Gardening Tips Week 4: Peas, Please

This time last year…

What to do this week:

Gardeners are always happy to have a steady supply of vegetables throughout the growing season. One way to achieve this is to plant things in succession. You may plant a row of carrots, and then two weeks later you plant another row, and maybe later even a third. This technique works very well for most things, except for garden peas. That includes snap peas, snow peas and shelling peas. This is because peas are day-length adapted, just like onions.

Sugar snap peas. (Photo by Alice Henneman, [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sugar snap peas. (Photo by Alice Henneman, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, we talked about onions and how you have to plant them really early to give them a chance to grow because once the day hits its maximum length, they start to bulb. The situation with peas is similar. In a place with a longer growing season you would be able to plant your peas really early, and not worry about the solstice or day length at all. They would have lots of time. Here, we just don’t have that kind of growing season. It is very often cold and wet late into spring. By the time the soil dries out, we are left with a very short window of opportunity to plant the peas and have them flower and set fruit, let alone start another row in two weeks. But there is a way around this little problem, and it has to do with the seeds you are going to order.

With peas, you can plant different varieties, with different ripening dates, so you have peas during a longer part of your summer. I plant six different varieties of peas, three varieties of shelling peas and three varieties of snap peas. You may also want to try snow peas. You eat the pea, pod and all, with both snap and snow peas, but snow peas are the ones that you eat when the pod is still flat, even before the peas plump up. Whichever peas you buy, use the information in the seed catalog to pick varieties with a range of ripening dates. One variety might mature at 57 days, another at 63 days, and another at 72 days. That way you can even plant them all at the same time, but have peas for weeks.

I really like snap peas, and don’t usually bother with snow peas. I just use snap peas in my stir fries as if they were snow peas. It all depends on your taste.

Cascade is a good variety of snap peas for here. It is a little more forgiving of day length, so if you want to buy only one kind of peas (and maybe even do a bit of very limited succession planting), try this variety.

You don’t even have to worry about keeping different varieties separate, unless you are saving seed. For that one generation, peas don’t mind at all if they cross pollinate. You’ll just have to eat them all, and buy new seed next year. If you plant different peas together though, you may want to label your rows well until you become more experienced. Otherwise, you might try to eat the whole pod of an immature shelling pea and discover just how strong and fibrous those pods are.

I might as well mention seed saving while we are talking peas. If you want to save seed, you will have to keep your different varieties at least 50 feet apart, and you will have to grow quite a bit in order to have enough seed for genetic diversity. Frankly, it is easier just to buy seed every year. That is what I do.

Also on the subject of peas, you don’t have to start them in the house next month, like onions. You just have to figure out which ones you are going to buy so you can get your seed catalog orders in. When your seeds arrive, tuck them away some place cool and dry until planting time. You direct plant peas into the garden, and can do so as early as May, but that really depends on the spring we have.

We will talk about that all again in a few months.

Featured image: Snow peas by Vegan Feast Catering, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.




Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.