Culture: Sow as early as ground can be worked for best yields. Minimum soil temperature for pea seed germination: 40°. Optimal range 50–75°. Peas are legumes with moderate fertility requirements. Avoid excess nitrogen: they can fix their own. Use a legume inoculant at planting. They prefer cool, moist weather and dislike dry heat.
All peas produce more when staked; varieties over 2½' must be supported. Use either Trellis Netting or chicken wire. Install support at planting time to avoid disturbing seedlings. Plant 8–10 seeds/ft on each side of supports in double rows. Set supports for rows 3' apart (5' if very tall varieties).
Young plants are very hardy but frost stops production at the blossom or pod stage. If you love peas as much as we do, try for a second crop in the fall. Timing is crucial, as peas ripen slowly in the cool of September, and frost will halt production. We recommend planting the first two weeks of July for a fall crop in central Maine. Warmer areas try later July. If the summer is hot, cool the soil with a hay mulch in advance of planting, or shade peas with tall crops to hold in soil moisture.
Peas are 25% sucrose by weight and lose nearly half their sugars within 6 hours at room temperature. That’s why they taste best grazed right off the vine. Keep cool and shell as soon as possible after picking for freezing.
Not well adapted to southern climates where the spring heats up too quickly. Pam Dawling in Virginia has great success with Sugar Ann but cannot grow the tall longer-season Sugarsnap in her climate. Smooth-seeded peas germinate better in colder soils than wrinkle-seeded peas, but are not as sweet. Dawling suggests that forsythia flowering signals time to sow snap and snow peas.
Saving Seed: Saving pea seed is easy! Leave pods of spring-planted peas on the vine to dry. Hand shell, or stomp pods on a tarp. To ensure true-to-type seed, separate pea varieties by 30 feet.
- CTV: Curly Top Virus
- PM: Powdery Mildew
- DM: Downy Mildew
- PPR: Pythium Root rot
- F: Fusarium
- PSV: Pea Streak Virus
- PEMV: Pea Enation Mosaic Virus
- W: Common Wilt race 1
Powdery mildew looks like someone sprinkled talcum powder over the vines. It spreads rapidly when picking occurs in hot dry weather. Pick in early morning while the dew is still on the foliage to slow its spread and ensure best flavor. Fusarium causes vines to dry out, yellow, then brown and die. As a preventive, always sow peas on well-drained soil. Fusarium-infested soils are said to be pea sick. Do not save seed from plants afflicted with fusarium, which can be seed-borne. Rotate out of legumes for at least 4 years. Brassicas, especially mustards, are good disease-suppressant successions.
Off-types in peas continue to be a problem across the industry. Over the past several years we have eliminated some old favorites that got beyond the bounds of what is acceptable and added several more reliable varieties. We’ll keep working at it!
What’s up with organic peas this year?
Sharp-eyed customers will notice fewer organic and more conventional pea listings this year. Why? A big crop of organic pea seed we contracted was inadvertently sprayed with a fungicide meant for a neighbor’s alfalfa field. A new pilot of the spray plane did his bypass over-run perpendicular to the usual spray pattern and 100' into the organic peas. The peas could no longer be certified organic, and the farmer will spend three years in transitional status before that field can be certified again. He also loses that field in his crop rotation.
We are honoring our contract with the farmer and selling his peas as conventionally grown. The varieties affected are Green Arrow, Blizzard, Sugar Ann and Sugar Snap. We think it’s critical to support our hard-working farmers through tough times. We hope our customers will feel the same.
For the latest results of our germination tests, please see the germination page.