Freshly picked homegrown peas are simply irresistible. So sweet, they rarely make it to the kitchen. Classic green shelling peas are best known, then there’s sugar snaps you can eat pod and all, and crunchy snow peas that are perfect for salads and stir-fries. Peas are great space savers – they grow upwards rather than outwards – and city gardeners can grow dwarf varieties in pots. It’s good to know that peas have the remarkable ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen in their roots, so they’re great for improving poor soils.
By
Phil Dudman

6 Sep 2012 - 3:32 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2017 - 11:42 AM

At a glance

Ease of culture: Moderate
Where: Cool to subtropical zones
Types: Shelling, sugar snap, snow peas, dwarf peas
Best climate: Cool, temperate
When: Autumn and winter
Spacing: 10cm
Harvest: 10-14 weeks
pH: 6-7

 

Climate

• Peas like cool conditions with temperatures between 15-24ºC. They hate frost
• Sow from February to August in cool, temperate frost-free areas; September to October in cold districts; and April to July in subtropical regions
• Peas are not suited to the hot tropics, except in cooler highland areas. However, snow peas are more heat-tolerant and can be sown late March to early May.
• Peas need at least 6 hours of sun a day
• Provide some protection from strong damaging winds

 

Soil

• Peas grow in a variety of soils, but the drainage must be good
• Loosen soil with a fork to a depth of 30cm
• Toss in 2 full buckets of manure or compost per square metre – more for heavy clay soil
• Sprinkle a tight fistful of sulphate of potash per square metre to assist flowering and fruiting, and disease resistance
• A pH of 6-7 is best. If your pH is lower than 6, spread a handful of lime every square metre
• Mix your additives through with a fork and mound the soil to improve drainage  
• Soak the soil and leave it to settle for a few hours before planting

 

Support

• Most peas are climbers and need a support structure
• Attach a few vertical wires to a wall or fence or stretch a roll of plastic mesh between two tomato stakes. Alternatively, bind bamboo poles or tree branches to make trellises or tepees to add a rustic charm
• Install support frames before sowing. Align them in a north-south direction so that plants see the sun on both sides of the frame
• Support frames are not essential with dwarf peas. These only grow 50-75cm high and are reasonably self-supporting, especially when planted in blocks or double rows

 

Sowing

• The best method for planting peas is sowing seed directly in the soil
• Mark rows for planting by pressing a rake handle into the prepared soil, and then drag a trowel along the line to form a furrow 3-5cm deep
• Make rows 80-90cm apart for climbers and 40-50cm for dwarf peas
• Dribble seeds along the rows 10-15cm apart. For tepees, plant 3-4 seeds at the base of each pole
• Cover the seeds with about 2cm of soil
• Water seeds well, then don’t water again until they germinate. Pea seeds can rot when the soil is constantly wet

 

Training, watering and fertilising

• Young shoots emerge in about 10 days
• Insert short twigs beside seedlings to help guide them towards their frame
• Start watering when seedlings are 5-10cm tall, gradually increasing the depth of watering as they grow. Maintain consistent soil moisture to ensure good-quality returns. Mulch soil to trap in valuable moisture
• Pinch the tip growth out of the plants when 20-30cm tall, to encourage branching and higher yields.
• Peas fix their own nitrogen and don’t need a lot of fertiliser – just a sprinkle of all-purpose organic fertiliser when the pods are forming

 

Harvesting

• Peas form pods about 10 weeks after planting
• Pick peas for shelling when the pods are just plump – don’t let them get too old – check plants daily when they’re in full production
• Harvest just before cooking for the sweetest flavour
• Peak harvest lasts only 3 weeks or so, but successive sowing once a month will ensure an ongoing supply
• Bumper harvests can be lightly blanched and frozen