Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:29 pm
In the vegetable garden, the pea with its filigree tendrils and butterfly flowers is a real eye-catcher. But not only that: The legumes contain a lot of fiber, proteins and minerals and are therefore super healthy. In addition, young peas straight from the garden taste particularly tender and sweet. Unlike beans, peas can be eaten raw, so even kids can enjoy a sweet snack while gardening. From sowing to harvesting, here’s everything you need to know about planting peas.
- At a glance
- Light: sunny
- Nutrients: no additional (nitrogen) fertilization
- Water: even soil moisture
- Soil: loose, humus
- Germination temperature: depending on the variety, usually from 8 °C
- Planting depth: 5 cm
- planting distance: 3 – 5 cm
- Row spacing: 40 cm
The pea (Pisum sativum) belongs to the legume family (Fabaceae) and is one of the oldest cultivated plants. It probably originated in the Near East, where it was cultivated as early as 7,000 BC. Over time, it found its way to Europe via the eastern Mediterranean region and today it is hard to imagine our plates without it. The pea is an annual, herbaceous plant that grows to a height of 25 to 200 cm, depending on the variety. The oval pinnate leaves form a tendril at the tip, with which it can cling to fences or other climbing aids. At their roots, pea plants form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing nodule bacteria and are thus supplied with the important nutrient by the bacteria. Starting in May, the characteristic butterfly flowers form in the leaf axils of the upper and middle leaves. These in turn develop into the green pods that contain the spherical peas. By the way, the seedlings of young peas are also edible and can be grown as microgreens on the windowsill.
Peas are divided into three groups:
Sweet peas do not require the laborious peeling of the grains. They are particularly sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked together with the pod. Sweet peas must be harvested very early so that the pod is still flat and tender. Thus, unlike the other varieties, the peas do not ripen. In fact, as soon as thicker fruits form inside, the pod becomes firm and fibrous. Colloquially, sugar snap peas are also often referred to as “sugar snap peas”. In botany, however, a distinction is made between the pod and the pod. In contrast to the pod, the pod does not have a partition wall inside.
e.g. “Ambrosia”, “Early Henry”.
Pith peas refer to the classic peas, which are also available frozen or canned in supermarkets. They are harvested as soon as the thick peas appear under the pod. Even with pith peas, do not wait too long to harvest, as the pea should still be tender and sweet inside. The pods are broken open at the seam and the peas split, they are then also edible raw or cooked. They are dried only for seed for the next season.
e.g. “Ambassador”, “Miracle of Kelvedon”.
The third group among the peas is that of the shelling peas or paint peas, they are particularly robust and can be sown as early as March. They contain relatively more starch and therefore become floury more quickly. They are mainly used in hearty stews, soups or purees. Compared to other peas, they are easier to dry and can be kept for a long time. Allow the dried peas to soak overnight before preparing them. For year-round use in the kitchen, the various peas can be combined in the garden.
e.g. “Little Rhinelander”, “Rhine pearl”.
Ideally, peas grow in a sunny, airy spot with loose soil. Heavy loam and clay soils, as well as particularly wet soils, are less suitable for peas. They prefer a humusy, fine-textured soil with good water retention. You don’t know what kind of soil you have in your garden? Then do our simple soil test and find out! Adding compost to vegetable beds can help improve both heavy and light soils. It increases water retention and helps loosen the soil structure. Here you can find more important information about soil improvement.
Crop rotation, crop rotation & mixed cropping
Since peas are harvested early, they can be well planned as a preceding crop in the crop rotation. Good successors are, for example, cucumbers or cabbage. In the vegetable patch, peas do not get along well with all neighbors. For a healthy mixed crop and good plant growth, you should not plant peas next to other legumes, onions or nightshade plants (e.g. tomatoes). Good neighbors, however, are carrots, lettuce, cabbage, radishes, asparagus, fennel, zucchini and cucumbers. Also, be sure to maintain a growing interval of at least three years, ideally five years, from the next legume on the same bed.
Sowing & preplanting peas
Sowing peas is quite simple, as the large seeds are easy to dose. Place the seeds in water the night before sowing, and the plants will emerge more reliably. Depending on the variety, peas are sown at different times. Valer peas are more robust and can be sown as early as March when temperatures are below 5 °C. Marrow peas and sugar snap peas are somewhat more sensitive and therefore do not go into the bed until the beginning of April, when the soil temperature is above 8 °C. Draw rows with 40 cm spacing, the seed grooves should be 5 cm deep. Then place the pea seeds in the seed groove with a distance of 3 – 5 cm and press the soil a little. After sowing, you should additionally protect the seed furrows from birds with wire mesh, fleece or nets.
You can give your plants a little head start by preplanting. In general, you should sow peas directly, as they will grow more robustly. Only in harsh locations, where the first sowing can be started late, it is worth to pre-cultivate the plants two weeks before. For precultivation are suitable multi-pot plates filled with growing soil. The soil should be kept moist, but not too wet, during germination. Once the seedlings have developed a proper root ball, you can plant them in rows at least 5 inches apart. Depending on the size of the pots, you can also sow two seeds per pot. The spacing when planting out the seedlings should then be increased to about 10 cm. Since pre-cultivated plants are generally somewhat more susceptible to diseases and pests, you should not plant them too closely in any case.
