Nothing signals spring like fresh peas straight from the garden. Crunchy, sweet and plucked off the vine, lightly steamed, or served in salads, peas are a favorite vegetable of many. Garden peas don't require a lot of care or special circumstances, but they do prefer cool weather to thrive. Below is how to care for garden peas.
Select the variety that's right for you. Garden peas come in several varieties: snap or snow peas and English peas, as well as early and late maturing, and vines that grow upward to 6 feet. Snap or snow peas are meant to be harvested when the peas are tiny and the pods are flat. The pods are eaten before the peas have time to grow. Snap or snow peas have edible pods when harvested young. If allowed to mature, the pods become more fibrous and less sweet but the peas inside are still edible. English peas or common garden peas are shelled, the pod is removed and the peas eaten. Some varieties have a shorter growing season which works well in areas where spring fades to hot summer quickly.
Soak the pea seeds in water for 10 to 12 hours for faster germination. Soil should have good drainage. Dig a trench about 8 inches deep and 4 inches wide in a location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight. Backfill the trench with a mixture of compost, fertilizer per package directions and garden soil so the trench is 4 inches deep.
Plant after the last date of frost in the spring. Plant the soaked peas in the 4-inch-deep trench about an inch apart and cover with about an inch of soil. That leaves them in about a 3-inch-deep trench because you didn't add all the soil back in. Seedlings sprout in about a week. Thin to 6 inches apart when 2 inches high. Rows should be spaced about 24 inches apart.
Fill in the trench when the seedlings are 5 to 6 inches high. They will grow extra roots along the stem portion that is now underground.
Water after planting and every week thereafter if there isn't an inch of rain per week.
Fertilize per package directions when the seedlings are between 8 to 12 inches high. Fertilizer isn't required after that because peas add nitrogen to the soil as they mature, rather than remove it for growth like other plants.
Stretch 5- to 6-feet-high garden netting or chicken wire between stakes to support the tendrils of the pea vines as they grow upward. Peas do not twine around a stake like beans do but rather use the tendrils to latch onto support.
Harvest snap or sugar peas when the pods are full size but still very flat. Wait until the pods are plump for garden or English peas. The more you harvest during the growing season the more peas the plants will produce.