Year of the Pea

Peas. Little green jewels of the early summer garden. Fresh shelled peas. They bear no resemblance to canned or frozen peas. They are like an entirely differently vegetable. I don’t particularly care for frozen or canned peas. I can accept them in vegetable soup or maybe a casserole, but I wouldn’t just eat a forkful of them.

Fresh peas are different, they actually taste pretty good. But you generally can’t walk into a grocery store and find fresh peas, still in the pod, ready to be shelled. You may find some pea pods for a stir fry, but you rarely find fresh peas. If you want fresh peas, you really have to grow your own.

Each year, I try to grow peas. I plant a row of peas. The vines grow. But most years I am disappointed with my harvest. I just can’t seem to grow peas.

I’m certain I go through all the right steps in planting my peas. How hard can it be? They are fairly large seeds, as seeds go. I plant them with onions, radishes, several varieties of lettuce and spinach. They all grow just fine. But invariably, at the point in time when I would expect to harvest peas, I find half filled pods or short little pods with just 3 or 4 peas in them.

I remember when I was a kid, sitting on the back patio on Memorial Day weekend, shelling peas my Dad grew in his garden. Pods and pods of them. Pods full of peas that were, well, the size of peas. How did he grow them? And why can’t I grow them?

I found an old seed packet from some peas that were a disappointment in 2004, just one year of many years of poor pea production. I won’t name the variety or seed company, as I don’t think the variety or the seed company was the problem. On the back of the packet, they wrote:

“Noted for its reliable production even under hot and dry conditions where other peas fail! Perfect for late season plantings where heat may be a problem, or for when spring temperatures suddenly turn hot. Produces a short vine that does not need trellising…”

The description was so enticing; no wonder I bought this variety. They practically guaranteed success, making these peas look easy, like a beginner’s crop. So how could I fail?

My records indicate I planted them on March 28th. According to the same records, I harvested some edible pea pods on May 28th. But I’m sure even that harvest was measured only by the handfuls. I show nothing in my records about harvesting peas, good old-fashioned shelling peas. So I have to assume that 2004 was no different than any other year, going back to 1987, my first year to have my own vegetable garden. I apparently did not harvest any peas in 2004, or harvested so few it was not even worth writing down the event.

By the way, I did note in my records that on June 19, 2004, I purchased two new hoes, the putter hoe and the plow hoe, probably as a consolation prize for failing at pea growing, again. (Or for some other good reason, no doubt.)

So, what is the secret for growing peas? Where in all my gardening books is the answer? Who can tell me how to grow peas? Where is the answer?

The answer may be someplace I wasn’t expecting it to be. I may have found the answer the other day. I have a box of old seed packets in the garage that were my Dad’s from the last year he bought seeds, 1987. And there on a packet of peas he wrote:

“Planted Mar 6 with onions”

That’s the answer! And it has been hidden in a box in my garage for 20 years.

I’ve been planting my peas too late. Too late! I’ve never planted peas that early, that has to be it!

So this year, I’ve made a date with my garden for March 6, a Tuesday, to plant peas. Rain, snow, or sleet on that day will not matter. I’ll plant peas on March 6. Maybe I’ll even plant the lettuce and spinach on that day, too. And to really ensure success with peas, I’m going to plant the variety 'Green Arrow' because that is the variety of peas listed on the packet my Dad purchased 20 years ago. And I’ll plant them with onions.

It is the Year of the Pea!


  1. Carol, good luck with your pea-sowing and pea-growing -- this sounds like a worthy adventure! I love that you're using your Dad's advice to make it happen for you this year, too...that makes it all the better.

    The Inadvertent Gardener

  2. I sure hope your peas do well. That has to be it! My dad or grandparents didn't plant peas so I don't have any suggestions. I have never tried them either. That note was there for a purpose I suspect! Good luck!

  3. A lot of people say you should plant peas on St. Patrick's Day. Our ground is usually still frozen then, but usually peas need to be planted early because they don't like the heat. On the other hand, if the soil is too cold, they will rot in the ground before sprouting. Until I realized how late you were planting them, I was wondering if you had enough bees around to pollinate the flowers.

  4. It looks like you found your answer! I *love* garden peas, but may not plant them this year (see here for more info:

    But the main two things I wanted to say were: 1. Use innoculant; and 2. Don't plant the onions with the peas. If you don't already use innoculant for your legumes, give it a try. It's cheap, and it allows the peas/beans to fix their nitrogen nodules in the soil more readily, leading to larger crops. As for the onions, traditional companion planting says not to plant them with peas (or beans). Maybe your dad meant that he planted them on the same day, not in the same plot?

  5. Carol,
    I always planted peas too late too. One year I decided to plant early but the rabbits, groundhog and squirrels ran amok and decimated the crop. So much for early planting. Amazing that you found a 20 year old seed packet!

  6. I have eaten real fresh shelled peas only twice in my life. I bought them at the farmers market.The first time I bought them, they were fabulous. I couldn't believe how good they were. The second time, I guss they were old, because they had no sweetness to them. I never had the desire to take my chances again, since they were so expensive. Maybe I should try growing some.

  7. Your dad had the heart of a farmer. All farmers know exactly what day or date a certain crop should be planted. Does the moon have anything to do with it?

  8. Good luck, Carol! I have the same problem with tomatoes.
    Tomatoes, for Pete's Sake!!

  9. I never can get peas to grow either. One year I planted on St. Patrick's day, but that didn't work either. I have raised beds, so maybe I will borrow your date too, use the innoculant and plant onions near by. Now if the rabbits will just stay away.
    Kathy, (the older sister.)

  10. The traditional pea-planting date in Chicago was also on Saint Patrick's Day, as Kathy notes. If the ground had unfrozen a few inches, we planted the seeds, even if we had to scrape off a little snow.

    But here in Austin?? Mid-March is too late, so maybe I'll try February 6th, the Feast of Saint Dorothy, patron saint of Gardeners and Florists.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. Have you tried using inoculant, Carol? Here is a link to some:

    It is supposed to make a difference.

  12. Thanks all for the suggestions ane the encouragement. I am planting early, and will check into an innoculant.

    Ki... I didn't actually "find" the old seed packet. I've just kept it all these years, and realized recently what was written on it.

  13. Hey Carol...inoculant really helps, like Nan said. And I usually get mine from Johnny's, too.

    Another hint: fava beans like to be planted at the same time. And you can plant a second sowing on the 3rd week of August for a fall harvest...

  14. Plant 4 weeks before last frost date, but NOT NEAR ONIONS. Check your USDA zone chart for frost date. Here in zone 6 it is May 1st, I would guess Indiana as June 1, like MI. So plant around May 1 or even April 15? I just planted mine yesterday.



Post a Comment

Comments are to a blog what flowers are to a garden. Sow your thoughts here and may all your comments multiply as blooms in your garden.

Though there is never enough time to respond to each comment individually these days, please know that I do read and love each one and will try to reciprocate on your blog.

By the way, if you are leaving a comment just so you can include a link to your business site, the garden fairies will find it and compost it!