PLAIN GARDENING: Give Peas a Chance

Let there be peas on Earth! It’s harvest time for our pea-pickin’ gardening expert Bill Finch. A few weeks ago, we built a trellis on Plain Gardening, and now that trellis is covered in peas.

We planted these peas in December—right after Christmas. They grow slowly in winter, but in spring they jump and begin to produce lots of delicious peas. Bill says peas fill a gap; winter vegetables like collards, kale, and broccoli are dying off and tomatoes aren’t ready yet. In the middle you find prolific peas. Spring peas include what are called English peas or sugar snaps in our part of the world.

Bill says peas teach an important lesson about gardening: when vegetables are ready in the garden you HAVE TO pick them. If you don’t, it make the garden unhappy. If you don’t pick peas, you won’t get any more peas. That sounds counterintuitive—you’d think after you pick them they’re gone—but here’s how it works: every time you pick a pea, you trick the plant into thinking it hasn’t reproduced…and that’s why it makes peas in the first place. So, as you pick them, the plant thinks, “I haven’t produced any seeds, so I better get to work!” The more you pick, the more they produce.

If you don’t pick, that’s the end. The plants stop producing peas. So Bill says pick the plants clean.

Peas are easy and do well in even halfway-decent soil. Bill says don’t fertilize your peas because they don’t need it or want it. Overfed pea plants produce fewer peas. And pea plants actually produce their own nitrogen.

Pea plants will keep producing into early May. The peas are delicious and sweet cooked or right off the vine. Pick peas just as they begin to get plump; older peas get tougher and less sweet.

Learn more about peas by calling Bill’s radio show Sunday mornings 9-11 on 106.5FM or email

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