If you haven’t tried fresh-picked peas yet, you are missing out. Home-grown peas have an incomparable flavor to the store-bought version. They are juicy, crispy, and naturally sweet. Growing them, however, requires a little planning and lots of patience.
When to grow peas in Central Texas?
Peas have two planting times in central Texas. The first one is in the fall around, September through October. The second one is in early winter, around January through February.
Fall planting is the ideal time for best production. Peas are cool-season crops. They enjoy day temperatures in 70F (21C) and night temperatures in 50F (10C). Anything above 80F (27C) is too hot and will stress the plant, causing it to crips up and die.
Two things threaten peas in central Texas: a deep freeze and early heat. Since both are hard to predict, the gardener relies on luck. Early 2020 has seen unusual deep freezes that destroyed the fall-planted peas. Then summer heat kicked in early, stopping the production of the second planting.
A solution for this dilemma is to find the variety that will make it for each planting time.
Pea varieties that grow well in Central Texas
When choosing the pea variety for your garden, consider the following criteria:
- How many days till maturity? The smaller the number, the better. Fast-maturing varieties have a better chance of escaping late freeze or early heat.
- Is it cold or heat-tolerant? Cold-tolerant peas do not withstand a deep freeze but can take some cold. These are great for fall planting. Heat-tolerant peas can set fruit under some heat, so they are best for winter planting.
- How tall does the plant get? Choosing short varieties makes protecting them with row covers much easier. They also tend to have a shorter maturity period, saving us some time.
Generally speaking, there are three types of peas.
Snow peas are a Mange-Tout type of peas. They are flat, and the peas never develop. They mature early and are prolific producers.
Sugar snap peas are slightly fuller than snow peas but are still a mange-tout. They are sweeter and somewhat fast-growing.
English peas or shelling peas are grown for the peas. They usually take the longest to mature.
You may also divide peas into two groups according to their growth habit. All pea plants are vining plants and need some support to keep the fruit off the ground. However, some varieties can reach six feet in height, while others stop at 18 inches. (more about it later)
Direct sowing vs. starting pea seeds indoors
Direct sowing of the seeds in the ground is recommended. Yet, starting them indoors is also a possibility.
Since Texas summers are long, starting the seeds indoors is one way to get a head start on the season.
It is best to start the seeds in root trainers or deep pots. It prevents root binding and minimizes excessive handling of the roots at transplanting.
For fall planting, start seeds in September. If October is cool enough, then direct sowing time begins and continues till February.
Click here to learn more about seed starting basics.
Soil requirements for growing peas
Peas do well in most soil types as long as there is good drainage. Add organic matter or good compost to any soil to improve its texture and feed its biological life.
Do peas grow in full sun or in shade?
Peas need full sun for best performance. Less than six hours of direct sunlight will cause low and slow production.
Planting and spacing
Spacing vining varieties one inch apart, or even less, does not present any problem. Space bush varieties two to three inches apart.
If you are planting in rows, give yourself enough space to move between them. Two feet apart or more seems to be reasonable.
Fertilizing growing peas
Like legumes, peas are nitrogen fixers. They have a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria living in their roots. The bacteria help the plants use the nitrogen by transforming it into a usable form.
Contrary to common thought, legumes do not fix nitrogen in the soil for other plants to use. The bacteria makes it available for them. Once dead, the unused Nitrogen is released from the nodules in the root system.
Click here to learn more about the nitrogen-fixing process.
Provide the peas with the right conditions to thrive by adding organic matter to the soil. Then supplement with a boost of a seaweed feed throughout the growing season.
It is important to remember that too much nitrogen may lead to aphid infestation. Make sure the soil is balanced and well-draining.
Support your growing peas
There are two types of peas: vining and bush.
The vining peas can reach up to six feet tall. They are delicate and need a trellis for support. Netting, chicken wire, or cattle panels, are ways gardeners use to support their peas.
The bush variety does not need outstanding support. Crisscrossing some twigs works just fine.
Both varieties send little thread-like branches called tendrils to hang into the support.
Check the seeds packet to find out what kind of peas you are growing.
Pea plants need regular watering. Overwatering, as well as underwatering, can cause plant stress.
There are two major pest problems to be prepared for when growing peas in a central Texas garden.
- Rodents: Mice and rabbits love to snack on pea sprouts. Thus, consider protecting the peas with a mesh cover or an animal guard.
- Spider mites: They are pencil-tip-sized red insects. They live on the underside of the leaf, where they suck in the sap. It is hard to control them once they appear. Early planting to delay their infestation is the best management. Harvest as much as possible until the vine gives up and dies. Discard the plant and do not compost.
Read more about spider mites here.
It is a fungal disease that is more prominent in warm and humid weather. It looks like a white powder on the leaves, hence the name.
Spring peas are more susceptible to it. Increasing fall planting is the best way to avoid dealing with it.
Milk or baking soda spray can help slow the spread if it occurs anyway.
Read more about dealing with powdery mildew here.
How do you protect growing peas from a freeze?
Peas are cool-season crops. They can withstand cold temperatures and light frost. Use fleece or thick row cover to protect them against freezing temperatures. Yet, expect to lose them if the temperatures get below 25F(-5C).
Unfortunately, since the 2020 snowstorm, Central Texas has been experiencing record-breaking low temperatures. One solution I found helpful was:
- Plant short varieties to use short trellises. The latter serve as row cover support.
- Triple protection: Cover the peas with a row cover, followed by plastic, then top with another row cover or an old bed sheet.
- Hold the covers in place using garden clamps.
In the picture below, you notice one bed has a plastic cover on top the other has a row cover. That was, actually, an experiment I was running to see if there would be any difference.
The result was pretty much the same when it came to protecting the crop.
When to harvest peas
Fall-planted peas begin flowering at the end of January. Depending on the variety, some will be sooner than others. Snow peas harvest may start mid-February, while other types may take a bit longer. Yet, pick the pods whenever you feel like it.
Make sure to harvest every so often to ensure continuous production.
How Many Peas To Grow?
Since we are growing vegetables with the goal of providing enough for our families, this question comes up frequently: how much should I grow?
After years of experimentation, I have finally come to an answer for myself. Once I figured out how to make my plants survive the harsh weather, I realized how much I should grow for my family. However, this is relatively dependent on the way we use peas in the kitchen.
After successfully and densely planting four rows of peas, four feet each. I was able to harvest four pounds of peas without the shell. That was enough for us to make about five or six meals.
In conclusion, I will be planting a minimum of eight four-foot-long rows worth of peas.
Peas in the kitchen
Peas are used in various dishes around the world. They are eaten either raw or cooked. Preserve the peas harvest by freezing, drying, or canning.
Mange-tout varieties are a great snack for kids and are the best choice for a stir-fry.
Some of our favorite pea recipes are: