If you don’t know what you should be growing at this time of the year, then you should consider growing peas. Peas (Pisum sativum) are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. And today, we’ll give you the details on how to grow them from seeds to harvest.
Peas have a very limited growing season. As a cool weather crop, they don’t do well with heat and humidity.
There are several varieties of peas. These include green peas, garden peas, field peas, sugar peas, flat edible-podded snow peas known as mangeout peas, Chinese peas etc.
Because our Zambian summers are very hot and dry, we’ll give growing information on the snap peas (edible podded) varieties which can grow as a seasonal winter crop.
Preparing the soil
Peas thrive in well-drained, compost-rich soil. Ensure the soil is well dug and mix lots of compost, preferably mushroom compost and some lime. Try not to add any manure as it can add too much nitrogen which is responsible for the weak growth of the plant.
Peas are prone to rotting before germination if the soil is too wet. So, before planting, make sure the soil doesn’t stick to your shove. If it sticks, wait a few days and try again because the soil is probably too wet. The ideal soil pH is between 6.0 and 7.0.
The planting process
You don’t grow peas from seedlings. Sow the seeds directly into the soil about 2.5 cm deep and 5cm apart. You can soak the seeds in water overnight to speed up germination. Water after planting and then do not water again until the seeds are germinated in a couple of days. The pea plants germinate fairly quickly, but are slow to mature and produce pods. Water regularly, but don’t over-water otherwise your seeds and plants will rot. Not watering on the other hand, will dry out your plants and you’ll have very few pods.
Peas are either bush or vine varieties so, check each variety carefully for growing-height information. The peas vines need support to climb as they grow. You can make a wire netting or string support between sticks or put trellis at time of planting. You can also use small branches chopped from trees.
Once pea plants start to flower it’s best to water thoroughly once a week to encourage good pod development. You can reduce water loss by applying a thick mulch of well rotted manure or compost to lock moisture into the soil.
You might also like: A quick guide to growing green beans
Fertilizing your plants
Generally peas don’t require fertilizer. They are nitrogen-fixing. That is, they convert atmospheric nitrogen to bio-available nitrogen in the soil by symbiotic bacteria contained in their root nodules and thus adding nutrients to the soil. Nitrogen rich fertilisers can cause lots of leafy growth instead of producing pea pods.
The plants like phosphorus and potassium. Therefore, you can add a liquid feed high in potassium like comfrey tea to increase flowering. You can add bone-manure to the soil for phosphorus.
To control pests, use a neem spray. And to control the fungal diseases, keep leaves as dry as possible. Mix 1 part full cream milk to 9 parts water and spray the leaves to control powdery mildew.
Harvesting your peas
How do you know when your peas are ready to be harvested? Well, as soon as the flower drops and the pea-pods develop. Just open a pod to see if it has good peas inside. Small pods are very sweet and tender, while larger pods have a good crisp bite to them. You can harvest early varieties 11-12 weeks after planting while some need 13 -15 weeks to mature.
Harvest your pea pods regularly to encourage more pods to develop especially in the morning. Regular harvesting ensures continual production until the warm temperatures set in, which slows and eventually stops pea plants from producing. The pods at the bottom of each plant mature first so start harvesting from there.
Try not to throw away the pea plants after harvest. Simply cut the leaves and stems at ground level and add the cuttings to your compost heap for nitrogen. Dig the roots with the soil and as the roots break down, they release nitrogen into the soil. Just avoid growing legumes in the same spot.