Backyard Gardener: All I am saying is give peas a chance | News, Sports, Jobs

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Hello Mid-Ohio Valley farmers and gardeners! Spring has finally sprung as we move into warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, this early spring has brought us a tremendous amount of rain and flooding.

Spring is always a busy time – getting the lawnmower out, spreading mulch, cleaning up flower beds, preparing the garden for planting, not to mention repairs around the home, maintenance, and other projects. Like peas and carrots, the words spring and busy go together very well.

It is also time to get warm seasoned vegetable seeds started indoors to be ready to transplant around Mother’s Day. May 12 is typically our last frost date and is the unofficial signal to get peppers, tomatoes, corn and other warm season vegetables in the ground.

This week I want to talk about peas (Pisum sativum). Peas are a cool season crop, thriving in cool, moist weather. Early spring plantings normally produce larger yields than later plantings.

Peas are actually one of the first cool season crops a backyard gardener can plant. As my grandma once said, “It is never too early to plant peas.” They will germinate whenever soil temperatures are at least 45 degrees. All peas are considered a legume, so they not only provide harvestable food from the garden but also improve the soil.

Peas we grow in the garden include English peas, snow peas and snap peas. Black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata) are a variety of the cowpea and are actually considered a bean.

Peas have been grown for thousands of years. They have been found in 5,000-year-old excavation sites in Sweden in addition to the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. Peas were one of the first plants studied by geneticists, starting with Thomas Andrew Knight in the 1790s, not to mention the famous studies by Gregor Mendel in the 1860s.

English peas are also known as shelling peas. They have smooth or wrinkled seeds. The smooth-seeded varieties tend to have more starch. The wrinkled-seeded varieties are generally sweeter and usually preferred for the home garden.

The smooth-seeded types are used more often to produce ripe seeds that are used like dry beans and to make split-pea soup. The peas are removed from the pod before consuming fresh from the garden, cooking for dinner or freezing.

In order to remove the peas, gently pull the string beginning at the stem end. The pod will open, revealing the peas inside, much as a string bean does. Shell pea pods range in length from 3 to 4 inches and are round and firm.

Snow peas may be eaten with or without the string. These peas are harvested when quite young while the pod is still tender to the touch and from 2 to 3 inches long. The pods and peas are flat.

Snap peas are also referred to as sugar snap peas. Ideally, sugar snaps should be eaten raw, pod and all. The ideal sugar snap pea will be crispy and sweet. If the peas stay on the vine past the bite-size stage, remove the pods then sauté or steam them to enhance the texture.

Pea plants, even dwarf varieties, benefit from some type of support, so provide netting, trellis, wires or pea brush for the tendrils to cling to. Pea brush consists of branched shrub prunings inserted into the row for support of the climbing pea plants. Erect the support system before or immediately after planting seeds to avoid disturbing the roots of germinating and established plants.

Recommended varieties for English peas are “Alaska,” “Mr. Big,” “Maestro” and two heat-tolerant varieties, “Wando” and “Lincoln.” Some great snow pea varieties are “Snowbird,” “Oregon,” “Sugar Pod II” and “Dwarf Gray Sugar.”

Finally, recommended snap cultivars include “Super Sugar Snap,” “Sugar Sprint” and “Early Snap.” Early varieties are ready to harvest in 55 to 64 days, and mid-season varieties in 65 to 70 days. Pods on the lower portion of the plant mature first.

Direct sow pea seeds in the garden 1 to 3 inches apart in early spring. You can plant shorter bush types in a single row near a trellis. You can also plant them in a wide row, between 12 and 18 inches wide, where the plants will cling to and support each other.

Double rows may be spaced 8 to 10 inches apart in rows 18 to 24 inches on center. Peas need full sun and require direct light at least six hours a day. Treat the pea seed carefully. Cracked seeds are unlikely to germinate, especially in the cool, moist soil of early spring.

Soaking the seeds overnight, but not more than 24 hours, will reduce the germination time. Place the seeds in a shallow trench, 6 to 7 inches apart. For a wide row, broadcast the seed over the prepared seedbed, with seeds about 2 inches apart in all directions.

Make sure they are at a uniform depth and cover them with 1 inch of soil. You may make a second and third planting a week apart to extend the harvest period.

Weeds can be an issue, but wide rows of peas with bushy plants will form a large mass and crowd out the competition within the row. Peas are relatively free from pests but may be attacked by leafhoppers, aphids, mites and pea weevils. The two primary diseases found in peas are powdery mildew and damping off.

When English pea pods are swollen and appear round they are ready to be picked. Pick a few pods every day or two near harvest time to see if they are ready. Peas are of the best quality when they are fully expanded but immature before they become hard and starchy.

Peas should be picked immediately before cooking because their quality deteriorates rapidly, similar to sweet corn.

Snow peas are picked when the pods are large and flat but before the seed inside begins to enlarge. This stage is usually five to seven days after flowering. Snow peas must be picked at least every other day to assure sweet, fiber-free pods. Pods can be stir-fried, steamed or mixed with vegetables or meat dishes. If an overgrown pod is missed they may be shelled and used as garden peas.

Snap peas should be harvested every one or three days, similarly to snow peas, to get peak quality. Sugar snaps are at their best when the pods first start to fatten but before the seeds grow very large. At this point, the pods snap like green beans and the whole pod can be eaten. Some varieties have strings along the seams of the pod that must be removed before cooking.

Sugar snaps left on the vine too long begin to develop tough fiber in the pod walls. These must then be shelled and used as other garden peas, with the fibrous pods discarded. Vining types of both sugar snap and snow peas continue to grow taller and produce peas as long as the plant stays in good health and the weather stays cool.

Expect 2-3 pounds of shelled peas per 10 feet of row from garden types and 3-4 pounds of pods from snap or snow pea types. Pea flowers are very sensitive to temperatures above 80 degrees and if dry conditions occur, plants will shed their flowers.

Peas provide high levels of potassium, folate and fiber. The high-quality protein, low sodium levels and vitamins and minerals in peas make them a good addition to a heart-healthy eating plan.

I know it can be a difficult recommendation, but eat more vegetables (and less junk food). Contact me at the Wood County WVU Extension Office 304-424-1960 or e-mail me at with questions. Until next time, Good Luck and Happy Gardening!

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