Gardening & Homesteading

How to Grow Snap Peas

How to Grow Snap Peas

Peas are pretty easy to grow. Just give them cool, spring weather, composted soil that drains well, and some climbing support. If you’re short on space, peas can be grown in containers, along walls, or trained up corn and sunflower stalks.

History and Culture of Peas

Peas are one of the world’s oldest crops. Wild peas were foraged centuries before they were domesticated as the trellis climbers we know today. Peas were one of the first plants to be selectively bred by farmers, and were the key crop that Gregor Mendel used in the 1800s to figure out how plant genetics and hybridization worked.

Related: The Difference Between Open Pollinated Seeds, Hybrids, and GMOs

Peas come in two varieties: shelling peas and “snap” or “snow” peas. Both types need the same conditions for growing, but shelling peas do not have an edible pod and therefore the peas must be removed or “shucked” from the pod.

In contrast, snap or snow peas are meant to be eaten whole, pod and all. Snap peas are usually thicker and broader than snow peas, and can often be sweeter, too.

I prefer to grow snap and snow peas because they are less work at harvest, and provide even more deliciousness to eat.

Growing Snap Peas

To get the best head start, turn over your pea planting beds in the fall, add manure to the soil, and mulch well. Then 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost, sow seeds outdoors when soil temperatures reach 45 degrees F. (To check soil temperatures, use this handy soil thermometer.)

Pre-Germinate Your Seeds

You’ll get the best germination rate for your peas if you pre-sprout them before planting. To do this you should:

  1. Moisten a paper towel or cotton cloth. It should be damp, not soaking wet, so as to avoid fungal growth.
  2. Space the seeds about an inch apart on the towel and carefully roll it up.
  3. Place the moist towel into a plastic bag or a glass storage container. Since seeds need to breathe, do not seal the bag or container (leave the lid loose).
  4. Place the container in an area that is about 45-50 degrees F, which is optimal germinating temperature for peas. Check the moisture level daily and remove any seed which has formed mold.
  5. Sprout the seeds until they have just germinated to avoid breaking off any tender shoots, and then plant them in containers or directly into the garden right away. They are fragile at this stage, so they need to be handled with extreme care.

Maximize Nitrogen

One of the benefits of growing peas is that, as a member of the legume family, peas fix nitrogen in the soil which will help fertilize future plants. By rotating your peas every year into different parts of your garden, you can add nitrogen to your soil, year by year.

To grow a bountiful pea harvest and to fix the most nitrogen in your soil, you will need to add Mycorrhizae innoculant to the planting holes as you put the seeds in the ground. This soil bacteria works symbiotically with your pea roots to help them fix nitrogen in the soil. It will also help protect them from drought and disease to a degree as well. (Get innoculant online here.)

How to Plant Pea Seeds

Plant your pea seeds 1 inch deep (deeper if soil is dry) and 2 inches apart adding a little mycorrhizae innoculant to each hole as you go.

I usually plant a double row that is 8 feet long, but only 6 inches wide, with over 100 plants. I grow them up a trellis net placed at the very back of the garden bed. This gives me a lot of food for the space in my garden, and enough peas for my family to eat fresh, canned, pickled or frozen all year.

It is usually recommended that you put at least 2 seeds in each hole when planting, in case one of the seeds does not germinate. But if you pre-sprouted your seeds, you can carefully place just one seed exactly where you want it.

Though adding compost or manure to the soil before planting won’t hurt, peas don’t need fertilizer, which will reduce your harvest. When you water them, water the soil, not the plant, to discourage disease.

Harvest and Storage of Snap Peas

Always pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried. They are crispiest then, and picking dry plants will reduce the chance of spreading any diseases.

Always use two hands when you pick peas. Hold the vine with one hand and pull the peas off with your other hand. Keep your plants well-picked to encourage more pods to grow.

When your peas are done growing once the weather warms up, just snip the stems off at ground level and let the roots decompose in the soil, leaving the nitrogen fixed into the roots for future crops.

Peas can be kept in the refrigerator for about 5 days. For long-term storage, you will need to freeze them or can them. You can also let them grow too long and then dry and store them, but I don’t recommend using snow or snap pea varieties for dry peas. A regular shelling pea is better for this.

Snap Pea Recipes

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.

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