Planning Summer Snacks?


Want to save a little grocery  money and have a great activity to share with your kids (or anyone else) this summer? Katie Elzer-Peters, author of Midwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, says that you should consider planting peas.

Everyone can grow peas. They are, hands down, the easiest vegetable to grow. You can grow shelling peas (that you remove from the shell before eating) and edible-podded peas (such as snap or snow peas). Pea shoots, the top 6 inches of growth on the pea plant, are also edible. Cook pea shoots like you’d cook braising greens, or sauté them in olive oil and lemon juice with a bit of garlic, and toss with pasta. Yum! Peas are a vegetable that will save you a lot of money if you grow your own. It’s expensive to buy tasty fresh peas but inexpensive to grow them.

Growing your own peas can save you money at the grocery store.

If you want to pick delicious peas and eat them right out of the garden, grow sugar snap or snow peas. Recommended varieties are ‘Sugar Snap’, ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’, ‘Snowbird’, and ‘Sugar Bon’. Try these varieties of shelling peas: ‘Wando’, ‘Green Arrow’, ‘Freezonian’, and ‘Tall Telephone’.

When and Where to Plant
Temperature: If you plant two successive groups of peas, they’ll ripen at different times so that you’re not overwhelmed with more peas than you know what to do with. In the central Great Plains and lower Great Lakes, plant peas outside in early March. Plant peas in the northern Great Plains and upper Great Lakes April 15 to May 1.

Soil: Peas do not need excellent soil. As legumes, they fix their own nitrogen—in effect making their own food.

Sun: Full sun.

How to Plant
Starting seeds indoors: Not recommended.

Planting outside: Use a hoe to dig rows 1 inchdeep (even in raised beds).

Plant rows 8 inches apart in raised beds and 18 inches apart in regular garden beds. Space seeds 2 inches apart when planting.

How to Grow
Water: Keep the soil evenly moist but not soaking wet. Do not allow the bed to completely dry out.

Fertilizer: Do not over fertilize peas with nitrogen. Too much nitrogen can cause lots of green growth and no flowers. No flowers equals no peas!

If you have poor soil, sidedress with a lower nitrogen fertilizer when plants are 6 inches tall. The phosphorus and potassium will encourage good fruit development, and that’s what you want to eat—the fruits!

Pest control: Aphids are the biggest pest problem for peas. Use insecticidal soap according to package instructions to control the pests.

When and How to Harvest
Pick or clip off individual pea pods to harvest. Peas will be ready for harvest about 60 days after planting.
Harvest snap peas when the pods are plum but still dark green in color.

Harvest snow peas when the pods are still relatively flat. The flowers might still be hanging on to the ends of the pods of both types of peas when you harvest the pods.

Harvest shelling peas when the pods are plump but still dark green.

Once the pods start to turn yellow, the sugars in the peas convert to starch and they aren’t tasty anymore.

Growing Tips
Place pea stakes or supports as soon as you see the plants germinating. They grow fast, and it’s nearly impossible to wrestle a staking system into place once the plants are taller than 6 inches.

If you have poor germination rates, the peas could have succumbed to a fungal problem. Try again with a different variety that’s disease resistant.

If you have tall plants but few peas, pinch off the growing tip of the plant to encourage more fruit production.