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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Valentines Day - Time for Pea Planting!

Healthy pea seedlings.
Garden tips for Peas: In our region (Zone 8a - Last frost-date zone map - USA), its ideal to plant peas around Valentine's Day. This gives them the best head start for blooming in time for the longest possible harvest season. The problem is that, here in Alpine/Monroe, Oregon, the soil is often very wet and cold this time of year and, even if you get a good start sowing seeds directly in the soil, the March and April rains can significantly retard their growth, the seedlings can rot off at soil-level, or slugs can decimate your starts.

If you have raised beds, direct sowing shouldn't be an issue but if, like us, you don't have that luxury, here's a method we've used successfully for several years  to deal with these challenges:

You'll need:
  • Seeds (link to article on saving your own pea-seeds)
  • Soil
  • 4" pots (4"-6" deep) - deeper pots give more time before plants become root-bound.
Fill pots to within a half-inch of the top. Gently tamp down soil so it doesn't settle too far when you water it.

Poke two seeds, in opposite corners, about the depth of one knuckle (3/4" or so). That's two seeds per pot. This gives each plant enough soil to germinate and grow to several inches in height before you transplant. Cover the seeds with soil so they're not exposed to sun. Water them gently. Do not over-water. Seedlings can rot if soil is too damp.
Note: Since having written this article, we have now shifted to planting two seeds per pot but do not have photos to reflect this.
If you're planting earlier than mid-February, you'll need a greenhouse to protect them and keep soil in pots warm enough for germination. If you wait until mid-February, pots can often be outside in a sunny place, protected from north winds.

When the plants are at least 6", and no longer than 12", you can put them in your garden, or greenhouse beds. Best to wait until their root-systems are quite dense in the pots -- almost "root-bound". They will be easier to transplant without damaging the plants. On the other-hand, if you wait until the stems are too long, you risk breaking stems during transplanting so it's a matter of finding the right balance.

Pea-seedlings in pots.
Transplanting: Put up your trellis first, so as not to disturb the roots of your transplants. We typically attach bamboo poles to a wire run taut between two fencing posts (see pic below). Be sure your trellis is well anchored because, once full of pea-vines it can become a "sail" in the wind and blow over if not tightly secured. Space your poles about 8"- 10" apart and be sure they are tall enough to accommodate the variety of peas you're growing. Pea tendrils need a smallish diameter pole or trellis to attach to (1/2" or less). If the diameter of the poles are too big, the tendrils can't attach (unlike bean vines that spiral around the pole and can climb much thicker poles). 
Pea-plants are not typically transplanted but sowed directly in place. They are very susceptible to shock so be gentle with the roots and stems. Dig a hole that's about the size of your 4" pot. Gently tap the whole pot of soil, with its two plants into the palm of your hand, flip it back upright and lower it into the pre-dug hole. Tamp it down lightly to secure good root-contact with the surrounding soil but don't press too hard.
If slugs, bunnies or birds are a big issue in your area (they all love to nibble pea-seedlings!), planting them in milk-carton collars can make a big difference (Link to post on Re-Purposing Things - including milk-cartons as collars). We also typically sprinkle about a teaspoon of iron-phosphate ("Sluggo") around each bunch of plants. This is an organically-approved way of dealing with slug/snail infestations in your garden. (LINK to article about iron phosphate).

Good idea to have trellis in place before you transplant peas (so you're less likely to damage roots).
The plants will go through a little stress from transplanting but once they acclimatize to their new environment they'll be well along the way to yielding a bounteous and long-term harvest!

Chris and Jesse transplanting in the Alpine Garden - 2010.
Pea-vines headed for the compost pile. Peas, being legumes are able to add nitrogen to your soil through a symbiotic relationship with organisms that grow on their roots. This will help improve your soil, particularly if you leave the roots in the ground when you cut down the "greens" to add to your compost pile.

Other relevant posts for early-spring gardening:

Sprouting potatoes? What to do.

Onions - Growing From Seed


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