Peas are one of the easiest home garden crops to grow. Peas can be planted as early as March in Northern New Jersey.
Peas are an annual, tendril-climbing plant grown for their edible pods and seeds. There are many different varieties of peas including the original species (Pisum sativum) which climb up to six feet, peas with edible pods (Pisum macrocarpon), dwarfs (Pisum humile) as well as other varieties. Peas with edible pods include snow peas and snap peas. These peas can be eaten raw in salads or barely cooked as in stir fried dishes. Snap peas are a hybrid of snow peas and english peas. Snap peas have crunchy three to four inch pods that contain very sweet peas. Shelling peas, also known as English peas are sweet enough to eat raw but are usually shelled. These plants can grow up to seven feet tall and the pods are tough and not very tasty. English Peas are good for early plantings. Good varieties of peas for Northern New Jersey include Green Arrow, Lincoln, Maestro, Freezonian, and Wando. These varieties are ready to eat in approximately sixty to seventy days with the Maestro hybrid maturing in about fifty-five days.
Peas are usually separated form their pods and steamed or boiled, but peas are also delicious picked right from the vine. About twenty five percent of a peas weight is sugar, which turns to starch several hours after it's picked. Fresh peas, especially from a health standpoint, taste better than candy. I like go into the garden to pick and shell peas for boiling just in time for serving at dinner.
Although growing peas does not require any advance work, preparing seed beds in the fall does help to increase yield. A seed bed for peas is prepared by turning the soil adding manure or compost and topping with mulch. In the early spring, rake back the mulch and plant the pea seed, using a dibble to make the holes if necessary. You can also use a hoe to make a furrow two to three inches deep and sprinkle in the seeds. Water the ground thoroughly after the seeds are planted and push the seeds which pop out into the ground again with a stick or other tool (avoid touching any seeds wherever practical). You can also start the seeds by placing them between two wet paper towels for three or four days until they germinate and then plant outside.
A blanket of snow will not affect the sprouts although continued temperatures less than twenty degrees F. will kill young plants. If you attempt to plant an early crop in March, be prepared to start your peas over again as temperatures and weather conditions are unpredictable. Peas will germinate in soil as cold as 40° F and as hot as 85° F. Once the seedlings begin to grow, peas will ripen in response to a "temperature sum", the average daily temperature. If temperatures get above seventy degrees for several days, the plants will flower. If the temperatures are below forty degrees F, the plants will not grow significantly.
Peas can be grown without any type of support, but we've found
that making a frame for peas to grow on make them easier to pick and
the garden easier to clean up at the end of growing season. There are
several methods for supporting the pea plants, each with their
advantages. One method is to use branches from tree or shrubs or twiggy
bush. Find a nice "twiggy" branch at least a foot taller than you
expect your peas to grow and push at least six inches into the ground
near you pea plants. At the end of the season, you can pull out the
branch with the pea plants attached and compost. You can attach the pea
plants to the branch and they will follow the branch as they grow.
Another method is to place two stakes at either end of your row of
peas. Wrap between the stakes twine starting at ground level and
working your way to the top of the stakes. The twine and the dried pea
plant can be composted at the end of the season. And the third method
would be to use the two stakes with chicken wire between them to
support the pea plants. The chicken wire can be reused the next year
after it is cleaned of the dead vines which may be composted.
Peas are ready to be picked when you can feel the peas by
gently pressing on the pods. Pods that wrinkled or shriveled are past
their prime. Pick the pea pods with two hands, one hand holding the
vine and the other plucking the pod. A basket with a wide top and flat
bottom is perfect for collecting the pods. Snow peas are ready about
five to seven days after the plants flower.
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