Why do fresh-picked garden peas taste so much better than anything you can buy in the store? Well, their sugars turn into starches shortly after harvest, which means that the true flavour of a sun-ripened pea, popped off the plant and right into your mouth, can’t be faked.
Peas don’t need much space to grow, so they’re an ideal urban crop, equally happy in containers or raised beds. They’re the very first thing I plant outdoors each year. So, on a recent mid-February afternoon, when the sky was blue and the weather surprisingly warm, I got out there and planted some peas. Here are a few things you need to know to give them the best chance for success.
Choose the right kind of pea for you. Peas come in three main types:
- Snap peas are your classic sweet, crunchy eat-right-off the vine pea pods.
- Snow peas are great in stir fries.
- Shelling peas are what you think of when you think of frozen peas. After harvest, you’ll have to sit there and pick the peas out of their shells (which is great if you have a couple of willing friends and some Netflix to binge on!)
All the peas above come in lots of varieties. Can’t choose? Look for something with high disease resistance, good flavour and short, manageable vines. “Sugar Ann” is a really reliable, classic snap pea that you can’t go wrong with.
HOW TO PLANT PEAS
- Pea seeds
- A raised bed or large container
- Sticks, string, chicken wire, etc.
- Compost and bone meal (optional but recommended)
- Water to soak your seeds (optional)
- Garden innoculant (optional but recommended)
- Clear plastic sheeting or row cover material (optional but recommended)
Get the right timing. In many parts of North America, Valentine’s Day is the traditional day to start planting peas. Do some research online and figure out the best date for your area. You can also start peas in late summer for a fall harvest, but it’s more challenging to get good results.
Build a trellis. Even if you choose a variety that *says* it doesn’t need trellising, you’ll want to build some kind of support for the delicate vines. Bamboo poles, chicken wire and string are all good tools. Use whatever you have on hand and get creative! As your vines grow, check them regularly and use soft string to tie them loosely to the trellis.
Prepare your soil and seeds. To prepare your soil, clear away any weeds, and gently dig some finished compost and bone meal into the surface. If your garden tends to get dry (especially if you’re growing in a container), try soaking your pea seeds in water overnight.
Use inoculant. For the biggest possible harvest, treat your peas with an inoculant powder from a garden supply store. It contains beneficial bacteria that will live on the roots of your peas and increase nutrient availability. Work outside to avoid breathing in the fine powder. Put a few drops of water into a cup, add just a pinch of inoculant, drop your pea seeds in, and give them a swirl.
Plant your peas. To plant your peas, use your gloved finger to poke holes about two inches apart. In the spring, I’ll plant my peas about one inch deep. But in the summer time, they’ll go in deeper where the soil is cooler — about two inches.
Next, we pop our seeds in, pat them down, give them a watering, and there you have it! For faster germination, pop some clear plastic over your peas (use the trellis to create a bit of a tent) until the seedlings are looking nice and strong. You’ll want to uncover them as soon as flower appear, so that the bees can get in! While your plants are small, keep a watchful eye for slugs.