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Peas are not difficult to grow. Once they come up, they exhibit terrific growth spurts and can make a lovely wall of green through the garden. Here are some tried-and-true tips to grow, plant, and pick peas.

Pea Growing

  • Peas germinate in soil that is between 40° and 85°F, preferring about 75°, and they like at least two months of weather with daily temperatures below 70°.
  • In the North, spring plantings have a better chance for survival than fall plantings do; vines resist frost better than pods do, and spring rains usually provide the moisture peas need.
  • Though adding compost or manure to the soil won’t hurt, peas don’t need heavy doses of fertilizer. They like phosphorus and potassium and appreciate a good sprinkling of wood ashes before planting.
  • Water your pea crop if the weather is especially dry when their flowers develop and also during pod-forming and picking. If peas dry out, they will stop forming new pods.
  • As with other legumes, pea roots support nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which enrich your soil. If you are planting peas for the first time, get everything off to a good start by shaking the seeds in a powdered inoculant that contains billions of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. (The inoculant, which costs about two dollars to treat more seeds than you will have room to plant, is sold in most seed catalogs.) After the first pea year, the bacteria become established in your soil, and the inoculant is no longer necessary.

Tricks for Early Peas

  • To get the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds in the fall, add manure to the soil, and mulch well.
  • When you’re ready to plant in the early spring, pull back the mulch and make holes with a dibble, if necessary, to get your seeds into the ground. Add more seeds later if you discover spaces where some don’t germinate.
  • A blanket of snow won’t hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens could. Be prepared to plant again.

Pea Planting

  • The late Jim Crockett was fond of saying, “If you are stingy with your peas, they’ll be stingy with you.” Plant your peas thickly in wide rows, so that they can climb up both sides of a fence.
  • Use a hoe to scrape a trench about two inches deep, and sprinkle in the pea seeds, leaving about an inch between them.
  • Cover with soil and tamp down with the hoe or (gently) with your foot.
  • If you are planting a new garden, make the trench three inches deep, add a one-inch layer of well-rotted manure, cover with soil, and then plant the pea seeds.
  • Water well if the weather is dry. Poke in any seeds that wash out. (A chopstick is an ideal tool for this.)
  • Peas do need a fence or trellis for support. Wait for peas to come up before putting up your fence. Don’t construct a permanent structure; it’s best to rotate pea crops every year or two to avoid a buildup of soilborne diseases.

Pea Picking

  • Keep your peas well picked to encourage more pods to develop.
  • Always use two hands when you pick peas. Secure the vine with one hand and pull the peas off with your other hand.
  • Collect peas in a container with a wide top and a flat bottom to prevent spilling; a bushel basket or a brown paper grocery bag works.

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