Spring peas start early

It's time to start thinking about peas
Sugar Snap peas provide the best of both worlds an edible-pod that can also be shelled. (Photo by Nancy McClain)

A favorite cool-season vegetable, peas are one of the earliest crops to be planted, often in late February and early March in the Rogue Valley.

A sowing in early March will yield a mid-May harvest, and many varieties will continue to produce into early June if temperatures stay springlike.

Pea varieties

Peas can be divided into three categories — shelling peas, snap peas and snow peas — and all three come in bush and climbing varieties.

Bush varieties grow about 24 inches tall and are planted in small blocks or mounds to encourage the plants to help support each other. Small trellises using chicken wire work well with single- or double-row plantings.

Climbing varieties often reach 6 feet in length and require trellising. Tall tomato cages offer great support for climbing peas. Other trellis techniques include chicken wire, bamboo teepees and string trellises secured to a fence or a frame.

Climbing varieties generally produce more peas per square foot than bush varieties, but the bush types are easier to maintain and produce a more uniform harvest.

Each type of pea has a distinct culinary use.

Shelling peas mature within the pod and require "shelling" to remove the peas from the pods. The plant has been bred to produce long shells resulting in more peas per pod. Two disease-resistant bush varieties are Serge and Maestro.

Tall varieties of shelling peas offer less disease resistance. Alderman is an old-time climbing standard while Penelope reaches 36 inches tall and is probably the best disease-resistant choice of the climbers.

Snap peas provide the best of both worlds. When picked young, the pods have a very sweet taste and are eaten pod and all. If you want a shelling pea, just let your snap peas mature or "plump out."

Among the climbers, Sugar Snap reaches 6 feet tall and produces a long harvest. A fairly new variety, Super Sugar Snap reaches 60 inches tall while offering powdery-mildew resistance.

Dwarf varieties include Sugar Ann, Sugar Sprint and Sugar Star. Cascadia, an Oregon State University release, offers powdery-mildew resistance and a large harvest. It is a "semiclimber," reaching 3 feet tall.

Snow peas produce flat pods often used in stir-fries and salads.

Oregon Giant is a disease-resistant variety from OSU that reaches about 3 feet tall. Two bush types with similar resistance are Avalanche and Oregon Sugar Pod II.

Planting your peas

Peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. Raised beds can generally be planted earlier because they dry out faster than the ground.

Peas don't need much fertilizer, especially if the soil contains ample amounts of organic matter and the seed has been inoculated. A light sprinkling of 13-13-13 (1 cup per 100 square feet) along with bone meal (3 cups per 100 square feet) should be plenty.

Peas generally require minimal watering because spring rains do most of the work, at least until the weather warms up.

Peas are best planted from seed rather than transplants. Seeds should be planted about an inch apart and an inch and a half deep. If the soil is too moist for a rototiller, just gently rake the planting bed level and make a furrow in which to deposit the seeds. Cover with soil and gently pack down to enable the seedling to germinate and emerge from the soil easily. Seedlings should start popping up within a couple of weeks.

Disease resistance

Choosing disease-resistant varieties can help prevent fungus and virus problems. The valley's most common pea diseases include fusarium, powdery mildew and enation virus.

Fusarium is a root-rot disease that causes the plant to yellow and shrivel from the soil line up and often occurs when soil drainage is poor or excessive moisture is present.

Powdery mildew appears as a white, powderlike dust on the leaves and stems, often following rain or overhead watering when the weather starts to warm. Keeping foliage dry at night is important for keeping powdery mildew in check.

Enation virus emerges when temperatures start to rise and aphids transmit it to the plant. Aphid control early on is important to slow the spread of the virus. Symptoms include distorted and yellowing leaves and reduced yields.

WHY INOCULATE PEAS?

Peas, like clover and beans, are a legume. If you pull up a plant and look closely at the roots, you'll see small nodules attached to and growing on the roots. These nodules are colonies of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which absorb nitrogen from the soil and air and feed it to the plant.

This natural fertilizer factory can be enhanced by inoculating the seed with the bacteria just prior to planting. As the root emerges from the seed, the nitrogen-fixing colonies begin to grow on the roots.

This organic bacteria is available as a seed coating at many nurseries or garden centers and is easy to use. Simply follow instructions on the container.

David James has been writing gardening stories in Southern Oregon for 35 years. Contact him at djames@oigp.net.


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