|Pea seedings in the April garden|
I planted most of my winter pea crop in March, but I also added a late batch in April. Just for extra.
Site selection: Peas like a sunny spot where it is also protected from winds. In autumn and winter, I usually plant in mine near the fence barrier between the vegetable garden and the main yard.
The space gets sun most of the day and the fence is ideal for allowing the plant to be staked to. In summer I plant my peas along with my maize crop. The pea plants can then run up the maize plants.
I've also grown dwarf peas in soil that seems to be deficient in nutrients, more to help the soil than because I expect to get a big yield out of it. Dwarf varieties don't really need much support, so they are happy to go anywhere as long as there is good drainage and sun.
Soil preparation: My soil is clay, with a good dose of manure and a bit of compost and mulch.
Planting process: I usually use one of those small plastic spades to make a small flat-bottomed trench that is 5cm (2in) deep and 15cm (6in) wide on soil that has been softened for planting. I then sow the seeds in the trench approximately 7.5cm (3in) apart and cover with soil and move on to the next row.
Or sometimes when I'm feeling lazy, I take a walk along my bed, basically inserting the pea seeds and guesstimating the depth space apart. Peas are kind, so they've germinated anyway.
Caring for the plant: Most of my plant care has just involved keeping the pea plants well-watered, but not so much they become water-logged. I also stake the runner-type plants.
My research on diseases and pests that could plague pea crops was a bit disturbing though. I would definitely have been a bit intimidated if I'd known at the beginning that peas are popular with aphids, pea weevils, thrips and pea moth, fusarium wilt, which turns the plants yellow, then brown and causes them to shrivel and die, and root rot fungi which happens if your peas are water-soaked for a while. Then there's mildew... By then I was thinking, "Good Lord! It's a wonder newbie gardeners still attempt growing peas!"
Still, don't be discouraged too much by the literature because adequate crop rotation, keeping your crops watered but not water-logged and if need be, growing your crop under an insect-proof mesh, helps you avoid most of the problems. But I did decide that I was going to speak to someone more technically savvy about the diseases, because surely I'll run out of luck sooner or later :)
Harvesting: Pea pod are ready to harvest when they look well-filled, but to be honest, I usually start munching on the peas when the pods start growing bigger while I'm in the garden. All in the name of testing to see if they're ready, of course.
The great thing is that they'll keep fruiting as you keep picking them, so you can have numerous harvests from the same plants. They stop producing flowers or pods if you stop picking them or wait too long to pick the batch though.
Serving suggestions: Freshly picked peas are soft and sweet and don't really need cooking. I just put a dishful of pods on the table and the family shell and snack on them throughout the day.
I also love throwing a bunch of them into a stew maybe two minutes before I take it off the stove. They bring in a sweet fresh taste to a dish and they also add some colour.
I also mix fresh peas with mashed potatoes (after mashing) and with my potato salads. Once the peas grow a bit solid/tougher, they start being boiled with soups. Or I cook them quickly with carrots, add a bit of butter/margarine, fresh basil, salt and pepper/paprika/cayenne pepper depending on the flavour I'm after, and I have one more dish for my table.