March: Peas, Please!
Peas can still be planted during all of March and April with reliable results. Cascadia for snap peas, Oregon Giant and Oregon Sugar Pod II for snow peas, or Canoe for fresh shelled peas are only a few of the delicious varieties available. Dwarf varieties normally bear for a short period only, so for a prolonged harvest plant a short row every 2-3 weeks through about mid-April.
In addition to the standards, there are beautiful heirloom pea varieties such as the 6’ tall “Capucijner blauschokkers “ pea with eye-popping red and violet flowers followed by blue-purple pods filled with brown-gray peas (picture from “Hayfield, a Pennsylvania Plant Geek’s Garden”). Experiment with small plantings of heirlooms until you see which varieties perform well for you. Each type of pea has virtues, so try something different each year. Snap peas seem to have the most versatility as a main crop. They hold on the vine longer than snow peas and late pickings can be used in recipes just like a green bean. Caught before they fatten in the pod too much, you can even pop the peas out of the pod as you would with shelling peas. Inoculate: Pea yields can be increased by inoculating the seed with rhizobial bacteria. Find packets of “legume inoculant” at just about any nursery that stocks vegetable seed, or order it from a seed company. Planting: Peas can be planted without tilling if the spot was worked last year. Just scratch out a 1” deep furrow and plant the seed 1” deep and about 1” apart. Peas are one of the only vegetables that actually benefit from a little crowding, so plant in a 3” wide band rather than a single row. Rows of dwarf peas can be spaced 12-18” apart, but rows of larger varieties are best at least 4’ apart. Peas emerge in 5 to 15 days, depending on soil temperatures. Once they’re up and going, side dress the row with 1 cup of complete organic fertilizer per five feet of row. Extend your harvest with 2-3 sowings or grow 2-3 varieties with different maturity dates. Marauders: freshly seeded peas sometimes get pecked out by birds, so you may want to protect pea rows with a loose fabric row cover, removing it once the peas are an inch high and rooted. Trellising: Seed packets usually indicate the eventual height of the pea vine but you may want to go ahead and put up a 5 foot trellis for all varieties but the true dwarfs. It’s hard to put up a trellis after pea plants overshoot the package’s suggested maximum height, which happens fairly often.
From “Skippy’s Vegetable Garden” Pea problems: Since weather related stressors encourage various pea diseases, it’s best to seek out disease resistant or tolerant varieties for at least your later plantings from mid-April on. Some of the resistant varieties are Maestro for shellers, Sugar Sprint for snap peas, and Oregon Giant or Oregon Sugar Pod II for snow peas. Harvest: Edible pod Peas picked early are tender to the tooth, but left a little longer develop more sweetness. Shelling peas should be picked as the pea seed swells but before the seeds “crowd” the pod, otherwise they get too starchy. Keep picking to keep them coming. More on Peas: Pea shoots, flowers and tendrils can be used as a salad green or quickly wilted by stir frying with lots of garlic and a combo of olive and sesame oil. Pea Shoot Culture: Per OSU Extension try Oregon Sugar Pod II, Oregon Giant and Cascadia. “When plants are 6 to 8 inches tall, clip off the growing points plus one pair of leaves to encourage branching. These clippings are your first pea shoot harvest of the season. Keep clipping the top 2 to 6 inches of each plant after regrowth – about every three to four weeks. Harvested pea shoots should include the top pair of small leaves, delicate tendrils and a few larger leaves and blossoms or immature buds. Select shoots that are fresh, crisp, bright green and undamaged. Those with immature blossoms are especially attractive for use as an edible garnish or in a fresh green salad.” Keep going until you get sick of them or the taste deteriorates. If you have a few surviving at 2-4” high in July, WSU says they may regrow and give you some more pea shoots in the fall. NOTE: if you try pea shoots, be sure to make a separate planting for the usual harvest of snow or snap peas pods! (To view or download OSU’s “Pea Shoots circular, Google PNW 567.) See you in the Pea Patch!