Happy spring! Planting time again! (As though I ever stop.) And it looks like I’ve never shared my pea planting trick on the blog. (Though this one is in my book, Indoor Salad.)
First, the opportunity. If you’ve never eaten peas fresh off the vine, you haven’t tasted the real thing. Pea sugars start to turn to starch just minutes after picking. The just-picked flavor is intensely sweet. You can’t buy this flavor, even from a farm stand. The best tasting peas you can buy come in a freezer bag. To get the real deal, you have to grow them yourself.
The next hurdle is deciding what kind of pea. Sugar snap are popular because there’s more vegetable to harvest - we eat the sweet pod and the plump peas inside. Snow peas are the very flat pods without much pea inside. Then there are shell peas, where the pod is inedible, in favor of maximum pea. And one of my favorites - “edible pod peas”, which can be used as either sugar snap or shell peas, depending on when you pick them. If you’re new to the pea growing game, I suggest picking up both sugar snap and shell pea varieties to try. There’s even a shell pea called “Little Marvel” that grows only 18” high, perfectly happy in a flowerpot. Sugar Sprint (sugar snap) and Super Snappy (edible pod) are another two of my favorites.
Now for the challenge. The problem with peas, is that they hate heat. Really hate it. The weather reaches 80 degrees, and they’re done. Which is unfortunate here in shoreline Connecticut, because our springs are brief, and peas don’t thrive in fall. So my first couple attempts to grow peas failed. To have enough season (about 70 days) to grow peas, I need to plant them outdoors in March, nearly 2 months before I can put summer plants outdoors.
But the soil is cold in March. The peas take too long to sprout, and rot or die.
The trick, I found, is to sprout the peas indoors, and then plant the pre-sprouted peas. No lights or anything required – it only takes a couple days.
- Place a single layer of pea seeds in a coffee cup or bowl. Cover with room temperature water for 3 hours.
- Drain the water, and leave the peas damp in the cup. Rinse them every few hours if it’s convenient, to keep them moist, or at least 3 times a day.
- When the tap root starts to separate out from the pea, it’s ready to plant – should only take two or three days of rinsing.
- For best results, plant the sprouted peas with ‘pea booster’, especially if you’re growing in potting mix. Booster is sold wherever seed packets are sold, and provides symbiotic bacteria that help legumes (peas and beans) fertilize themselves by drawing nitrogen from the air.
It’ll take a few weeks to see the seedling emerge from the soil, but it’s there and alive and growing, giving you a major head start on the short cool growing season. If I’m unsure if the weather is really warm enough yet, I might start my peas in two batches, two weeks apart.
Peas are worth a try, even if all you have is a big flowerpot outside. They really are delicious!