Garden or shelling Peas, Snow Peas and Sugar Snap peas are the most popular vegetables grown in the home garden. They are cool season plants and a little effort to grow them is rewarded by sweet fleshy pea seeds of the Garden pea variety, the tender edible pods of the Snow Pea and crispness of Sugar Snap varieties.
Growth habits and planting needs
The best time to plant peas in Sydney’s temperate zone is from April till September, when the soil temperatures are between 8-24 º C.
Select a sunny spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunshine to grow peas and allow a good amount of growing space so that enough plants can be grown to produce an adequate yield. In Sydney the best site should face north for optimum sunshine.
Select one of the many varieties that are available from the tall to the dwarf and bush varieties depending on the space you have available.
Ideally peas, as legumes, should follow a root crop in the crop rotation system and so replenish the soil with nitrogen so that leaf crops will follow.
Peas are a legume and need soil that has good aeration and good drainage and they can be grown in a wide variety of soil types. Peas need a good depth of soil and an ideal pH is 5.8 – 6.8, so test the soil a few weeks before sowing and amend depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.
The beds should be prepared thoroughly to a good fine tilth to a depth of at least 30 cm and some aged compost dug through. The aim is to have good drainage though not too rich a soil mixture.
The main nutrient needed by peas is phosphorous and they also need adequate potassium. Use blood and bone and rock phosphate to enrich the prepared soil.
Peas are a legume crop, and so are capable of manufacturing their own nitrogen. Therefore, additional animal manures, like chicken manure are not required. While peas will grow in most soil types it is important that the soil not be too rich as this will encourage vine production and so delay pod development.
Before sowing, soak the pea seeds for 8-12 hours to speed up germination.
There are a number of ways of preparing the garden beds and sowing the peas:
- Row method: Before planting erect a trellis of netting using bamboo canes as a support for the peas as they grow. Sow the seeds at a depth of 5 cm and space 10 cm apart. Rows should be spaced 50 to 90 cm apart on each side of the trellis
- Trench Method: Dig a trench 15 cm wide and 10 cm deep and sow the peas thickly across, about 2.5-5 cm apart. Cover over the pea seeds with about 5 cm of soil. As they grow and reach about 7-10 cm add small amounts of soil to fill the trench in, continuing to fill as the plants grow, till the soil in the trench is 2.5 cm higher than the surrounding soil. This method keeps the roots cool, crowds out competing weeds and allows the plants to support themselves as they grow.
- In Pots: Dwarf or bush varieties of peas can also be grown in containers. Use the largest pot you can, 35-50 cm and 40 cm deep. Use a good quality potting mix and sow soaked seeds 2-3 cm deep and 5 cm apart around the edge of the pot and then another circle further in. Cover with soil and gently water the pot. Erect a tee pee of sticks for the peas to climb on. Ensure that the pots have and even level of moisture as they grow.
The seeds should germinate in 9-13 days.
Keep the peas moist and prevent from drying out as they germinate in the garden beds. Water carefully and try to keep the watering at soil level and keep the leaves dry to prevent mildew. A soaker hose watering system is ideal for delivering water to the roots. The soil should never become waterlogged. The most important time for watering is at germination and at maturity when the flowers and pods form. Even, consistent watering, delivering at least 1.5 cm per week, while growing and 2.5 cm per week from the time the plants bloom through the pod setting period.
Make successive plantings every 2 to 3 weeks to ensure ongoing crops of peas over the season.
The pea plant, in its early development has an extensive root system in the first 15 cm of the soil. This shows the importance of mulching the plants well to conserve moisture and stop evaporation and competition from weeds when planted in the row method. Plants grown in the trench method suppress weed by growing thickly so just mulch around the outer edges.
As the plant matures the root system becomes more extensive and will need an increase in water.
Like all legumes, peas are nitrogen fixing through the action of bacteria that use the plant to draw nitrogen from the air, which it converts to nitrogen gas and stores it in the roots in nitrogen nodules. As the plant grows a little nitrogen is released into the soil. This important symbiotic relationship depends on water.
Nodule production slows as soil moisture decreases below optimum, or may entirely stop in soils that are very dry. A soil that enhances the growth of roots is also favorable to the growth of nodule-forming bacteria that help crop growth.
This emphasises the role of proper soil aeration, water content, fertility, and temperature.
The pea plants should be ready to harvest in 9 – 11 weeks. The pods are at their optimal sweetness when just picked at maturity and are best consumed on that day. Once eaten from the home garden one will never look at the store bought product in the same way again. This is true for both shelling and snow and sugar snap varieties.
Harvest snow peas when the pods are about 8- 10 cm long, are tender and before the seeds develop and the pods are flat. This will mean harvesting every 3 days.
Sugar snap peas are ready when the pods are still crisp. They are usually about 5 cm long, 5- 8 days after flowering.
When harvesting Garden or shelling peas, wait until the pods swell and the seeds inside are juicy but before the pods harden. This will be about 18-20 days after flowering.
Test a few and harvest early for the peas that have the best taste and texture.
The important thing in harvesting all varieties of peas is to harvest often so that the plants are encouraged to continue to produce pods.
At the end of the growing season do not pull the plants out. Cut the plant at soil level and turn under the cut plants. All parts of the plant contain nutrients that will enrich the soil. As the plant below the surface decomposes it will release the nitrogen from the root nodules, raising the nitrogen in the soil and making it available to the following plants that cannot make their own nitrogen from the air. Follow the pea crop with leaf crops like brassicas and lettuce which need lots of nitrogen to develop strong stems and leaves. This is a natural organic way to replenish the soil and rotate plantings.