Pea roots will fix nitrogen in the soil, making it available for other plants, so if you practice good crop rotation by moving your nitrogen-fixers (like beans and peas) to another place in the garden, your garden will benefit without having to consistently amend the soil. Crop rotation also prevents diseases that can come from keeping the nitrogen-fixers in the same area year after year.
Sow seeds outdoors 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost, when soil temperatures reach 45ºF. Plant 1” deep (deeper if soil is dry) and 2” apart in a sunny location and an area where a trellis can be added. Pea seeds can be soaked for 4-6 hours prior to planting, in order to speed up germination. Just use tepid water. Get your seeds in the ground while the soil is still cool, but do not have them sit too long in wet soil. It’s a delicate balance of proper timing and weather conditions. For soil that stays wet longer, invest in raised garden beds!
A blanket of snow won’t hurt emerging pea plants, but several days with temperatures in the teens could. Be prepared to plant again if there are any late storms. Peas are best grown in temperatures below 70ºF. If you live in the south, be sure to plant before the end of January. Peas can also be harmed when the weather gets too warm.
Make sure that you have well-draining, humus-rich soil. An initial amendment of nitrogen will help seeds to sprout, as peas are only nitrogen-fixers once they are producing flowers.
Water in your seeds well, poking in any seeds that wash out. Though adding compost or manure to the soil won’t hurt, peas don’t need heavy doses of fertilizer, consider later amendments of phosphorus and potassium.
Water peas sparsely unless the plants are wilting. Do not let plants dry out, or no pods will be produced, but over watering can lead to disease. Pea shoots are the most often attacked by anything interested in eating your peas, as the shoots are the most tender parts. Iron phosphate will help with slugs and snails, bt with caterpillars. Check your pea pods to determine if anything is pilfering from your garden.
Establish poles or a trellis at time of planting - there are many different types of trellises to try! Consider growing against a fence if you do not have something that can be braced. Avoid disturbing fragile, shallow roots, use scissors to trim weeds at the soil level instead of using a hoe or hand tool.
Peas can take 30-60 days to begin producing flowers, but once they start, they will quickly make more. Keep your peas well picked to encourage more pods to develop. Pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried, they are crispiest then. You can pick snap and snow peas at any time but they are tastiest when the pods still have some play around the peas when you squeeze the pods (snow peas need to be picked before the actual peas get too large). Shelling peas will need to wait until the peas are well formed inside the shell. If you leave pods on the plant to form seeds, they can remove nitrogen previously released into the soil.
As with beans, DO NOT HANDLE OR PICK when plants are wet or soon after rain, this can cause rust fungus - rust spreads easily to other plants and can be hard to get rid of, plus it can drop into the soil and remain in the bed for years. Always use two hands when you pick peas: Secure the vine with one hand and pull the peas off with your other hand, or trim them off at the stem with a pair of shears. Peas can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Place in paper bags, then wrap in plastic. Peas can also make great microgreens.