Salads All Winter? You Bet, With Austrian Winter Peas

Super-cold-hardy Austrian winter peas will give you delicious green winter salads and build your soil as a nitrogen-boosting winter cover crop.

  • You can enjoy fresh pea shoots in salads throughout winter, all the way into asparagus season.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • Even in midwinter, Austrian winter peas stay green and healthy, ready to harvest.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • A patch of Austrian winter peas will add nitrogen to your garden's soil, and provide nectar for bees in the spring.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • The shoots of winter peas taste great in omelets.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • Winter pea flowers offer both beauty and nectar in spring.
    Photo by Cheryl Long

Gardeners love to try new things, but it’s not often we stumble upon something truly “new.” For me, that happened a few years ago, when I discovered that the shoots from a winter cover crop I was growing were an excellent salad green. These super-cold-hardy Austrian winter peas deserve a place on every gardener’s winter “must grow” list.

First, the shoots are delicious. Whenever I ask friends to taste them, their surprised response is, “Wow! The shoots taste just like actual peas!” Everything I’ve spotted online about these peas refers to using them as a cover crop, but almost no sources mention that they also make a superb winter salad green. I did find one website that said, “the young foliage tastes of green pea and can be quite good, but the plant isn’t normally grown as food.” And a blogger on the Richmond Food Collective recommended adding the “yummy pea tips” to winter salads.

What makes these peas so special is that they’re especially cold-hardy. As with spinach and kale, you can plant Austrian winter peas in late summer or fall, and then harvest the shoots for as long as eight months in many regions (October to May) before the peas flower and go to seed in spring. Several sources say Austrian winter peas can survive cold down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I can report that with a simple row cover or frost blanket, these peas can even tolerate extended periods of single-digit temperatures here in my eastern Kansas Zone 6 climate, where we get lots of wind and not much snow cover. I plant them in fall in time for them to grow 8 to 12 inches high before freezing temperatures arrive, and the peas overwinter just fine with no protection most years. Last winter was an especially cold one, yet I continued to harvest Austrian winter peas, along with kale and spinach, for terrific fresh, green salads right through the cold snaps.

Winter Peas’ Benefits

Here are six additional reasons to try these wonderful, under-appreciated winter peas:

They add nitrogen. Peas are legumes and that means they will fix nitrogen in your garden soil, necessary for rapid growth and plant health, if the proper bacterial inoculant is present in the soil. When I check the roots of my summer peas and beans for the nodules that are formed by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, I usually don’t find them, even if I inoculated the seeds before planting. But on the roots of my Austrian winter peas, I always find extensive nodules. Now when I plant my winter peas each fall, I scatter a few shovelfuls of soil from last year’s pea bed to provide the inoculant for the new crop. (Don’t do this if you’ve had any sign of root rot on your peas.)

They support beneficial soil fungi. As we explain in our article Mycorrhizal Fungi: The Amazing Underground Secret to a Better Garden, it’s a good idea to keep live plants growing in your beds during winter, as they’ll support the mycorrhizal fungi that help plant roots take up essential nutrients, thus ensuring a robust harvest. Winter peas are a perfect crop for this purpose.

10/25/2019 5:40:06 PM

My garden is a container garden, utilizing pots that are 22 inches in diameter. Are cover crops used for this type of gardening?

3/7/2016 11:34:33 AM

Tried them year. Planted a 1/2 pound of seeds. Tasted liked peas. Amazing! But my lab loved them. Foraged on them every chance she got. Mowed them down. Try more next this fall.

10/20/2014 12:02:59 PM

loved article bout peas. never had heard of them before.



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