How to Grow Peas Organically

February, March and early April are great times to plant peas in your garden. Growing peas is rewarding: they don't take up very much space, they can withstand winter's last blustery breaths and they yield some of the sweetest treats in the garden.

Varieties of peas
There are three different kinds of peas to grow in your spring garden: snap peas, snow peas and shelling peas. Snap peas, such as Sugar Snap, are round, sweet and plump and have edible pods. Snow peas also have edible pods but are flat and often less sweet than snap peas. They are the ones you find in the food at your local Chinese restaurant. Shell peas are the ones that are sold as frozen or canned peas. Their pods are tough and inedible, so the peas need to be popped out of the shell at harvest time. Shelling them is a little labor-intensive but worth it.

How to choose your peas
There are many good varieties of peas, but narrowing down the choice is easy. First, decide what type of pea you would like to grow: snap, snow or shell. Then decide if you would like to have a pea that needs a trellis for support or not. Finally, decide if you want an earlier- or later-maturing pea. If you know that certain pea diseases are a problem in your organic garden, you will want to choose a variety that is resistant or tolerant to that particular disease. When you buy your seeds, make sure that they have not been treated with fungicide. This is often done to help keep the seed from rotting in cold, wet ground, but synthetic fungicides are toxic and don't have a place in a truly organic garden. Besides, good organic gardening methods help your soil warm up sooner and get your peas off to a great start.

Growing peas
To get those peas growing, you'll want to make a raised bed for them and add some compost to it. This will help the soil warm up faster and stay drier, which helps the peas sprout quickly. Once you have the bed ready, it's time to plant the peas.

Peas are a legume, which means that they partner up with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to help fulfill their own nutritional needs. If the partnership gets going, you don't have to give your peas any nitrogen fertilizer. In fact, they will make enough nitrogen for themselves and will also leave some in the soil for the next vegetable that you plant. To take advantage of this great deal, all you have to do is buy some garden-pea inoculant (it's sold in powder form and is available from many seed and garden supply companies) and drizzle it onto the peas once you plant them, or wet the seeds and coat them with the inoculant before you plant them.

Plant the peas in rows about 2 feet apart with about 1 seed per inch. If your peas need trellising, your trellis can go right between the rows so that two rows share one trellis. Installing your trellis right around planting time will save you a lot of time and will help your peas by giving them something to support them as soon as they need it. It's a real chore to build a trellis for existing vines and then train them onto it. You can make a trellis out of chicken wire, posts and twine or anything else that works for you.

Once the peas are growing strong, they don't need much care. You can eat the young tendrils they send out in salads and soups while you're waiting for the main event. Once the peas are formed and are a size that you like, pick them right away. Peas need to be picked almost every day so that the plant will keep producing more. You'll probably also like younger, more tender peas better than their more-mature kin.

Peas can be enjoyed plain, in soups and in stir frys. According to many fish experts, they are an excellent snack for pet fish and a favorite treat of wild fish too.

Peas at a glance:

  • Main types: Snap Peas, Snow Peas and Shelling Peas

  • Preferences: Peas like raised beds

  • Some varieties need trellising.

  • Days from sowing to harvest: Approximately 50 to 60

  • Recommended varieties: Sugar Snap, Coral Shell Pea, Oregon Giant Snow Pea

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