Planting Peas: Any Ideas?

L to R: Burpeeana Early (bush), Amish Snap (pole), Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea (pole)It’s been incredibly warm all winter, and this week has been no exception. After a couple inches of snowfall on Sunday evening, we’re back up to the 60’s during the day. Even our overnight temperatures now aren’t dipping below 48! All this gave me the courage to plant some peas yesterday, a week earlier than normal.

Now I’ll admit, I haven’t had very good success with peas in the past. Even last year, when so many things finally started to go right for me in the garden, the peas definitely did not. I got thin germination, and about half the plants that did come up mysteriously began withering a couple of weeks later, almost as if something had eaten away their roots. (Moles? Grubs? Has anyone else had this problem?) I did get a handful of peas to eat, but it was not the most encouraging experience. So I’m going to keep the pea patch small again this year and see if the situation can’t be improved a little.

The measuring tape makes it look like a more exact operation than it really was!

I know that starting the peas extra-early is probably not be the best way to ensure success. Cold, damp soil can encourage pea seeds to rot rather than sprout. But with the warm weather we’ve been having, I feel like planting now is the equivalent of planting in mid-March in a “normal” year. Just in case, though, I’ve divided my seed into two batches. One batch I soaked overnight and planted directly the next day. The other batch I soaked and then put between wet paper towels to “chit”: sprout indoors and then be planted out when the soil is just a touch warmer. I’ve read this can help with early season plantings.

I’d be very interested to know what your own experiences with growing peas are. What’s your planting method? Have you had any mysterious die-offs? What do you recommend for someone who would really like to see a half-way decent harvest this year? I’m willing to buy more seed and do an entirely new planting if it looks like doing something different could really work!

Here’s what I did last year (and this year). Let me know if you see any obvious flaws. I dug 1/4″ composted steer manure into the bed, along with some of my homemade fertilizer (5 qts. per 100 sq. ft.). After soaking overnight, I planted the peas about 1.5″ deep, 1″ apart in double rows 4″ apart for pole varieties, 6″ apart for bush varieties. The double rows were 3′ apart on center. Then I waited for them to come up!


25 Comments Add yours

  1. Celeste says:

    How unusual – I’ve never put so much effort into planting peas! They have just sprouted up for me in the past – but I did do the cotton wool, shallow dish beforehand and only planted once they had a mini root system, so perhaps your towel will work for you too.

    1. Sharon says:

      I hope so! It would be great if last year was just a fluke!

      1. Celeste says:

        Also just want to say thank you! My mom is planning a veggie patch as she’s just recently moved out to the country side and I told her all about your heirloom plants. Your sources unfortunately don’t ship to our part of the world, but I managed to find our own shops here. I’ve sent her the websites so this weekend she is going to shop for pink garlics and white carrots!

      2. Sharon says:

        Wonderful! Glad to hear you found some heirloom sources near you!

  2. jessicalehman says:

    What is the benefit of soaking them? I planted Burpee sugar snap peas (Guisante Azucarado) last year and they did great. I didn’t soak them… only sowed them in the ground a couple of inches deep in early spring, per the directions. The packet doesn’t say anything about soaking, but we did get a lot of rain last year during the first part of the season, so they certainly got soaked while in the ground! They were very prolific for several weeks. This year I hope to do some successive plantings to extend the harvest. We did have evidence of moles in our garden (tunnels everywhere), but they didn’t seem to bother the pea plants. I think they were more interested in the carrots and potatoes.

    1. Sharon says:

      I think the soaking is supposed to give them a jump-start. But I guess if you have really rainy weather, it’s not necessary like you said!

  3. spiceblogger says:

    I almost got peas to try out this year, but I’m not sure how much space I’ll need for them. I’m very new to the whole gardening adventure as last year was my first ever attempt at anything.

    1. Sharon says:

      The spacing I used is what was recommended by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where I bought the seeds. So that might give you a guideline if you decide to try them.

  4. I’ll bet this is your year for peas! I’m curious, are you using a soil thermometer? This certainly has been a strange weather pattern year for us as well. I think it’s messing with our planting heads. I can’t wait to find out what happens with your peas. Keep us posted! Blessings~KeriAnne

    1. Sharon says:

      No, I don’t have a soil thermometer yet, but while I was planting the peas yesterday, I decided that should be my next garden investment! To take the guess work out of spring sowing. Do you have one? And if so, at what temperature do you plant your peas?

      1. I do use a soil thermometer. Most of my literature says to plant peas when soil temp is consistently over 60 degrees. I plant when soil has three days of 62. But I’m kind of obsessive I’m sure. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one that is being made mad by these strange “winter” temps. I’ll be glad to say adios to La Nina…or whatever this jet stream pattern is that is causing such strange temps. Again, I’m just curious, what varieties are you growing this year? Are you going to put a fence behind them?

    2. Sharon says:

      I’m growing (hopefully!) three varieties this year. One is a bush variety, Burpeeana Early, but the seeds from that are a few years old, so I’m not expecting much. I just thought I’d put them in the soil instead of wasting them. The other two varieties are climbing peas. One is Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea and the other is Amish Snap. I’m planning to build a trellis for them out of poles taken from some “weed” trees in our backyard: ailanthus. Not sure exactly how I’m going to set it up yet…

    3. Sharon says:

      I used a digital meat thermometer to check the soil temp, just to see. It was 64 today, so maybe my peas will be all right!

  5. Sharon, I’ve had similar mixed results with peas. Though peas are a good cool-season plant and you can plant in early spring, for best germination they need a soil temperature of 70-75 degrees. It’s tempting to plant early in the season because so many books and advisors say you can, but if your soil hasn’t warmed you’ll get random germination. I had good success last year by using a small, plastic hoophouse over my raised bed to keep the soil environment warm. The nights and most days were cool enough that after germination I removed the plastic and let the plants enjoy the cool air they like. It’s possible you have a root rot or wilt disease fungus in your soil that causes the withering; if you do the only solution is to plant some place else and give the fungus five years to disappear. Overwatering or poor drainage can have similar effects so check the soil moisture level a few inches deep and see what the roots are experiencing. Like you say, cool, damp soil can cause rot and even with your warming temps the soil may not be drying out enough a few inches down. Moles primarily eat insects and aren’t likely to be a culprit. It’s too early in the year for grubs to be a cause too; they tend to emerge in late spring or early summer. My best guess is that cool, moist soil is affecting your peas and your next planting will have better results. Hope this helps.

    1. Sharon says:

      Wow, a soil temp of 70 degrees? I guess that’s why a lot of books recommend sprouting indoors before you plant out. Thanks so much for your response. It makes me think that maybe putting some Plexiglass directly over the soil until the plants start coming up could help. As for moisture, we just had a big rain last night, so there’s not a whole lot I can do about that now…

  6. Megan says:

    We have also just always plopped the seeds in the ground and up they came! We never have had trouble. Did you use a pea and bean innoculant? We always use a little bit of that- it helps them to get the nitrogen out of the soil that they need for a good start. We have always waited a little bit later than recommended so that the soil is properly warmed.

    1. Sharon says:

      No, I haven’t tried innoculant, but sounds like a good idea. As does waiting a little longer than recommended… Thanks for the ideas! 🙂

  7. Tina says:

    I’ve had a lot of luck and fun planting peas in containers. I had some going all winter (we had a mild one in North Texas) and just put in more this month, which are a couple inches tall now. I also have some in the ground this time around, too.

    I soak mine but ususally only for a couple hours or overnight before putting them in the ground. I prefer to soak mine in compost tea or a biostimulant.

    Do you put in something for your peas to climb on? You didn’t mention it in the blog entry and I just thought I’d throw it out there. I didn’t have something for my peas in one container and they flopped over the sides. It was a bit of a messy way to grow them, I think. They produced lots of peas but I think the second round I’ve got going with wire cages will be better.

    Best of luck!

    1. Sharon says:

      Yes, I am going to put up a trellis for the peas to climb on, out of poles cut from the woods in the back yard. I’ll probably get to that in a couple of weeks (if any of the peas emerge!). Thanks for your ideas!

  8. garden.poet says:

    I didn’t have any trouble with sprouting (which surprised me greatly, I must say), but we also got only a handful. The slugs decimated them, so they weren’t very prolific. Slugs are always a huge problem fo any legumes I plant…

  9. Cindy says:

    I’m pretty new to gardening, but have decided snow peas are the only kind I’m planting. Two years ago I planted peas and they grew fine, but I had enough for maybe a meal, and I found that at heart I don’t like shelling. Snow peas appeal to those of us who are lazy gardeners. We’re in Indiana, and even though the winter has been crazy-flukey, I still am going to follow the normal planting cycles, even though it feels like all bets are off this year.

    1. Sharon says:

      All bets are off is right! Since I planted my peas, we’ve had thunderstorms two days in a row! Lightning, hail, and all… And snow peas are a great idea. I did have one really successful year with those, and that’s what’s kept me going: the memory of those yummy stir-fries…

  10. I never had to soak my peas first (we did water them in good, if the weather report said no rain within the first week or the ground wasn’t saturated from snowmelt.) We live in South Dakota, so we usually manage to get them in about mid-April here. I usually follow the directions on the package. I’ve had mixed results in the past, but last year was great.

    Last year we used the wide, deep planting bed system by mounding soil into our bed-rows (about 30 to 36 inches wide per bed and soil dug and loosened to 15 or 18 inches deep) to plant our garden, along with companion planting and organic fert and weed/pest control methods, rather than traditional narrow rows as suggested in the book, the Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. We planted pole pea varieties ( both sweet peasand oriental pod types) and companion planted them with our potatoes. Both crops did very well being planted this way. You can also interserse a few marigolds in the potato rows that are on either side of your pole peas trellis, the marigolds will help keep out bugs that may try to eat the peas and potatoes. Same arrangement also works well for pole varieties of green beans.

    1. Sharon says:

      Thanks so much for the info! Especially the idea of interplanting peas with potatoes (and marigolds). I hadn’t heard of that one, but it sounds like a great idea. I’ll have to try it next year! (This year the peas are already surrounded by strawberries, garlic, and cilantro.)

      1. All good companions, most herbs are great for bug control among your veg plants and berries. one plant to aviod planting w/ peas is cabbages, they dislike each other

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