When you discover how to grow peas in your own backyard garden, you can enjoy their health benefits without having to shop at the market. The pea is an herbaceous annual plant found throughout the world. There are several varieties that produce little green peas you can eat raw or cooked.1
The pea is one of the oldest cultivated crops, but its origin has not been pinpointed. Archaeologists have found remains dating to the late Neolithic period in the Middle East. Europeans introduced peas to North America.
Although most consider peas a vegetable, peas are genetically complex legumes. The plant’s fruit is the pea pod, which contains the seeds, or peas.2 Domestication has changed the shape and form to the plant commonly grown around the world.3
They were not always thought of as good for eating,4 and they played a role in the development of modern genetics. This is thanks to experiments Gregor Mendel conducted in the 19th century, showing that specific traits could be achieved through crossbreeding.5
Growing peas in your own garden offers the ability to enjoy the fresh-from-the-vine taste without the unwanted addition of pesticides you may bring home from the grocery store.
To get the most out of growing peas in your garden, you'll want to start planting your beds in the fall. Add compost or manure so an early spring planting can be done in prepared plots.6 Add wood ash and bone meal just before planting to give the plants the phosphorus and potassium they need to thrive.
Steer clear of adding fertilizer with nitrogen as this produces a great deal of leaf growth but not flowers or pods. The plants absorb nitrogen from the air to improve your garden soil7 with the help of rhizobium bacteria colonizing the plant’s root nodules.8
If you're unsure of whether your soil has enough beneficial bacteria, or if you had a poor showing of peas from your garden the year before, you may purchase powdered inoculant and add it when planting.9 Soil that’s stocked with organic matter will contain enough nitrogen to start your pea plants.
You can also grow peas in containers.10 Prepare your soil in much the same way you would in the garden. Make sure the container allows for good drainage to reduce the risk of root rot.
Watch your weather and know the average date for your last spring frost. Sow seeds outdoors up to six weeks before the last spring frost when the soil temperature is at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit.11 Many folks traditionally plant peas on St Patrick's Day, which may work in your geographical area.12
While it's best to plant as early as possible since peas enjoy cool weather, don’t plant them too soon because this won’t speed up germination.13 Look for a spot in full sun14 and plant when the ground is dry enough that the soil doesn’t stick to spades, hoes or other gardening tools.15
The seeds will germinate more quickly if they’re soaked beforehand: Doing this 12 hours before planting is ideal.16 Sow the seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep and 1 inch apart with the rows spaced up to 18 inches apart. Once the seedlings have emerged, thin to 3 inches between, keeping the strongest plants.17
Once your plants are 6 inches tall, apply a thick layer of organic mulch to help retain moisture and reduce weed growth.18 Although young pea plants may withstand a light frost, at the end of the season a late frost hurts the flowers and may cause deformed pods to develop.
Green peas do not require a trellis to produce fruit, but they’re easier to pick when the vines are upright. When trained, the peas will attach by tendrils that curl and encircle the support. Pea plants tend to develop shallow roots if you water them too much, so consider watering lightly during the early growing season to encourage the plant to root deeper into the soil.19
Once the soil is prepared and the peas are in the ground, your only goal is to keep them moist until they start producing blossoms. When they’ve matured, harvest by using one hand to hold the vine and the other to pull the pod. If you pull with one hand it can damage the vine and reduce your coming crop.
When the weather is consistently warm, the plants will stop producing. Cut them down and leave the roots in the soil as this adds organic matter and nitrogen for your next crop. Consider succession planting with broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage to the area where you pulled up the peas as these plants require more nitrogen and benefit from the pea plants that were previously added.20
In broad terms, there are two different categories of peas: those with an edible pod and those that require shelling. Within those two categories you have a choice between the bush type and the tall type.21
Garden peas have a nonedible pod and must be shelled before they're eaten. Green Arrow is a popular heirloom dwarf garden pea. If you're seeking peas with an edible shell, you're looking for snow peas that are nearly flat with tiny peas inside the pod. These are popular in stir-fries.22
Sugar snap peas are a blend of garden and snow peas. They’re plumper but also have an edible outer pod. These tend to produce a little longer as the weather heats up. Some people like eating the pea shoots and tendrils from these plants because they're more tender than English peas or snow peas.
Your growing peas may be affected by aphids, Mexican bean beetles, woodchucks or fusarium wilt. Aphids are little green bugs that can survive in almost all hardiness zones. They multiply quickly so it's important to get them under control.23
The insects feed in large groups and will eat a wide variety of plants. Control them by spraying the leaves, including the underside, with cold water to dislodge them. With a large invasion you may have to dust your plants with flour.
You can also try an application of a mild solution of water and dish soap every two to three days, or use diatomaceous earth — but only when the plants are not in bloom, because it’s harmful to pollinators. Deter small animals like woodchucks by spreading urine pellets of their natural predators around your garden. These are commonly sold in garden supply stores.
The Mexican bean beetle may be slightly more challenging. It’s a destructive pest found in the Eastern U.S. and portions of the Southwest.24 Damage is most severe during the summer months. Consider hand picking the adults and those in the immature stages, then dropping them in soapy water.
You might also find bright yellow eggs laid in clusters on the undersides of leaves; these must be removed or the leaves need to be taken off. Consider bringing in natural predators, such as ladybugs, green lacewings and minute pirate bugs to eat the eggs and young larvae. Diatomaceous earth will also work on the adults but, again, should be avoided when the plant is in bloom.
Fusarium wilt is a pathogen that enters through the root system and interferes with the plant's ability to absorb water. The disease may show up in the later part of the growing season. It can survive in the soil so it's important not to compost infected plants.
If you feel you need a commercial product to control wilt, consider a biological fungicide that has been approved for use in organic production.25 Rotating peas with other crops can also help reduce the risk of wilt and pests in your garden.
Because peas are nitrogen fixing and benefit the bacteria in your garden soil, they are an environmentally-friendly food. Adding nitrogen fertilizer increases your plant’s susceptibility to fusarium wilt, so be wary of adding it unless you’re certain your soil needs it.
Green peas are rich in the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin known to be important for eye health. Additionally, they contain saponins, a plant steroid with far-reaching effects on health.26
Although many think of green peas as just a starchy vegetable, they’re packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. They help regulate carbohydrates during digestion supporting blood sugar regulation, likely related to high amounts of fiber.27
Green peas are a source of plant-based omega-3 fat containing about 30 mg of alpha linoleic acid in 1 cup. One cup of peas also contains 40% of your vitamin K requirement, 31% of the manganese that you need and 30% of your daily B1 intake.
Seek to add peas to your diet only occasionally as they contain lectins — proteins the plant uses as a built-in defense mechanism against predators. They have been linked to autoimmune reactions, chronic disease and inflammation.
While I don't recommend a lectin-free diet as you would miss out on antioxidants and other nutrients they contain, I do recommend you consume them only occasionally and prepare them properly to reduce the lectin content. You'll find more about lectins, food preparation and the reactions you may experience in my past article, "Limit the Lectins."
Source: mercola rss