Growing perfect peas
Robin Gale-Baker, from Sustainable Macleod, discusses growing peas. This is one of a series of articles she has written about growing various veggies (see right hand sidebar). She has also written a number of articles about growing various herbs, growing various fruit trees and general growing techniques.
A version of this article was first published on the Sustainable Macleod website.
[Editor: Peas come in bush (low) varieties and climbing varieties and can be grown in the ground or in pots. There are three types: podded peas (garden or English peas); snow peas (flat, edible pods; used in Chinese cuisine); and sugar snap peas (pods edible when young). Sugar snap peas are effectively halfway between garden and snow peas and are the ones that I usually grow, eating them like snow peas when young and like garden peas when older. Peas are generally a cool climate plant in Victoria but sugar snap peas can actually be grown all year round.]
- Water the seeds at planting but then not again until they shoot.
- Plant in slightly alkaline soil (pH 7-7.5).
- Support with a trellis or frame.
Plant peas in a sunny position preferable out of the wind as the fragile stems can easily snap. Peas can be damaged by frost so if one is imminent, cover the plants with some type of cloth or surround with hessian. If you are caught out, hose the frost off before the sun strikes the plants and no damage will occur.
Plant peas in well drained soil that is slightly alkaline. pH should be 7-7.5. Many articles suggest liming your soil before planting but make sure you first pH test your soil so that you know what you are dealing with. Liming soil that is already alkaline will lead to stunted growth and crop failure. If your soil is poor or badly drained, add some compost or well rotted cow manure a month before planting. If your soil is good, add some compost only. Don’t add high nitrogen fertiliser as this will produce lush growth at the expense of flowers and pods. Nodules on the roots of peas convert nitrogen from the air into nitrogen that the plant can use so they will self-provide.
Planting and support structures
Plant bush peas 5cm deep and 5cm apart, in either single rows, or double rows that are about 8cm apart, or simply broadcast the seed so that there is a tangle of plants which support each other. If you choose the latter make sure you can reach the centre of the patch to harvest. Thin to 5cm apart if plants are too close. Bush peas generally need some support such as a low trellis or even prunings pushed into the soil at an angle so that they crisscross at the top.
Plant climbing peas around the base of a tomato cone or a teepee made of bamboo to a depth of 5cm. Using a tomato cone is a good way to ‘store’ cones after summer. (Broad beans can also be grown in this way). You can also use a trellis on a fence to support climbing peas or create a trellis from posts and wire sheets. If the pea plants grow higher than your support structure, pinch out the tips and this will curtail growth.
Water peas at the time of planting and not again until they germinate. If they have not appeared after two weeks, dig around to see if they are still there, and plant again if necessary. They may have rotted or been eaten by rodents.
Peas do not take kindly to being separated for planting so they are best direct sown but if you do want to grow them and transplant them, sow in individual containers or egg cartons and tear the carton apart and plant each cell.
Use a seaweed spray every three weeks.
Harvest peas every 2-3 days. This will mean they will stay tender and it will also stimulate the plant to produce more peas. Picking sugar snap peas when young prevents them developing a string.The tips and flowers are also edible and often used in salads. It is wise to use secateurs to harvest peas as pulling can break the fragile stems.
Protect peas from snails and slugs. They enjoy the succulent tips as much as we do!
At the end of the season, when it is drier, aphids, mites and powdery mildew are sometimes a problem.
Diseases – common questions about pea disease:
Are the white markings on leaves a problem?
No, these are natural markings.
Are black spots on pea leaves, stems and pods a problem?
Yes, this is the blackspot spore (in Victoria it is generally caused by Mycosphaerella pinodes). Rip the plants out and dispose of them in the bin. Do not compost them. Infected pea straw mulch is often the culprit in home gardens. Once it begins to spread, blackspot will take hold within 24 hours. Rain speeds this up. Only buy quality pea mulch to avoid blackspot. It can be seed or soil borne or from pea stubble on commercial farms – hence the problem with low quality mulch.