Some of my earliest garden memories as a child are planting rows of pea seeds with my parents, and then at harvest time stuffing my pockets with pods. It was an exciting day when I discovered at around age 12 that there are far more to peas than just regular green shelling peas. Yellow snow pods, purple snap pods, speckled soup peas... to this day they’re a plant near to my heart.
Peas are divided up into shelling peas, snow peas, snap peas, and soup peas. Shelling peas are the common, crack open the pod and eat the peas inside kind. Both snow peas and snap peas have edible pods; snow peas are broad and flat and sweetest when quite young, while snap peas are round with thick crispy pod walls, and usually sweetest when more fully developed. Soup peas are left on the vine and harvested when fully dry. Any kind of pea can be dried on the vine of course (that’s how we save seeds), but soup peas are usually extra productive.
They all grow in pretty much the same way, and they’re among the easiest veggies.
Growing Peas in the Maritimes:
Peas thrive in cool moist weather. They especially love the long springs of coastal BC, where I began my early gardening career, but they’re quite adaptable and happy across the rest of Canada too.
We always direct sow our peas, starting in early spring (April, or even late March depending on the season), right up until mid-June when hotter weather arrives. Although peas like it cool, their seeds can rot in cold wet soil. We can get away with early sowings in our sandy loam, but in heavier soil it would be wise to wait. I know a few folks with heavy clay soil who start peas inside and transplant them out for this reason. I like the plant the seeds densely, about 2” apart within each row. The vines don’t mind close quarters.
The plants send out tendrils as they grow, to grip onto anything and everything around them for support. Some varieties like Snow Wind and Spring Blush have extra prolific tendrils, and have an easier time supporting themselves. Short growing varieties are often fine planted densely with minimal extra support, while tall varieties can reach up to 6-8 feet when they're well supported. Mesh netting, bamboo stakes, sticks from the woods and old recycled fish netting all make great pea supports. I sow mine in two parallel rows per bed, with a row of mesh staked in between, cut to different heights for different varieties.
As legumes, peas fix nitrogen and can tolerate less than awesome soil. However they do best in moist, well amended soil (but then, which vegetables don’t?). They tolerate partial shade quite happily, in fact some shading from summer heat can be ideal.
After planting and staking, I pretty much let my peas do their thing until harvest time.
Saving Pea Seeds:
Saving seeds for peas is very easy, just leave the pods on the vine to dry and collect them when they’re ready. Ideally the vines can be left in the garden until the pods are fully brown and the seeds rattle inside. Here in NS that ideal often works, but late summer rains can make it a dodgy proposition some years. If the pods are nearly dry, with a rainy spell coming, often I’ll pull the whole vine and hang them inside to finish drying. As long as the pods are still attached to the stem, they’ll continue to develop and draw energy from the plant.
Once the pods are crispy and dry; just thresh them, winnow them, and you have your seeds! Or dry soup peas as the case may be.
Pea flowers are self-pollinating, and crosses are very rare.