Growing Peas in Your New England Garden is Easy, Right from Seed
There is nothing better than picking fresh pea pods in late April and early May and eating them right out of the garden. The flavor is unforgettable. They're so good they rarely make it into the house to adorn a salad or in a fresh stir fry.
Stick to Peas Meant To Be Eaten, Pod and All
People can grow 2 kinds of peas, those are eaten in the pod (like you'll find in Chinese stir-fry) and those are sold frozen in bags or in cans. To get the best bang for your buck, leave the shell peas to the commercial growers and stick to the ones you harvest while the peas inside are still quite small. Shucking thousands of pea pods to get at the peas inside is nobody's idea of a good time, especially when you consider how many plants you'll need in the garden or the hours it will take to shuck and store them. So unless you have serious acreage and way too much time on your hands, peas grown for the edible pod are your best bet.
Peas Have a Short Window Of Opportunity to Grow
Because peas prefer a cool climate of say 50-70F, it means that they need to be planted in the ground between April 15 and May 15 and no later. In southern New England near the coast, the cool ocean keeps temperatures perfect for growing cool weather crops like peas during the Spring. In inland and northern areas, temperatures can swing wildly between 30F and 80F depending on which way the wind is blowing. This can make growing a little more challenging. The good news is that peas grow so fast that in essentially all of New England, you can enjoy a second crop of peas in the fall by planting new seed in early-mid September. The peas will love the cool fall air and reward you with a good crop in about 30-45 days.
What Variety to Grow - Bush or Vine?
Bush peas are just that, peas that tend to form a mound instead of a long vine. If your garden is vertically-challenged and you don't have room for poles, strings or other supports this is the type you should grow. If you are inclined to put up a 5-6 foot support, either metal or wood, we suggest you use vining peas because they will take up less space in your garden and be easier to harvest right from the trellis. Whatever variety you choose, they are very simple to plant and sprout quickly. We usually just take the pea and push it into the ground about an inch or so into the soil. Bush varieties should be planted about 8 to 12 inches apart and vining types can be as close as 4 inches because they grow tall, not wide. Just make sure you loosen the soil before planting and you should have good results.
Once Sprouted, Peas Will Grow Quite Quickly
If you are an impatient gardener, peas offer great satisfaction with little effort. Once they get going, peas can grow inches per day under the strong spring sun. They will begin flowering after a couple weeks and start setting peas immediately. The pea pods themselves can grow extremely fast as well, sometimes going from flower to harvest in less than a week's time.
How Do I Know When To Harvest My Peas?
The short answer is, whenever you want. Peas can be harvested at any stage of growth, but for the sweetest pods, clip them from the plant when the pod is about 4 to 5 inches long and is just beginning to swell with peas inside. If you wait too long, the peas will fully develop but the pods will begin to get hard and leathery. Once you harvest, its best to eat them the same day for the best flavor.
If you are having a pea explosion and you simply can't eat the day's harvest that same day, wash and dry the peas with a paper towel and store them in an air-tight container. That should buy you a few days without the pods becoming soggy or bitter.