Peas are one of the first things I like to plant in early spring. They love to germinate in cool temperatures and can handle being planted as early as a month before the final frost date for your area. Discover all the different pea plant growth stages in the article below.
Peas don’t like to be transplanted, as the roots are fragile, but you can direct seed them nice and early to get a head start on a crop before the heat of summer slows down the pea’s production.
You can sow peas again in late summer, keeping the seedlings shaded for heat, in order to produce a fall crop. And, if you are interested in eating the tender shoots of new peas, you can easily grow them year-round in a shallow container of soil on your windowsill indoors.
The shoots make a lovely addition to salads or a topping for soups, and add a special touch to any plate they garnish.
Pea plant growth stages
- Germination – the pea seed takes root and sends out a vertical shoot which begins the process of photosynthesis (using chlorophyll to change sunlight into energy for the plant)
- Pollination – The stem develops leaves and flowers. The flowers have male organs called stamen which contain pollen and female organs called styles contain the seed or ovary. The plant is self-pollinating which results in the pea pods forming after the flowers die off.
- Fertilization- When the plant is pollinated, fertilization begins by the pollen reaching the ovary/seed which creates a protective covering (the pod) for new seeds (peas) which swell up and grow inside the pod.
- Dispersal- normally we pick the seeds (peas) before the plant is mature. If the plant was allowed to mature the peas would dry up and harden and the pod would split dropping the peas on the ground for the lifecycle to begin again.
Peas are not very fussy about soil conditions and do not require any special fertilizing or feeding, although they should not be let to dry out entirely.
They like a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, which is typical of most garden soil. Though they don’t need rich soil, they do appreciate some compost being worked into the bed before planting.
I like to loosen the soil to help the plants take hold. Their roots are quite shallow and don’t spread too far, meaning that you can plant peas easily in containers, raised beds, or shallow places in the garden, spacing the plants quite close together.
Soaking the seeds overnight and then coating them with inoculant, available at garden centres, is recommended when planting early in cool soils.
The rhizobia bacteria in the inoculant help jump-start the growing process and bring nitrogen to the plant. It is, however, not necessary to either use inoculant or soak the seeds.
Sowing thickly should help if any of the plants don’t germinate and this also provides the right amount of support for the plants as they grow together.
Weeding becomes difficult with peas as their roots don’t like to be disturbed, so planting close together will also help deter weed growth and keep maintenance to a minimum.
Growing peas in containers
In containers and raised beds, I will plant peas one or two to a hole, about an inch deep and spaced about a 1/2 inch apart, and train them to grow up supports or trellises in order to get maximum yield from minimal space. You can also just broadcast them in the bed and then fill in with a top layer of about an inch of soil, without worrying at all about spacing.
Water the newly planted seeds well and keep them moist. Depending on soil temperatures, and the age of the seeds, it can take anywhere from a week to a month to see sprouts appear above the soil.
You can try staggering your planting over several weeks to get a more continuous harvest or planting several different varieties with different dates to maturity.
Types of Peas
While considered a vegetable, peas are technically a fruit! There are several different types of peas, including garden or shelling peas, meant to be shucked from their pods, and ‘mange-tout’ (eat-all) peas, such as snow peas and sugar snap peas, which are eaten as whole pods.
Peas are found in many different varieties of height and growth habits, from dwarf bush peas to tall plants meant to grow on a trellis. There is sure to be a pea variety to fit any space in your garden.
Although they are similar in appearance, sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are not the same as peas (Pisum sativum), and sweet pea plants, which are grown for their flowers, have toxic pods which should not be eaten. For this reason, growing these plants in separate areas of the garden is a good idea.
How long do peas take to grow
Peas, like other annuals, have a life cycle of one year. Many grow quite quickly, sending out new tendrils daily, it seems. Peas are, in general, climbing plants which appreciate supports to hold onto with their curly, strong tendrils.
Once the plant matures, it produces flowers which are quite attractive to bees and other beneficial insects. These flowers then mature into pea pods, which are either picked as snap or snow peas in a flat stage with the seeds inside not yet developed, or picked once the pods and seeds have fully matured, for garden or shelling peas.
If the pods are not regularly picked, the plant will stop producing them, so to get the best yields, pick your peas at least every two days. Any pods left on the plant for too long will go past the eating stage and into the seed phase.
As the plant begins to dry out and turn brown, pods shrivel, darken and brown, and dry out, and the seeds inside get shrunken and dried, ready to be collected for winter soups or for future plantings.
You can then cut the plants off above ground and use them in your compost pile, or chop and turn them under in the garden bed, where they will decompose quickly.
This helps enrich the soil by releasing all of its remaining nitrogen. The roots left in the soil will also help fix nitrogen for the next crops that get planted there, making peas an excellent choice for crop rotation and maintaining healthy soil.