How to care for peas
After the seeds have emerged, you should regularly loosen the soil with a hoe. As soon as the young pea plants have grown to the height of a hand, you should mound them, this increases their stability. Low varieties do not need a climbing aid, they support themselves (e.g. “Kleine Rheinländerin”). From a height of about 50 cm, however, the plant needs a support, otherwise it will bend over. Taller varieties can be supported by wire mesh fencing, for example. However, a climbing aid can also be made quite easily yourself. To do this, stick a thicker branch into the soil at each end of the row and stretch strings between them. The branches should be about one meter long, depending on the variety. To grow in double rows, simply stick two branches crosswise into the ground and stretch straight strings between the crosses. As an alternative to twine, you can purchase rabbit wire or scissors trellis at the garden center and attach them to the branches.
Make sure the soil is evenly moist during the growing season, especially when the flowers and pods are forming. A layer of mulch can help protect the soil from drying out and maintain an airy soil structure. Other than that, peas are relatively easy to care for. They don’t need a specially fertilized bed, quite the opposite! Peas do not require additional fertilization during the growing season, as they get their nitrogen from the symbiotic bacteria in the soil. Heavy nitrogen fertilization actually makes them more susceptible to disease and pests. If you have the opportunity, you can prepare the bed in the fall with some compost and mulch cover, this will provide an airy soil structure. If you want, you can also sprinkle some rock flour. It contains mineral trace elements and thus makes the pea plants more resistant, at the same time it has a positive effect on the soil quality.
Diseases & pests
A free, sunny position prevents diseases. So always plant your peas nice and airy and keep a cultivation break of 3 – 5 years.
Birds like to scrape peas out of the ground after the first sowing. In the early season, the food supply for them is still very limited, so the tasty seeds come in handy. However, it is relatively easy to keep the little thieves away from the peas in the soil by covering them with wire mesh, fleece or netting.
The pea moth is a moth about eight millimeters in size that lays its eggs on the flowers in May and June. Once the larvae hatch, they eat through the pods and can cause tremendous damage. You can prevent this by sowing early in late March/early April or later in May. This way, the flowers and pods do not form during the flight period of the moth. Alternatively, you can cover the plants with a single-mesh crop protection net in May and June.
Powdery mildew is a fungus that appears in early summer during dry and warm weather. A mealy coating forms on the top of the leaves and is easily wiped off. Leaves may then turn gray-brown and wilt. Late sowing and nitrogen fertilization increase the risk of infection. In case of heavy infestation, spray with horsetail liquid manure. A robust variety is “Delika”.
Downy mildew occurs mainly in wet years. Here the mealy dust forms on the underside of the leaves and cannot be easily wiped off. Spraying with horsetail liquid manure also helps here. It is best to water the peas only near the roots, this makes it harder for fungal diseases to spread on the leaves.
Harvest & process peas
Harvesting usually begins in June, about 12-14 weeks after sowing, depending on the variety. Pith peas are harvested when the grains are round and bright green. If you wait too long to harvest, the sugar turns to starch and the peas lose flavor. To prevent them from ripening and losing flavor, you should pick peas from the pods and process them immediately after harvest. They are very suitable as a vegetable garnish and can be integrated into a variety of dishes. They can be kept fresh in the refrigerator for only a few days. To preserve, you can simply blanch the peas briefly, rinse with cold water and then freeze. With sugar snap peas, you don’t let the seeds in the pod mature, but harvest them while they are still flat. Sweet peas are also easy to freeze. The two sweet representatives are harvested continuously as soon as the fruits are ripe. It is best to pick through sugar snap peas and pith peas once or twice a week so that they are still very tender and sweet. When doing so, keep snapping off the pods that are already large enough and let the rest continue to grow. Frequent harvesting speeds up the regrowth of new pods. On the other hand, paint peas are usually dried. Harvest them only once the pods are brown and dry. For an especially easy harvest, let the pods dry out indoors and then thresh them out. The pods burst open and you save yourself the tedious peeling of the peas.
Small tip: The young shoot tips of peas are also edible and can be used in salads and vegetable pans.
To ensure that the subsequent crops still benefit from the nutrient-rich environment, the roots should remain in the soil with the nodule bacteria. So don’t tear the plants out of the ground by the roots after harvesting, but cut them off superficially. Provided the remaining greenery is not infested with pests, it can be used as mulch or composted.
Propagate pea plant
Since the pea is an annual plant, it must be sown every year. The seeds can be easily obtained from the pods. Just let some pods of seed-proof varieties ripen until they are brown and dry. It is not important to harvest the pods very early. The seeds inside should be fully ripe, it does not matter if they become mealy and no longer taste so delicious. Then let the mature seeds dry gently (not in the sun or in the oven) and sow them the following year as described above.