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Edible Garden Featured Plant: Pea

By volunteer

The garden pea, Pisum sativum, is an annual plant widely grown as a cool-season vegetable crop. Originating in the eastern Mediterranean region, it has been part of human diet for over 5000 years.

Garden peas come in two forms; low growing (dwarf or bush) and vining, with each form having many varieties including peas for shelling and those with edible pods like sugar snap and snow peas.

These legumes help fix nitrogen in the soil which helps not only the peas growth but also other plants growing later in the same spot. Nitrogen fixation is only significant when a type of bacteria “Rhizobium leguminosarum” is added as an inoculant to the pea surface prior to planting. The bacteria causes the pea to help develop nitrogen fixing nodules which abstract inert nitrogen from the air, transforming it to ammonia (NH3) which is then converted into ammonium ions (NH4+) utilized by the plant.

Peas need full sun (6 hours/day) and soil that drains well. They grow best in soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5. Peas need less fertilizer than other crops so adding well-rotted manure or compost at planting is adequate. Peas are cool weather plants, so if sown too late in the spring they will struggle in hotter months. Young pea plants can survive light frosts but once the plants have started to flower and set a crop, frost can be damaging. Good growing temperatures are 55 to 65°F. Plants will stop growing and not produce flowers or pods if temperatures get above 85°F.

Before planting, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. Drain and add inoculant so that it covers the seed surface. Plant at a depth of 1 to 1½ inches, along with any extra inoculant, and a spacing of 2 to 3 inches as soon as the ground has thawed and the soil is workable.  Rows should be a minimum of 30 inches apart. Mulching will help keep soil moisture and prevent weeds. During dry periods, you may need to water but avoid watering the vines to prevent disease such as powdery mildew.

Insects that affect pea plants are aphids, cutworms and sowbugs.

Harvest peas when pods have filled.  Shell immediately and cool.  If harvesting on a warm day, dunk the pods in cold water until chilled. Then dry and refrigerate for up to a week. For tender peas, pick pods when immature.

Snow peas can be sown again in August for an October harvest.


– Volunteers, Tony Jevans and Cliff Keller  


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