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How to Grow Garden Fresh Peas


'Tall Telephone' or 'Alderman' peas are an heirloom shelling pea.

'Tall Telephone' or 'Alderman' peas are an heirloom shelling pea variety that grows well over 6 feet tall, with heavy yields of 4 inch pea pods. Delicious!

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
'Golden Sweet' Edible Podded Pea

'Golden Sweet' Edible Podded Peas are a buttery yellow and they keep their tenderness, even if you're a little late in harvesting them.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti
Pea Shoots and Tendrils

A Fresh Picked Harvest of Pea Shoots

Photo: teenytinyturkey / flickr


Peas are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Originally the tender tops of the plants were cooked along with the pea pods. Today we have shelling, snap, snow and sugar pod peas. They are a rather brief, cool season vegetable that are well worth the easy effort to enjoy them fresh from the garden.

Botanical Name:

Pisum sativum

Common Name: Peas

Hardiness Zone:

USDA Hardiness Zone: Annual


Full sun in cooler temperatures or partial shade.

Mature Size:

Varieties can be tall (approx. 5'), semi-dwarf (about 2' to 4') and dwarf (2' or less)

Days to Harvest:

Harvest when the peas have enlarged in the pods. To judge this you will need to gently squeeze the pods. The exception is snow peas, which are grown for their edible pods and are harvested when the pods reach about 3" in length, but are still flat.

You can also eat the tender first shoots or even the vines and tendrils themselves in soups and stir fries.

Using Peas:

Fresh peas need only minimal cooking in boiling water. Two to 3 minutes in boiling water will suffice for small, tender peas - just enough to warm them. If you are using them as part of a cooked dish, add a few at the start of cooking, to add flavor, but save most to stir in a few minutes before serving.

  • Mint and peas are a classic combination.
  • Dill makes an unexpected complex combination.
  • Bacon and pancetta play nicely off peas sweetness.
  • A squirt of lemon retains the green freshness of homegrown peas
  • Peas complement any starch - potatoes, rice, pasta...


Suggested Varieties:

  • "Alderman" or "Tall Telephone" has been a popular heirloom variety for many generations

  • "Golden Sweet" is a buttery yellow heirloom with edible pods and a great crunch.

  • "Lincoln" another tall heirloom has good heat resistance and does well in the south

  • "Little Marvel" is a popular early producing dwarf variety

  • "Mammoth Melting Sugar" is a reliable disease resistant snow pea


Growing Tips:

You will see peas grouped as shelling, snap, sugar and snow peas. Sugar and snow peas have edible pods. Peas are also categorized as either tall, semi-dwarf and dwarf varieties. Older varieties were all tall.

There is a tradition of planting the first peas on St. Patrick's Day. You can plant in spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, however an early planting will not necessarily germinate any earlier than if you wait for the ground to warm. Peas are a cool weather crop, but they don't like soil that is cold or wet. The seeds can survive a frost, but not the plants. So a fall crop can be iffy unless there is about two months between summer heat and fall frost. Southern gardeners can plant the seeds in the fall and wait for them to germinate in the warm days of spring. Once temperatures steady at 70 degrees F., pea plants begin slowing down and die.

You will sometimes see peas and beans sold with a bacteria inoculant that forms nitrogen converting nodules on the roots of legumes and helps in starting plants. The inoculant can't work if the seeds have already been treated with a fungicide to prevent rot. The fungicide is a bright pink, to alert you that it is there. Peas also do best with a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5.

All types of peas need some type of support while growing trellising can be done with fencing, mesh, bushy cut tree and shrub branches or other plants. Because of the trellising, peas are usually planted in rows or bands of about 3-4 inches. Cover the seed with only an inch or two of soil and firm.

Extend your harvest season by re-planting in 2 week successions. Or plant pea varieties that mature at different rates. To keep harvesting as long as possible, plant an early season variety, a main season type and maybe even a heat tolerant late season pea.

If space in the vegetable garden is a consideration, there are low growing, attractive varieties that can be included in the flower garden. The vines will need to be removed after harvest, when they begin to turn brown.

Pest & ProblemsThe biggest problem of pea plants is root rot, which causes the foliage to turn brown and die. Insuring the soil is well-drained and rotating your pea crop each year will help.

Peas are also susceptible to powdery mildew in humid weather. If this is a problem, look for resistant varieties.

Unstaked pea plants can fall over on themselves and make a great hiding place for slugs and aphids.

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