Peas Please!

Spring planting is officially underway. 

We can plant a number of cool-season vegetables right now – seeds of peas, radishes, kale, turnips, beets, lettuce, and potatoes. It’s also time to put transplants of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, leeks and onions in the ground. In fact, the planting season for many of the seeds started in mid-March. All of these also can be planted into April, some until late April. 

I planted peas a little early, on March 6. It was a beautiful, warm day, and the weather forecast contained no dramatic lows in temperature, so I planted peas, lettuce, radishes, and turnips. About 10 days later I checked on the seedbeds. Lettuce had germinated sparsely, radishes and turnips sprouted beautifully. All is good. Then I pulled back the hay from the pea rows and found just a few little sprouts. Along much of the rows it appeared as if some tiny critter has kind of tunneled under the mulch and eaten all the pea seeds. While I’ve had cutworms take down all my pea shoots (two years in a row they wouldn’t let me have any snap peas), I’ve not ever seen this happen.

I can’t blame them. Peas are tasty.

So I replanted. 

Peas, lettuce, radishes and turnips are vegetables that can be done in “relay plantings,” that is, you plant part of what you plan to plant, then two or three weeks later, plant again. Do this until the latest planting date, which for peas is about the third week of March. I like to plant all of my peas at once, as early as I can, so they have reached maximum production before the weather turns hot. Peas and all of the other vegetables I’ve mentioned here, grow best in cool weather.

If my first planting on March 6 had taken off, I could have been picking peas by late May. As it is, it will be early June. The lettuce and radishes I will plant in relay, as we can only handle so much lettuce and radishes at a time. Relay plantings stretch out the harvest of vegetables that are difficult to preserve.

Lettuce, radishes, turnips and many other spring vegetables also can be planted in late summer or early fall to mature in fall and early winter, when the weather cools.

Peas don’t do so well as a fall crop. I have tried. While the seeds, with proper care, germinated and produced short plants, production was sparse. I got maybe a couple of handfuls. I won’t discourage anyone from trying fall peas, just don’t expect much.

Many varieties of peas exist of shell (English) peas, snow peas (also called sugar pod) and snap peas. Some varieties produce long vines, others produce short vines that supposedly don’t need trellising.

Since snow peas and snap peas have edible pods and don’t need shelling, I plant these exclusively. I also plant varieties with long vines, as I can get more peas out of shorter rows. 

When I was growing up, my mom usually planted peas, the shelling kind. Snow peas weren’t well known in Kansas at that time and snap peas didn’t come into existence until the 1960s. They are a cross between English peas and snow peas, both of which have been cultivated for thousands of years. We rarely had peas for dinner, though, as my siblings and I liked to sit in the garden and eat peas, raw and fresh. My mom didn’t mind, though, as that saved her the trouble of shelling peas.

The fresher peas of all kinds are, the sweeter and tastier they are. Once picked, peas begin converting sugars to starches at a rapid rate. Half an hour after being picked, much of the sugar is gone. So I eat lots of snap peas right there in the garden. Of course, I can’t eat them all, so I stash a few in the refrigerator to eat within a couple of days and freeze the rest. I steam blanch them for four minutes (or blanch in boiling water for 2 ½ to three minutes) cool, spread on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, I put them in a bag to save for much later.

Since I favor long-vined varieties, my peas require a trellis. Many types of trellis can be used, but I make mine with t-posts and sections of concrete reinforcing wire. Shorter varieties will work on less sturdy trellises, even small, branching tree branches stuck in the ground. I recommend putting up your trellis before planting, as you will disturb the seeds or damage young plants if you put it up later.

I plant peas in two rows close to the trellis on either side. Create a furrow about one inch deep and space the seeds every three to four inches with the double row method. If creating one row, space the seeds closer, two inches or even less. Cover with up to one inch of soil. Always water with a shower spray after seeding anything and keep the seed bed moist until seedlings are well sprouted, then reduce frequency of watering. Many years, especially with spring plantings, you can get by with an initial watering and let Mother Nature take care of things. However, I’ve found that everything sprouts best when kept moist. In the summer, that can mean watering two times a day or more. Seed beds and young seedlings need shallow watering. As they become established, water less frequently and more deeply. I like to lay soaker hoses along the rows at planting time, as it is easier then than when working around young or mature plants.

I’ve tried several varieties of snap peas over the years, including a pink-podded variety, which was pretty, but not terribly productive, and the pods got tough more quickly than other varieties. I’ve sort of settled on Sugar Snap Peas. 

Sugar Snap vines grow to five feet or longer – they always spill over the top of my five-foot trellis. No other variety has done any better, and I can buy sugar snap pea seeds locally and more cheaply than other varieties. Of the flat-podded snow peas, I’ve grown “Oregon Sugar Pod II” for quite a few years. It has always done well. This year I also planted “Mammoth Melting Sugar Pod,” one of the varieties recommended for Kansas gardeners. Others include Sugar Ann, Sugar Bon, Super Sugar Snap, and Sugar Sprint for snap peas. I believe are shorter-vined varieties. Last year I tried “Sugar Daddy,” which produces two-foot vines. I was not impressed. Other recommend snow peas are Dwarf Grey Sugar and Snow Green.

You can find a list of recommended vegetable varieties for Kansas in a publication at the Kansas State Research and Extension Bookstore, Also at the Bookstore you can find the gardening guide which contains all kinds of helpful information, plus an indispensable vegetable garden calendar. I use the calendar all of the time. The publications are free to download, with hard copies mailed at a small cost. Many of the publications are available at the local Extension office.

Text and pictures by Sandra Siebert, EMG.

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