Peas are one of the earliest crops East Bay gardeners can get in the ground for spring 2013 because they can be sowed direct when the soil is at least 40°. At that temperature, however, the seeds can take a month or more to germinate, exposing them to rot or marauding birds before they have a chance to germinate. Consequently, plan your pea planting party four weeks before the last frost date, or approximately March 1st. They will sprout much faster when the soil is warmer.
You can direct sow up to eight pea seeds per square foot. For enough harvest sow at least two, 3-foot rows per pea-eating person in your household. Succession planting doesn’t work well with peas because the later plantings germinate faster as the soil warms, so plant several varieties with different maturity dates. Then you will get peas over a longer harvest season instead of one big crop all at once. Sugar snap peas are preferable over the traditional English (or shelling) variety because you can eat the pods and all without the nuisance of shucking the peas. Plus, they are so sweet they can be eaten straight from the garden. Plan on a good portion of the harvest not finding its way to the kitchen!
Bountiful Gardens has a lovely new addition to their sugar snap collection called "Cascadia", which promises sweeter, crisper pods than other types. But the diminutive Cascadia will not produce as long as taller varieties, so it is perfect to mix in with other types.
Sow pea seeds one inch deep in late winter or spring. In late summer, when the soil is warm, plant seed two to three inches deep where it is cooler and moister. Plant the seeds six inches apart in double rows tat are also six inches apart. Then space the sets of double rows three feet apart. This is necessary to give the pea plants proper ventilation. Sow a few extra seeds at the end of each row just in case some don’t come up. You can use these extras to transplant to the bare spots.
All pea plants need support so put your supporting structure down the center of each double row immediately after planting. If you don’t want to erect a trellis, you can set up a tomato cage or similar structure and plant seeds six inches apart around the bottom of the cage.
Feed the seedlings once with fish emulsion when two or three sets of leaves emerge.
A fall crop of peas can be planted eight weeks before the first frost day, or approximately September 20th. The light frosts of fall will usually not harm developed pea pods, but they will kill pea blossoms so it is important that blossoms are set and off the plants before then.
See you in the garden!