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Everyone Should Be Growing Peas

By Megan Gross, Horticulture/Natural Resources Extension Agent, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

Peas are rich in fiber, folic acid and vitamin A. We should all be eating them, and we should all be growing them. Peas are a cool-season vegetable, meaning they will perform best when temperatures are in the 70's and will be just fine if subjected to a light frost. Their growing season of only about sixty days makes them easy to grow in our area.

Peas should be planted when soil temperatures reach forty degrees. Soil should be moist (not soaked), rich in organic matter, phosphorus and potash. They prefer a more basic, rather than acidic, soil. Lucky for us, many of these qualities are common in our native soils. Our typical deficiencies are organic matter and nitrogen. Amend your garden soil with compost before planting, and apply a little slow-release nitrogen fertilizer after seedlings emerge to help resolve these problems.

Because yields decrease as day length increases, the earlier you plant the better. While an April 1 planting would be ideal in terms of day length, April 1 is not practical for most gardeners in our area (i.e., those of us without a cold frame or hoop house to protect plants from a hard frost). Just know that while it’s not too late to plant now, your yields will not be as great as they will be for the gardeners who planted a few weeks ago. As a matter of fact, I plan to seed peas once every two weeks through mid-July. Some peas are better than no peas; that’s my philosophy. And I’m certain my yields will be more than adequate.

There are three major types of edible peas: English peas, snap peas, and pod peas (also called snow peas or sugar peas). English peas are the standard shelled pea (in other words, don’t eat the pods) and are great for freezing and fresh eating. ‘Dakota’ is a new 52 day variety that would make an excellent choice for gardeners above 8000' with a particularly short growing season.

Snap peas are the round pod type of edible pod peas. Pick snap peas when both the peas and the pods are plump and will "snap" in two like a fresh green bean. Eat pods and peas together as you would snow/sugar peas. Note that as the pods become plump "strings" develop. Strip strings before cooking; start at the tip and strip toward the stem on the concave side, then over the top and down the convex side. Perhaps the most popular variety is ‘sugar snap’, known for very sweet peas and pods and long picking period.

Sugar or snow peas have flat, crispy pods. They are a stir-fry classic and a welcome addition to any fresh salad, if they make it that far. I tend to eat most of mine right at the garden. Large pods develop strings, as do the snap peas. Again, remove strings before cooking.

Most peas grow tall and require staking; others are specifically low-growers and do not need to be staked. Other than that, growing peas is pretty much a no-brainer. Poke them into the soil, keep them moist, wait about sixty days, and enjoy.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010