Peas are best picked in the morning or evening when the pods are crisp, although picking snow or snap peas any time while gardening provides a delicious snack.
Pods should be picked where they join the stem, so that the pod tip is intact, rather than breaking the top off the pod. The whole plant is quite fragile, so be careful while picking not to break the stems. Shelling peas must then be removed from the pods before eating.
How to store peas
To store your pea harvest, you have several options. All types of peas can be blanched by immersing in boiling water (for just a few seconds for snow peas, to up to two minutes for large garden peas) and then ice water, before draining them to freeze.
In order to freeze them individually rather than in a big lump, spread the blanched peas out on a tray and put them in the freezer for several hours until fully frozen. Put the frozen peas in a bag or container in the freezer for long-term storage, labeled with the date. Frozen peas should be eaten within a year.
You can dry shelling peas to use for pea soup in the winter, though it depends on the quantity of peas you’ve grown and whether this seems worth it or not. Peas must be fully dried to be properly preserved, so using a dehydrator or oven with the door open on the lowest setting will help ensure they are thoroughly dried. Dried peas will last about five years.
You can also bottle peas, although this method of storage is perhaps not recommended for beginners, especially if you have room in your freezer to more easily preserve them. Home-bottled peas should last a year.
Pea seeds are easily saved, making this an excellent crop for gardeners concerned with sustainability.
Saving seed does more than save money—you can select varieties well-suited to growing in your particular garden, and encourage biodiversity by saving seed from heirloom varieties.
There is something extremely satisfying about this process, and for those new to seed saving, peas are one of the easiest seeds to save at home. Make sure you choose open-pollinated seeds to ensure that the seeds stay true to their variety.
If you plan to plant more than one pea variety and would like to save seeds, just make sure you put a little distance between the varieties and you should easily be able to save the seeds from each type.
Collecting the peas
Once the pods are dry and brittle on the plant, break them off and collect them. Remove the pea seeds from the pods, and if they are still at all moist, continue to dry in a dehydrator or on a sunny windowsill until totally dry (cut one open to check!). You can then put them in an envelope or small bag and label with the variety and date.
Seeds store best in dark, cool and dry environments, so I recommend putting your seed envelopes all together in a large container and adding in some of the desiccant packets that come in shoeboxes or vitamin bottles sometimes.
You can make your own desiccant packets by wrapping up a little powdered milk in some tissue paper and adding that to the seed jar, too.
The milk powder will absorb any moisture and help to preserve your seeds for as long as possible. I would not recommend the fridge for seed storage as it’s too moist, but a cool closet or garage shelf would be just fine.
Companion Planting Peas
According to the principles of companion planting, peas are beneficial or friendly towards members of the brassica family (broccoli, kale, etc), and they are mutually helpful for turnip, cauliflower and garlic, with each plant aiding the other. It is also thought that peas grow better when planted near mint.
Crop rotation is an important part of maintaining a healthy and productive garden because different plants use different amounts of the nutrients that are in the soil. By rotating crops you also avoid spreading some plant-specific diseases. Peas are an important contributor to this cycle because of their nitrogen-fixing ability.
Ideally, peas are planted after a crop of cucumbers, squash or melons, or else leafy greens, spinach or kale. Peas would be best followed by either corn, wheat or oats, or a member of the nightshade family, such as potatoes, eggplant, peppers, or tomatoes.
You can also sow peas as a cover crop, which is a quickly-grown crop after the main harvest. It is used to prevent soil erosion during the fall, winter and early spring, and to return nutrients into the soil before the next major crop gets planted.
Cover crop peas can be sown in the fall, as the plants don’t need to fully mature before frost in order to secure the soil. Then in the spring, you can till under the remaining plant matter, and it will feed the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients as you plant your next main crop.
Peas are naturally upward-reaching plants, well-suited to vertical gardening. Even dwarf bush peas appreciate a little support, but the tall climbing pea varieties absolutely require it. Don’t let this intimidate you!
Trellises and vertical structures can be as simple or as fancy as you want them to be. While there are many options for trellises available on the market, you can also do it yourself quite easily. Some people will just put sticks from around the garden upright in amongst the bush peas for support.
I like to use a simple system with bamboo hoops crisscrossed over each other, with strings hanging down for the peas to catch onto. I have also trained them to climb up chicken wire attached from the side of my shed roof, down to the raised bed at the base.
Peas will really grow up with anything you put in their environment, and it’s best to add these supports early in the season, ideally right at planting time. so that you don’t disturb the plant’s delicate roots later.
Pests and Diseases
As far as garden crops go, the pea is relatively problem-free. It can succumb to powdery mildew, root rot, and mosaic virus, but these are mainly avoided by choosing resistant varieties and practicing good garden hygiene by rotating crops regularly.
Being careful not to over-water is also key to deterring rot. You want the soil to be moist but not soaking wet in order for peas to do their best.
