Peas are a member of the legume family. Legumes are plants, or the fruits of plants that produce seed pods, with seeds attached to one half of the pod. The pods split in half to drop the seed. Peas are low-maintenance, but prone to attack from pests such as mice, rats, deer and pigeons. There are many pea varieties. If several different varieties are grown, the harvesting season can be extended into late autumn.
Seeds and Germination
Pea seeds are dried, and should be soaked in water for 12 to 24 hours prior to planting to rehydrate the seed to speed up germination. If regularly watered, pea seeds should germinate in 7 to 14 days, depending on the climate and weather. Small, pale green shoots will appear, growing rapidly. Two to five days after the shoots break through the soil, they will reach roughly 1 inch in height and begin producing leaves.
If peas were started in seed trays, move them to their final growing position when they are approximately 3 inches high. When the seedlings reach this height, they will begin to develop small, grasping trailers that they use to anchor and support themselves as they grow. Rabbits and deer love young pea plants. If you have a known problem with rabbit or deer in your growing area, net the young plants as they are very vulnerable at this stage.
Once in their final positions, seedlings should be given a frame of some kind to grip onto as they grow. Depending on the variety and the condition of the soil, mature pea plants can reach heights of 6 to 8 feet. Willow or bamboo canes can be used to create “tepee” frames, or netting can be pulled taut between two stakes. The trailers will grip the supports, each other and other plants as they climb.
Depending on the variety, tall climbing peas will begin to produce flowers at 3 to 4 feet tall. Once the flower has been pollinated and died back, a small pea pod will be visible. Pod maturing times vary widely depending on weather and pea variety. Pods that are ready to be picked (if growing regular garden peas, not flat varieties) will swell and have a dark green, glossy pod. For eating, the pods should be picked before the peas inside swell enough to make the pod overly full and hard, as the peas become bitter and hard. Another indication that peas are getting too old is that the pod starts to turn pale, and if left longer, the pod wrinkles as it begins drying out. These wrinkled pods can be left on the plant to dry out. Once the pods are completely dry, remove them from the plant. Shell the semi-dried peas and leave to air dry. Use these peas as seed next season.
Peas are prone to attack from many garden pests. Mice love the seed. Rabbits and deer will eat the young plants, and pigeons are capable of decimating a crop of peas. Pigeons feed off the very young pea pods and the growing tips of the plants, stunting growth and reducing fruit yield.