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Grow Your Own: Peas

Peas are easy to grow and fairly low-maintenance, an easy crop for beginning gardeners, with spectacular results. Home-grown peas are far superior, flavor-wise, to bagged frozen peas from the grocery store. Kids love to pick and snack on them, and a row of plants will provide a summer-long harvest, particularly if you select a variety of early and late-season varieties.

Peas prefer cooler climates – in fact, when the temperature climbs beyond 20ºC pea plants will stop producing pods. There are two main varieties of peas – those that are shelled and those with edible pods. Snow pea and sugar snap peas are eaten whole – pods and all – snow peas are flat, and sugar snaps more cylindrical. Garden peas are larger, with round peas inside that are removed from their pods before eating.

Before you begin planting, you can speed up germination by soaking your peas in water for several hours before planting them, much like you might soak dried beans before cooking. (Don’t heat the water up, though!) This will soften them, allowing them to start germination a few days sooner than if they hadn’t been pre-soaked.

The seeds may be planted as soon as the soil temperature reaches 10°C – the plants will grow best at temperatures of 13 to 18°C. Sow your seeds in spring – around April for early crop varieties to June-July for late crop varieties. (Planting an assortment will guarantee a summer-long crop.) Peas grow well in containers or in the ground (or start them indoors in pots and replant when it’s warm enough) – plant seeds an inch deep and about 2 inches apart in a small trench, preferably alongside a fence or with access to a lattice or other means of support for their tendrils as they begin to grow. (They will reach a metre or two high.) Chicken wire works well and can be cut to fit your space, or rig up supports with wooden dowels and string. Peas will climb whatever they can attach themselves to – even branches stuck upright in the soil are effective, inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and look good, too.

Cover the newly planted peas with about an inch of soil – they love moist, rich soil and a sunny space. Pea plants will tolerate partial shade, particularly if it helps protect them from the hot sun at midday.

Birds and small animals love to snack on newly planted peas and seedlings – tent or cover loosely with mesh for extra protection in the early stages of growth.

When peas are ready to harvest they must be picked quickly, or they tend to become tough and starchy. Pick peas as they ripen – start at the bottom of the plant and work your way up, as the peas at the bottom will mature first. Eat, cook or freeze peas as soon as possible after they’re picked for best quality.

To freeze fresh peas, blanch them quickly in boiling water (2 minutes for shelled peas; 5 for those in their pods) and submerge them quickly in ice water to stop them from cooking. Drain well and freeze in zip-lock freezer bags, squeezing all the air out, for up to 4 months.

Peas – actually legumes – are a great source of protein, iron and insoluble fiber. Sugar snap and snow peas contain less protein, but are an excellent source of iron and vitamin C.

What to make with your harvest? Try Sugar-snap Peas with Parmesan and Pine Nuts or Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy Peas. Both make great use of the freshest garden peas, plucked from your own back yard.

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