Growing Peas in Your Vegetable Garden

MOTHER’s vegetable garden shares how to grow peas, including the history and horticulture of the pea, what, where, when and how to plant, pests, and how to harvest and store peas.

| March/April 1988

MOTHER’s vegetable garden shares how to grow peas. These garden pearls are the sweet gift of spring. 

Growing Peas in Your Vegetable Garden

After a long winter without fresh homegrown produce, peas — traditionally among the first crops to be planted — reward a gardener’s patience with a crisp, sweet taste that embodies springtime. And, like homegrown corn and tomatoes, peas straight from the garden are so superior in both taste and texture to anything found in stores that they’re well worth the space a patch consumes and the time it takes to produce a bountiful harvest.

What Peas to Grow

Pisum sativum is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Peas were foraged from the wild for thousands of years before they were domesticated; however, the large wildlings gathered by our cave-dwelling ancestors were probably roasted and peeled like chestnuts. Greeks and Romans thought green peas were poisonous unless they were dried to cure their “noxious and stomach-destroying canker.”

It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that a French gardener developed a hybrid green pea that much later became the rage in the court of Louis XIV. Madame de Maintenon wrote, “There are ladies here who, having supped with the King and supped well, retire to the privacy of their chambers, there to feast in secret on dishes of petits pois. This is both a fashion and a madness!”

Since those days of petit pois mania, many varieties of peas have been developed. They now come in early types (harvested in seven or eight weeks), midseason (ready in eight or nine weeks) and late varieties (requiring 10 weeks to maturity). Some peas produce tall vines that need supports, while dwarf types often can stand alone. Among English — or green — peas there are both smooth-seeded and wrinkle-seeded types, which must be removed from their fibrous shells. Snow or sugar peas are eaten pods and all, and sugar snaps can be eaten as young pods or allowed to mature into equally tasty shelled peas.

When selecting a variety, be aware that vining types usually produce a heavier crop than do most dwarfs, and wrinkle-seeded peas tend to be sweeter than the smooth ones. (For autumn and winter plantings, choose a hardier smooth variety.)

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