Like so many other gardeners, I am itching to do something, anything.
Spring is fewer than 30 days away, but with snow still on the ground and a sad-looking lawn and landscape, it is hard to believe. However, I do see signs of spring. Willow tree twigs are turning yellow, and gardeners are thinking about planting peas.
I think of peas as an English vegetable crop, but they actually date back to around 400 or 500 BC, when the Greeks and Romans were growing dried peas and eating dishes like pea soup. Peas made their way to China and were being cultivated there by the 7th century. Instead of drying peas, the Chinese ate the green pea pods as a fresh vegetable. By the 1500s, dried peas became a popular food staple in France and England, but it was not until the 1700s that fresh green garden peas became popular.
Dried peas made their way to North America with some of the first colonists, and by the late 17th century, American gardeners were growing green, or English, peas. In their 1888 catalog, Burpee Seeds offered the green pea variety called Little Gem.
Green peas are still a popular garden crop and have pods that are harvested when the seeds are fully mature. However, the harvested pods must be opened and shelled to remove the peas for cooking or drying. A tedious process.
In 1970, a green pea revolution occurred when plant breeder Dr. Calvin Lamborn discovered a different type of pea, the snap pea. Snap peas, also known as sugar snap peas, did not have to be split and shelled. The crunchy pods and the tiny immature peas inside could be eaten together. Since then, snow peas, or Chinese pea pods, have also become popular with gardeners. They have sweet flat edible pods that are also harvested while the peas are tiny and immature. Snap peas and snow peas can be eaten raw or lightly cooked.
Peas are one of the first crops that gardeners plant in early spring. They are a cool season crop and grow best during the cool temperatures of early spring. However, do not get too anxious to tuck their seed into the soil. Take a little time to get the garden ready for spring and let the soil warm up a bit.
Washington State University recommends planting peas four to six weeks before the last spring frost (May 1 in this area) and when the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees. The traditional date of St. Patrick’s Day should work well for local gardeners if the soil is warm enough. If planting too early, the seed may rot or get eaten by seedcorn maggots before sprouting.
If you are new to growing peas, here are two hints from local gardening experts:
▪ Use an inoculant with your seed: If you have never grown peas in your garden, you should consider mixing the seed with a pea inoculant. This inoculant is a bacteria that works with the pea roots to help them take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form the plant can use for better growth.
▪ Soak your seed: Pea seeds are large and starchy. Many gardeners soak their pea seed overnight (no more than 12 hours) to aid germination. The seeds should be drained, treated with inoculant and planted immediately. Have your garden ready for planting before you soak the seed.
Want to know more about growing peas? Check out bit.ly/grow_greenpeas.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.