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It's time to plant peas

Media contact:

Debbie Johnson
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9183
Email: JohnsonD@missouri.edu

Photos available for this release:

Garden green peas

Credit: National Garden Bureau

Description: Garden peas

Peas in a pod

Credit: National Garden Bureau

Description: Garden peas

Planting garden peas

Credit: National Garden Bureau

Description: Garden peas

Published: Thursday, April 3, 2014

Story sources:

David H. Trinklein, 573-882-9631
Tammy Roberts, 660-679-4167

Your Show-Me Garden: MU Extension brings you gardening tips from experts around the state.
"Extension on the Go" podcast by Debbie Johnson. Episode 103: Garden Peas

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Peas will never be considered an exotic food, but they’ve been cultivated for at least 5,000 years. This ancient plant is a cool-season vegetable that needs to be planted early.

“Once the soil warms, the earlier peas are planted in the spring the better,” said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “One problem in Missouri is we can quickly go from a cool spring to a hot summer. High temperatures reduce both quality and yield when growing peas.”

You need to plant peas as soon as you can work the soil, Trinklein said. You can’t start them indoors because peas, as with most legumes, don’t transplant well.

Peas come in dwarf and tall varieties. Tall varieties, which can grow to a height of 30 inches, will need the support of a fence or trellis. “Green Arrow,” “Lincoln” and “Bolero” are taller types that are recommended for Missouri, Trinklein said.

If space is an issue in your garden, there are dwarf varieties that take up less room.

“Although a bit old, ‘Little Marvel’ still is a very good dwarf variety of garden pea that needs minimal, if any, support and has an early maturity,” Trinklein said.

Use care when applying fertilizer to peas by choosing one that’s relatively low in nitrogen, he said. With the help of symbiotic bacteria that colonize their roots, peas and other legumes fix nitrogen from the air and make it available to the plant. If you add too much nitrogen, the delicate balance between vine growth and fruit set will be disrupted, resulting in poor yield.

Since it is a cool-season vegetable, you can plant a crop in the spring and again in the fall. For a fall crop, you would plant them in August, pampering the seedlings until fall temperatures arrive.

“You might plant them a bit more deeply because it is a bit cooler in the soil and they will germinate and establish themselves better,” Trinklein said. “You will need to nurse them along with additional amounts of water.”

Fall-planted peas will mature when temperatures are perfect. The warm days and cool nights will give you a high quality crop.

Spring-planted peas will continue to grow until hot weather knocks them out in the summer. That continuous growth means the harvest might be spread over two weeks, Trinklein said.

“Toward the end of the harvest period, temperatures in Missouri tend to be a bit warm. Therefore the quality isn’t going to be quite as good at those that matured earlier,” he said.

Harvesting peas requires perfect timing because you need to pick them at their peak maturity before their sugar becomes starch. Trinklein says if you haven’t tasted fresh green peas, you’re missing out.

“Even at a farmers market, it’s not quite the same as fresh from the garden because of the speed at which the sugars are turned to starch,” he said.

Peas do get a bad rap because they’re a starchy, higher-calorie vegetable, said Tammy Roberts, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension.

“One-half cup of peas has 62 calories, but those 62 calories provides 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein—more protein than you expect to see in a vegetable. Peas are also a good source of vitamin K,” Roberts said.

Peas are easy to grow, delicious when harvested fresh from the garden and contain a wealth of nutritional benefits. Why not get an early start on this year’s garden by growing peas?

Peas and apples

3 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 medium apple, cored and sliced thin
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Combine apple juice and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Cook and stir until mixture is thick and bubbly.

Add peas and apple slices. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Serves 4.

Each 1/2-cup serving contains 128 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0% calories from fat, and 6 grams of fiber.