By Jo Kapke, Master Gardener
Garden peas (Pisum sativum), come in the form of edible pea pods (snow or sugar snap) and shelling peas. There are many varieties of peas bred for features like heat-resistance, sweetness, bush versus climbing and even stringless. Like other legumes, peas fix nitrogen in the soil and make it available for other plants. Most pea varieties won’t produce or thrive in hot weather—their ideal growing temp is between 55 and 65. Though they are a tender crop with delicate foliage and a short growing season in most of Minnesota, peas are ‘easy-peasy’ to grow and their sweet taste is rewarding for a home gardener.
A sunny spot with well-draining soil is the main requirement for growing peas. They can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring or 4-6 weeks before your average last frost date. A second crop can also be planted 6 to 8 weeks before your average first fall frost date. Peas can grow in part-shade, but they may not be as sweet and their yield may be decreased.
There are many trellis options for climbing peas. Even 4-6 ft twigs can be used. Whatever trellising option you choose, make sure to install it when you first plant your peas – their tendrils will want to climb right away. For all pea varieties, the tendrils and vines are delicate and can break easily. Take care not to cultivate deeply near your peas as they have shallow root systems.
When harvest time arrives, there are two important things to remember. Once peas are mature and ready for harvest they will quickly decline in quality (in as short as 1-3 days) and become starchy, less sweet and develop tough, dull skins. When peas first start to form, remember to sample often to know when they are at their best. Secondly, all pea varieties should be eaten or refrigerated as soon as possible after harvest to maintain their quality. All peas should be picked using two hands so as not to harm the rest of the vine. Some varieties of snow peas and many varieties of sugar snap peas will have strings that need to be removed before eating. Shelling and edible pod peas both freeze well and can be a sweet treat come February! Looking for another way to enjoy peas? You can also eat their vines and tendrils! Find a recipe for fresh peas here. (Link to Joy’s article.)
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