April 21st

theresa albert - my friend in food


The ABC of Peas


My first taste of peas came from a can. My mother loved to serve the pale green mushy things cold with a little Miracle Whip so it’s little wonder I never developed a taste for peas, until I picked one fresh off the vine. Then there was no turning back.

Thank goodness for Thor the Norse God of thunder who apparently shot peas down from the heavens to plug human wells. Was this an act of vengeance or a gift? Either way it seems a few missed their mark and ended up in the soil where we can lustily feast on them today.

Peas are great to grow in your own home garden not only because they are delicious, they are one of the first things you can plant in the season. Unlike tender plants like tomatoes, peas are cold weather hardy and can be directly sown in the ground 4 weeks before last frost. In Toronto, where I am, last frost is May 9th.
Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten them in early. Peas can still be planted until early summer.

There are basically two kinds of peas, shelling and snap. Snap peas are peas that can be eaten shell and all while shelling peas are not. Both are available as bush type plants or vines. What you choose to plant will depend on your space. Both grow with little tendrils coming off the stems that will cling and climb up a trellis or netting.

Find a nice sunny spot to plant your peas and make sure the soil is nice and fluffy. If it isn’t, mix in a healthy portion of a good, well rotted, organic compost. I like using vermicompost (worm castings) but they can often be hard to find and expensive. Mushroom compost is good too.

Another great thing about peas is that they, like beans, are “nitrogen fixers”. What that basically means is that their roots, stems and leaves add nitrogen to the soil, a very important ingredient needed to grow healthy plants. That’s why it’s a good idea to plant them next to nitrogen suckers like corn.

In fact, most herbs and vegetables are great companions for peas except for onions, garlic and potatoes; so find another spot for those. The practice of “companion planting” is an old idea that is used for a number of good reasons. Plants can help each other improve flavour, repel bad bugs and attract good bugs. Planting different plants together creates a natural and integrated pest management system for your garden so you won’t need to use any of those nasty chemicals.

Your peas will be ready to harvest after about 70 days and make sure to save your seeds for next year by letting a few pods dry on the vine. When all the peas are harvested you can leave the roots in the ground for more nitrogen fixing. And don’t worry if you find a few single-podded peas. They’re said to bring good luck!

For more on companion planting


To figure out the last frost date in your area consult The Old Farmers Almanac for a handy dandy chart.


Next Week: Heat Loving Tomatoes



Arlene Hazzan Green is an urban farmer and television director with one foot in the dirt and one in high heels. Along with her husband Marc Green she founded The Backyard Urban Farm Company with the goal of igniting people’s passion for growing their own food. Together they design, install and maintain organic vegetable gardens in homes, schools and businesses in the Greater Toronto Area. For more info about Arlene please visit www.bufco.ca


3 Responses

    Theresa Albert
    May 10, 2011 at 6:23 am Reply

    I have a tiny plot at the front of the house where I normally grow cherry tomatoes up the trellis.( I like the tomatoes because they don’t require any attention from me). Do you think snow peas would work there? Do they need more love than I give the tomatoes? Do you see why I need you?

      May 11, 2011 at 9:02 am Reply

      We all need at least a little love! I imagine if you grew tomatoes successfully, the snow peas should do fine. A finer mess trellis is required for peas. Try tying some bird netting over the tomato trellis. You can get it at any hardware or big box garden center. Happy planting!

    May 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm Reply

    Hi Arlene,

    We too have a tomato garden (in a sunny raised bed); wouldn’t planting peas along side them strangle the tomato plants? I only ask because we have sweet peas in another bed and those suckers just wind around everything!

    Looking forward to reading more of your posts!


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