Aphids can also be a problem. If spotted, you can spray immediately with either a hard spray of water sufficient to dislodge them, or a soap solution, either insecticidal soap or a homemade soap spray with dish liquid. Several applications may be needed over a few days to completely get rid of the aphids. If the problem persists, remove affected plants so that the aphids don’t spread to any healthy plants, and destroy the infected material.
History of the Pea Plant
Peas are one of the oldest cultivated plants on earth and have been around since the very beginning of agriculture. They originated as wild plants in the Mediterranean region and were then collected and cultivated—mentioned as early as the 3rd century BC by the Roman writer Theophrastus.
Dried, or field peas were one of the major staple foods during the widespread famines of the Middle Ages.
Green “garden” peas, eaten when fresh and far sweeter and more delicious than field peas, were a luxury for the upper classes, introduced from Genoa to the court of Louis XIV of France in 1660. From there, they never quite fell out of fashion again.
Gardening Activities for Kids
Pea plants are fantastic for gardening with children. The large seeds are easy to handle, and carefree in terms of spacing.
They can grow in small containers or, if you have the space, can transform a tripod of bamboo stakes and some string into an amazing living teepee shelter for the children to play in at the height of summer.
Pea plants grow quickly and dramatically, with new leaves and tendrils unfurling every time you look, it can seem. They don’t need any weeding or special feeding, just to be watered and frequently picked.
They are beautiful plants, with delicate flowers and delightful curly tendrils. It’s fun to hunt for the feel of the pea pods with your fingers amongst their camouflage of leaves and vines—a great task for kids before supper. What’s more, peas are generally a food that children tolerate, at least the snow and sugar snap pea variety.
They may love them even more if they can grow some themselves and eat them right from the vine.
Nutritional value of peas
Peas have a high amount of dietary fibre, as well as of potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin K, as well as B1, B2 and B6 and a range of other minerals and vitamins. They should be combined with a grain for optimal nutrition.
Peas are thought to help prevent heart disease, regulate blood sugar, boost immunity, fight cancer, and more. In general, they are known to be an all-around nutritional powerhouse.
While a small percentage of the population is allergic to peas, most of us can benefit from eating more of this healthy food.
Many snow and snap pea varieties have a ‘string’ that runs from tip to tip of the pod, which you must peel off before eating, though some are tender enough to eat without removing the string.
Snow and snap peas are delicious eaten raw as a snack, for dipping, and in salads. They can be added to stir-fries and pasta, or sautéed gently with garlic, as a side dish.
Because they are so tender, snow and snap peas need very little time to cook and can be added at the last minute to many dishes. A brief steam or sauté is enough.
Garden peas need to be shelled before eating. After picking the ripe pods, remove the peas by running your thumb down the line on the inner side of the pod.
It should open up and allow you to scoop out the peas into a bowl. Pea shells and other remaining bits of the plant can be returned to the garden compost or directly into the soil.
After sifting through the shelled peas for any bad ones, prepare your fresh peas by quickly cooking them, either by steaming or quickly sautéing.
Avoid over boiling
Boiling isn’t recommended for fresh peas, as it changes their sugars and thus their delicate taste. In my opinion, peas really don’t need much in the way of seasonings to taste their best. Serving them fresh and simply cooked is the best way to eat them.
Peas are often paired with mint, both because they grow at the same time in the garden, and because they taste so delicious together. The sweetness of the peas is offset perfectly by the coolness of fresh mint.
Grow a peppermint plant in a container somewhere in the garden, just to savour this seasonal delight—just be careful that you don’t plant it in the ground, as mint can soon take over.
Toss gently steamed peas and chopped fresh mint leaves with a little butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper, and enjoy this amazing green side dish.
Pea shoots are also edible and can be a great thing to grow on the windowsill in the winter months when outdoor gardening isn’t possible.
The tender leaves taste lightly pea-like and look beautiful as a garnish on just about anything, or when added to salad. Fill a shallow tray with about an inch and a half of soil, soak pea seeds and scatter thickly on top of the soil.
Water well and place on a sunny windowsill with a clear bag or container loosely placed over top to maintain some humidity. Mist the seeds to keep them moist but not soaking wet. Snip off as needed once the shoots get to be about 3 inches long, and don’t let them get to be longer than about 6 inches before you use them.
Return the nitrogen-rich soil to the garden or compost pile once you’ve used all the shoots, and start a new batch.
Grow your own peas
Peas deserve a place in every garden, for how easily they grow, how delicious they are, and how beneficial they are to the overall garden ecology by providing essential nitrogen back into the soil for other plants.
They attract beneficial pollinators like bees, and their delicate, intertwining vines can provide beautiful vertical accents within the garden landscape.
Even the smallest garden has room for some peas. Snow peas are a delicious variety and are very easy to grow.
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