On the dinner plate, peas look elegant and tender, and they are creamy and sweet when eaten. Perhaps you call those shelled peas another common name, such as shelling peas, green peas, garden peas or English peas. All those names refer to the product of the same pea plant (Pisum sativum).
The snow pea plant (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum) and snap pea plant (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) are similar to the species pea plant. The distinction is they both have sweet, non-fibrous, edible pods most often eaten with the peas inside instead of being removed from their pods, or shells. Snow pea has flat pods that are harvested when the peas in them are tiny and barely developed. Snap pea has plump pods that have nearly mature peas in them at harvest time.
Growing various kinds of pea plants begins with the soil and ensuring they have full-sun exposure.
Pea plants tolerate sandy or heavy clay soil, but they don't grow well in wet soil. Ensure your garden's soil drains well. Mixing 3 to 4 inches of mature compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of clay soil will loosen the planting site and help with drainage. Compost boosts a garden's nutrient level like an all-purpose fertilizer. Soil testing will determine the pH level of your garden bed. The pH for pea plants should be between 6 and 7.5.
Pea plants are legumes that require Rhizobium bacteria in the soil for healthy growth. If you have never grown legumes in your garden bed, then add Rhizobium bacteria to the soil. Many seed companies sell the bacteria as a powder. Sprinkle the powder on pea seeds when sowing them. Only one treatment with the bacteria is necessary because it remains in the ground indefinitely.
Pea plants are cool-weather annuals, living only one growing season. They can be planted in spring when the soil temperature is a minimum of 40 degrees Fahrenheit to a 2-inch depth. Although the plants do well in cool weather -- 55 to 65 F, the seedlings grow whenever the air temperature is above 40 F but below 85 F.
Some pea plant cultivars grow as vines and need trellis support. Other varieties develop into bushes that are 2 to 3 feet tall. Bush types planted in a row 12 to 18 inches wide stabilize each other.
Soak the Seeds
Soak pea seeds in water overnight. The soaking speeds their germination, or sprouting.
Dig a Trench
Put on garden gloves, and use a hoe to dig a trench that is 5 to 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep if you will grow vining pea plants. Dig a trench that is 12 to 18 inches wide and 4 inches deep if you will grow bush pea plants.
Sow the Seeds
Sow the seeds of vining pea varieties in the middle of the 5- to 6-inch-wide trench. Space them 6 to 7 inches apart down the trench row. Apply a light dusting of Rhozibium bacteria powder on the seeds, and cover them with 1 inch of soil. Moisten the site carefully with water to set the seeds and soil.
Sow the seeds of bush pea varieties across the 12- to 18-inch-wide trench, placing them 2 inches apart in all directions of the trench. Dust the seeds lightly with Rhozibium bacteria powder, and cover them with 1 inch of soil. Water the site gently to set the seeds and soil.
Install a Support
Push trellis posts firmly into soil a few inches from the seeds of vining pea plants and down their trench row's length. Plastic netting attached to wooden stakes makes a quick trellis.
Bush pea plants need no trellis or support because the plants support each other.
To help with drainage and give extra support, mound additional soil around the pea seedlings when they are 3 to 4 inches tall. Continue to add soil as the plants grow until the top of each seedling's soil mound is 1 inch taller than the trench.
If you did not add compost to the soil before planting and the seedlings turn yellow, then apply a side-dressing of 5-10-10 granular all-purpose fertilizer for vegetables. Sprinkle the granules straight down the plant row, keeping it 3 inches from the plants. Place the fertilizer side-dressing on either the right or left side but not both sides. Use 1/3 cup of fertilizer for every 12 1/2 feet of soil. Lightly mix the fertilizer with the top of the soil's surface taking care not to disturb any roots. Spray the new fertilizer granules with water to soak the top 2 inches of soil. Fertilize again in 6 weeks if necessary until the seedlings are green and not yellow.
If mulch is around the plants, it must be removed to sprinkle the fertilizer side dressing directly on the soil. After watering the fertilizer, put the mulch back in place.
Watering and Weeding
The pea plants need 1 inch of water from irrigation and/or rainfall each week. Water the plants' soil from near the soil line and not from above the plants' foliage.
Weed the pea plot by hand until the plants are tall enough to overshadow and block weeds from growing. Adding several inches of mulch, such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, or wood chips, on top of the soil surface will keep weeds at bay. Ensure the mulch does not touch the plants.
Once the pea plants' pods begin to fill with peas, take a pod sample each day to track the size of the peas. When peas are slightly larger than the dry pea seeds you planted, they are ready to harvest.
Shells the pods at once or cool them and shell them later. Cool the pods by plunging them into cold water. Air-dry the pods and then refrigerate them. They will stay fresh for one week.