March is the time to grow peas here in Northern Virginia. In our family we prefer the sugar snap peas where you eat pea and pod together but shelling peas and snow peas are also started during March’s cool weather.
St. Patrick’s Day is my cue to soak the seeds in water overnight. Although this is not required, in my experience, it helps to prevent rotting which may occur if I were to plant the dry seeds in the cold soil. They need the soil temperatures to be at least 45 degrees in order to germinate. The optimum soil temperature for germination is actually 80 degrees but you cannot wait that long (i.e., summer) as it will get too hot to grow the plants.
After the seeds have soaked, there will be a few that have floated to the top of the water. These should be thrown away. They are not viable and will not germinate. Then drain the water off and place the now plump seeds in moist paper coffee filters or paper towels in zipped plastic bags. I leave them on a shelf, I do not put them under grow lights. Within two days, the seeds will have germinated. I then plant them outside about 4 inches apart when the soil is not too wet. I plant about 1 to 2 inches deep in a place where I have already inserted a metal trellis.
I don’t use an inoculant but you can if you want too. Peas have the ability to “fix” atmospheric nitrogen through nodules on their roots, which means that they can convert the atmospheric nitrogen into a form useable by the plant, thus giving the plant more nitrogen. The peas have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria called Rhizobium. The inoculation usually is a powder form of this bacteria and once applied it encourages formation of the nodules on the plant roots, which increases the capacity to fix the atmospheric nitrogen. The inoculant can be applied to the wet peas after soaking or mixed into the soil where they will be planted. The benefits are that the plant gets more nitrogen so there may be larger plants and increased yields and the soil gets a nitrogen boost for future crops. The con of course is that it is an added cost.
Peas need to be planted in full sun, usually with a trellis system. They can be planted in the ground, raised beds, or containers on the deck or patio. Peas have a shallow root system so the container does not have to be too deep. Keep in mind that a container will dry out quicker though. There are also dwarf forms and bush forms that may not need staking. Peas can take a light frost so if there is frost in March and April they will not have to be covered. With peas, the more you pick, the more you get. But with the edible flowers, the more you pick, the less peas you will get because the “fruit” or the pea cannot develop.
Peas are a great crop to grow for kids. They can easily pick them and, especially with sugar snap peas, pop them in their mouth. Flowers can be added to vegetable dishes or salads. The young shoots can also be eaten as a vegetable. Try growing peas this year. To purchase seeds or small plants, check out these seed companies or visit your local garden center.
The seasons are brief for us. We can grow them now before they succumb to aridity during warm weather later, and again in autumn before they succumb to cooling weather. It amazes me that some people can grow them much later (or earlier) here.