Planting garden peas

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Last Updated: 
February 19, 2003

CORVALLIS - For many gardeners, the first rites of spring involve planting peas. Peas thrive in cool, moist weather, and produce well before the heat of summer.

Along the coast and in the western and southern valleys of Oregon, gardeners can plant peas in February. Gardeners in the Columbia and Snake River areas should wait until March, and those on the high plateaus of central and eastern Oregon may have to wait a bit longer for the soil to be workable.

No matter how anxious you are to start planting, don't rototill your soil too early. If your soil is sticky, use nothing more than a spade to work compost into the planting area. Tilling wet soil can ruin soil structure, creating dry hard clods that make life miserable for growing plants.

Peas grow best in well-drained, fertile soil. Plant peas about two inches apart and about an inch deep. Thinning is not necessary. Tall peas should be grown along a fence or trellis. Bush varieties can be planted in rows or broadcast onto a raised bed. Peas are legumes, so they don't need extra nitrogen. Good soil that has been enriched with compost is all they need.

There are two types of peas available for home gardening - shelling peas and edible pod peas. Shelling peas are grown for the sweet green peas inside tough-walled pods. Edible pod peas have much more tender pods. Snow peas, for example, have thin, tender walls, and are at their best when the pod is flat and peas are still tiny. Snap peas have round pods with thick, crisp walls and well-formed peas.

For a continuous supply of fresh peas, plant a succession of seed every few weeks throughout the spring. For later, warm-weather planting, plant seeds down to two inches.

Peas grown in warmer weather may be susceptible to a disease called pea enation virus, spread by aphids when the weather warms. After April 1, plant only enation virus-resistant varieties, such as Oregon Trail, Oregon Pioneer and Maestro. Oregon Giant and Oregon Sugar Pod II are both enation-resistant snow peas. Cascadia is a high quality, very thick walled and enation resistant snap pea developed at OSU.

If you plant peas on new ground, you may increase the yield by inoculating the soil with a commercial formulation of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In an established garden, however, inoculation is less necessary. If you are in doubt, inoculation is a relatively inexpensive process that is easy to do and ensures better plant nutrition.

Your reward is the harvest of fresh green peas. Garden peas are delicious and a valuable source of protein, iron and insoluble fiber. Although fresh peas keep for two to three days in the refrigerator, the sugar in them will soon turn to starch. As much as 40 percent of the sugar may be converted within a few hours of harvest. So, the sooner you eat them the better.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Deborah Kean