Plant of the week: Peas

Peas are delicious fresh or cooked, and they’re an excellent source of vitamin C and phytochemicals, as well as other vitamins.  More than that–they are fun and easy to grow, especially for kids.  There is nothing better than grazing on them straight from the garden.

Now is the time to plant them!  They prefer cool weather and they love spring rains.

Ideal growing conditions

Peas like sun but they do best in the spring and fall; they do not fare well in hot summers.  They do well in soil that drains well and is not too rich with compost.  Like other legumes, they collect nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it in the soil.  They do not tolerate drought.

Sow seeds two inches deep and two or three inches apart, in double rows. Peas require support of some kind, whether it be trellises, stakes, chicken wire, or a frame strung with rows of twine.  You can train your plants to grow around their supports by gently wrapping the ends of the vines around them.

Germination takes some time.  Seeds may emerge after a rainfall; if so, poke them back into the ground before something makes a snack of them.

Types

  • Shelling peas, are, as the name says, grown to be shelled.  Their shells are too tough for eating whole.
  • Snow / sugar peas are eaten whole when the seeds are small.
  • Snap peas are eaten whole when the seeds are large.
  • Soup peas are grown for their dense seeds, which are dried and used in–soup!

All peas have a tough string that runs under the pod from top to bottom; this should be removed before eating or shelling.

Preserving peas

When picking peas, make sure you hold the vine with one hand and pick the pea with the other; it’s very easy to uproot the plant.

Shelled peas, and whole snow or snap peas can be frozen as is and later added to sauces, stir-fries, or eaten as a side.

You can dry peas by picking the whole plant and hanging it upside down to dry in a warm place.  These dried peas can be used to make soups and other similar dishes.

Pea seeds are easy to collect for future plantings; just leave the pod on the plant until it dries out.

Friends

  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Parsley
  • Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Strawberries

Foes

  • Chives
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onions

Fun facts

  • One serving of fresh or freshly frozen peas has more vitamin C than two large apples.  3/4 a cup of peas contains more protein than a whole egg or a tablespoon of peanut butter.
  • Gregor Mendel famously used pea plants in his experiments that became the basis for the field of genetics.

Check your… pulses

Canada is the number one exporter of pulses (dried beans, peas, lentils, etc.) in the world, yet Canadians eat very little of them.  “Per pound, they are one-fifth of the cost of meat or dairy, but the food quality is every bit as good or better. They’re a really cheap way of getting high-quality food.”  And they’re easy to grow.  http://www.harrowsmithalmanac.com/pulses/

Direct sowing cool season crops

Once the snow has melted, and the soil is workable (that is, it is neither frozen, cold, or very wet), you may direct sow cool season crops.  These plants tolerate overnight temperatures that hover around the freezing mark, and even a touch of frost; they prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall rather than the heat of summer, during which they may bolt (go to seed too quickly).

Refer to the seed package to see how many weeks prior to the last frost that you may sow the seeds.  The package may also list an ideal soil temperature.  You may choose to place row covers over the area that you are planting to expedite the warming of the soil and protect your plants from occasional cold nights.

The following plants are quite hardy, and can tolerate a soil temperature of around 5°C:

  • Leeks
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach, lettuce, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and other greens
  • Sunflowers
  • Turnip and rutabaga

The following plants are also quite hardy, though they prefer a slightly warmer soil temperature of around 10°C:

  • Broccoli (shown above), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Onion sets
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips