Sweet and Short: Plant Peas for Spring
Garden peas are such a delicious vegetable: crunchy, sweet and nutritious. They are also a very short crop, but what a treat even if the harvest is only for 2 – 4 weeks. Succession planting extends the season, but even if you plant peas for spring with only one crop, rest assured that even a single planting of peas benefits the veggie garden, nourishing the soil and acting as a green manure.
When to sow depends on the different regions. In warmer areas, such as the lowveld and less frosty highveld areas around Pretoria, the eastern and western Cape, peas can be sown from March as an autumn crop or in June and July as a spring crop. In colder areas such as in highveld gardens, the Karoo and Northern Cape, as well as in the Eastern and Western Cape where there is a long, cool spring, garden peas are more of a spring crop and should be sown in July and August.
Do’s and don’ts when preparing the soil
Don’t add too much nitrogen (manure, fertiliser) because this produces leafy growth and poor yields. Use a fertiliser rich in potassium and phosphorus.
Types of peas
Whether you opt for bush or climbing peas depends on the space, sun and time you have to spend in the garden. Bush peas don’t need trellising, although they still sometimes need support. Climbing peas need a little help to start climbing, but they may be the answer for limited space. They can be grown up a fence, up a tepee or on a trellis against a wall. Other than the normal garden peas there are snow peas (edible flat pods with small peas inside) and snap peas (edible pods with full-size peas). The most important requirements are full sun in winter and light, fertile soil that drains well.
To trench or not to trench?
Some gardeners believe in trenching, as is recommended for long-flowering sweet peas. If this is your preferred method, especially if you have heavy soil, dig a trench about 45 – 60cm deep. Loosen the soil at the bottom, add decaying vegetative matter (12cm deep), sprinkle in some manure and tread it in. Cover with a 15cm layer of soil mixed with manure or compost. Fill up the rest of the trench with good quality top soil to within 9cm of the surface. Sow seed 3 – 4cm deep, and as the plants grow gradually fill in with soil so that the plants are deeply rooted. In gardens where soil is deep, fertile and friable, and drainage is not a problem, sow seed about 3 – 4cm deep and about 5cm apart in shallow drills. Seed can be sown in single rows or in double rows 15cm apart with a 75cm gap between the double rows, for easy working.
7 tips for growing peas successfully
- Keep the soil moist during germination
- For climbing peas, put the supports in place at the time of sowing
- Thin out the seedlings to a final spacing of 40cm between plants
- Water with care. The soil should be moist, but not too wet or allowed to dry out. Plants that dry out don’t produce pods. Cold, wet soil encourages fungal and rotting diseases
- Spread a light mulch around the plants to keep the soil moist
- Support bushy plants by drawing the soil up around the stem. • Feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser once the plant starts flowering.
3 easy ways to stake climbing garden peas
Plant peas for spring next month in a number of regions. They can be started indoors four weeks before planting outdoors and transplanted into the garden two weeks before the last frost date, which is around September 15. Peas need 4 – 6 hours of sun and fertile soil that contains well-rotted compost and an organic 2:3:2 organic fertiliser. A good succession planting tip is to sow seed and plant seedlings at the same time. Seedlings should start podding within a month while seed takes 6 – 8 weeks to do so.
Climbing peas need to be staked and there are three easy ways to do this:
- Push a 1.8m wooden stake/pole into the ground before planting or sowing seed at the base. Doing it as an afterthought could damage the roots of the plants. As the plants grows, wind it around the stake to get it going or tie it onto the stake. It is as simple as that.
- Make a tepee by tying three poles together at the top with wire or twine. Spread the legs out equidistantly. Plant a pea at the base of each pole and train the peas upwards by winding them around the poles.
- Make a cage using a large-hole wire mesh, big enough to put your hand through to plant the peas. Using cable ties, tie the ends of the wire mesh together to make a circle and secure it by attaching it to a few stakes pushed deeply into the ground. The soil should be prepared before placing the cage. Plant the peas inside the cage, either using two or three seeds per hole or planting a seedling.
When the show is over
Cut off the plants leaving the roots in the ground and add the tops to the compost heap, or just dig the whole plant into the soil while it is still green.
The pick of the crop
Don’t let pea pods linger on the bush. Pick them when young and crunchy and the peas are well formed but not as hard as bullets (they won’t taste good either). That means picking at least twice a week. Peas also don’t store well. Pick and eat them on the same day. That preserves their nutrient content and sweetness.