop to grow! Avoid over fertilising your soil or the plants will produce leaves but not flowers and pods.
- Snow peas, sugar snaps and garden peas are all members of the Fabaceae (legume) family and help to ‘fix’ nitrogen in your soil in a form your plants can easily take up with the help of bacteria around the roots. These soil bacteria convert nitrogen from the air into plant food.
- Growing legumes (like peas and beans) helps feed and improve your soil without buying in fertiliser!
- Watering: Keep soil moist while flowers and pods are developing – this is critical to their healthy development.
- Pinch out the shoots at the top of each plant when you see the first pods are ready to pick and add to your salads. This helps stimulate the plant to produce more pods.
To make the most of the free nitrogen in your soil after growing peas, plant leafy greens or a heavy feeding fruiting crop like tomato, capsicum, chilli, eggplant or potato.
Pests & Diseases
Watch out for thrips, mites, aphids, cutworms, root knot nematodes and fungal diseases. The organic strategies I use for healthy peas:
- Plant disease resistant varieties
- Practice crop rotation
- Space plants adequately
- Add compost and organic soil conditioners seasonally (rock minerals and complete organic fertilisers)
- Apply liquid seaweed as a foliar spray on warm sunny days to strengthen plants and build resistance to disease.
- Pick your peas just before you want them on your plate! Eat as soon after harvesting for freshness and flavour.
- Start picking from the bottom of the plant and work up to the top, holding the plant in one hand and snapping the pea off with the other to avoid breaking the stem. Regular picking produces more peas.
- Snow peas are great value because you eat the whole pod, seeds and all before the peas mature and they have a longer harvesting period (5-6 weeks) than garden peas (2-3 weeks).
- Sugar snap pods have thick walls and are picked when the pods are plump and round.
- Pea shoots (the top 5-7cm) can be picked and used in stir fries or salads when the plant is at full height.
- After your plants have stopped producing flowers and pods, harvest the leaves for salads and stir fries.
- Avoid leaving pods on the vine unless you are saving for seed, otherwise your plant will age and stop producing pods.
- After harvesting, leave roots to rot in the ground to release nitrogen in the soil and feed your next crop.
To save money and grow your crop for free next season, allow pods to dry on the plant until they go brown and brittle or cut at the base and hang to dry under cover.
Store in a self-seal bag in a labelled envelope with the variety/date in a cool dark place or an airtight bottle with some dry rice to absorb any moisture.
In the Kitchen…
Enjoy them as sprouts, stir-fries, Asian dishes, soups, pasta or any number of other recipes.
Sprouting: Peas and snow peas can be grown as nutrient rich tasty sprouts, microgreens or added to breads, salad garnishes and soups.
Cooking: Fresh raw peas have maximum nutrients and flavour so if cooking, use minimal water and stir fry or steam quickly until just tender.
Drying: Allow peas to air dry for a few days then store in a sealed jar in your pantry to use in soups or casseroles. The texture, flavour and nutrient value won’t be the same as fresh or frozen peas although this is an alternative to extending your harvest. Pre-soak peas overnight before cooking.
Freezing: Pick, shell and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute before cooling. Then bag and freeze immediately.
Too many or too few? If you don’t have enough fresh peas for a meal or have an abundant harvest, freeze fresh peas in plastic bags or containers.
Peas Please! Delicious Recipes…
- 200g podded fresh peas or frozen peas
- 200g sugar snap peas
- 200g small snow peas
- 100g pea shoots*
- 2 cups mint leaves
- 200g marinated Persian feta*, drained
- * Persian feta is from delis, or use other marinated feta. Pea shoots are available from greengrocers.
- 1 garlic clove, crushed with salt
- 2 tbs lemon juice
- 1 tsp honey
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbs dried mint
- For the dressing, combine the crushed garlic, lemon juice and honey. Slowly whisk in the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the mint and season with black pepper.
- In a large pan of boiling salted water, cook fresh peas for 5-6 minutes (3 minutes if frozen), adding the sugar snap and snow peas for the final 2 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Cool completely.
- Place the vegetables in a large bowl with the pea shoots, feta, mint and dressing and toss gently to combine.
I’d love to hear your experiences with growing peas so please leave a comment! Keep up to date with new posts by subscribing to my newsletter (and grab your free eBook) or click on the RSS feed below or to the right.
© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2011-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.