Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

March 25, 2010

High Density Pea Planting

I had quite a bit of interest in my high density PEA planting last year so I thought this year I'd go into a little more depth about it.

Peas are one of the true harbingers of spring. They're cold tolerant to the point of pushing through snow in some cases and later, when they plump and fill their pods with the sweet little green bites of goodness, you can be assured that the growing season is here. Like many beginning gardeners one of the first crops I was interested in growing years ago was peas and, also like many new gardeners, I failed miserably for the first few years.

As I mentioned, peas are cold tolerant. This isn't just a convenient truth, it's a cold fact (pun not intended) that we have to take into consideration. The truth of the matter is, peas aren't even so much "cold tolerant" as they are "cool mandating". What I mean by this is that they actually need that cool weather to do well. The first year I planted peas I did it when I felt the gardening season began...late May. I planted, watered, watched with excitement as they sprouted and started to grow and then stood back scratching my head as they abruptly wilted and died in the heat of late June's heat. I did a little research and learned that they like cool weather. The next time I planted them it was early April and they did much better. My few little rows of peas grew proudly and filled nicely and in the end we had peas for dinner... one time! While I had planted them correctly, I didn't plant nearly enough. Following the directions on the package, I spaced them as instructed and got a harvest of about one full bowl.

The last few years I've managed to work out a way that has yielded us very good results, has given us enough yield to can peas that we can eat through during the winter months and manages to get the peas in, grown and out of the garden to make space for the next crop rotation in good time.

Everything starts for us with pre-germination. This isn't something that's generally instructed to do, but I think of it as mandatory. I'll go into why in a few minutes. What I do is to put the peas that I figure I will need, plus a few percent more just in case, into a large container and completely fill the tub with luke warm water. This I leave to sit overnight. The next day, I strain out all the peas and return them to the container, which now has a paper towel liner in it, and cover with plastic wrap with a few breathing holes in it.
After a few days I check the peas and if they look dry I will mist them just a bit and re-cover. After less than a week you should be looking at something that looks like all the peas have stuck out their tongues and are daring you to plant them. Take them up on that! Wait too long and they'll start to rot.

Looking at the picture below you'll see that by high density planting I don't mean only that they're planted close in the row, which they are (about 4.5 to 5 inches), but that the rows of plantings are just as close. it's like planting on the corners of a 4.5 inch square.

Here's where that pre-germination comes in handy. Because I will be planting my peas in a high density way, I need to know that most, like 95+% of them, are going to come up. When the seed has germinated successfully you know fairly surely that that is a viable seed. Some will rot or die in the soil, but most will emerge successfully.

The other reason for pre-germinating seed is for situation like I had this year. I had a good bit of seed that I needed to use because it was from 2007 and was getting old. By pre-germinating I was able to identify whether the seed was still good or not. Because I wanted to make sure I still had enough time to get new seed if I had to I did the whole process a few weeks earlier than usual. Luckily the weather's cooperated and I had this handy cold frame that I built last fall that I could insulate them from any extreme nights with.

The peas have now come up and are out from under cover. If all goes well I'll be able to start my harvesting of these a couple of weeks earlier than last year even.

Peas are a great crop. They're sweet right off the vine, easy to work with and with a little planning can really yield a good harvest. I hope this sheds a little more light on how I like to do them on my little backyard farm. What's your favorite way?



Clong said...

This year I planted all of our peas in square foot gardening format so they were only two inches apart, which meant 16 pea plants per square foot. They have done phenomenally well, and of course because they are nitrogen fixers, everything around them has done extremely well too! We plant them in october here in southern california and now, alas, it's getting too hot for them.

Anne said...

Hey Paul, do you have to cover them with the little plastic house? I don't have one yet. would any plastic do? I planted them last sunday... then this cold spell came in, are they dead... I can't bear to look!

P~ said...

No No No Anne, you absolutely don'e have to have the plastic cover. You are right smack dab in the middle of perfect pea weather! They are super hardy. I only used it just to be safe because I planted them two weeks earlier than I have before. Good luck!

David in Kansas said...

This year, having learned the same lesson you did about the heat, I planted mine on March 18 (actually I re-planted them since my dog dug them up the first time). I wish I had read your post before I did though because I surely did not plant enough.

P~ said...

Make a note in your garden journal... you DO have a garden journal right??? (if you don't good time to start one!) and next year remember the date you planted and how the harvest turns out. It's a learning process.
Best of luck!

Shannon said...

I have some peas (9 plants) in the ground that are coming up. I probably should have more. They've been there for a few weeks. Is it too late to stick more on the ground? Can I do the pre-germination with my sprouter? Because those sprouted peas look just like what comes out of my sprouter...

P~ said...

I think you should be able to plant some more if you do it soon. I did a little research for you and found a great site for the Univ. of Maryland Extension Service. Here.
On that page I searched for peas and found THIS. Says you can plant peas in Central Maryland until end of April. For more information you can google Maryland Extension service and planting peas and probably find more.
Good luck!

Shannon said...

Thanks Paul! That was very nice of you to do. I'll have to troop out there and stick a few more in the ground today!!!!!

Jennifer said...

Last year I planted the pea variety "Lincoln," packaged by a local nursery (J and J) in my Zone 5 area.. The label said they could be planted in November, or from February to June. Like other peas this variety did great early in the season, but it also kept producing once it got quite hot. I was impressed. On a 98-degree day in July my plants still formed new blossoms.

P, I love all your detailed information. Thank you.