Peas for Fall
By: Weldon Burge
Peas grow best in cool and humid weather, which is why, where I live in Delaware (USDA Hardiness Zone 7), peas are considered early-spring crops only. Summer rapidly becomes too hot, and fall crops are impossible because we'd need to start the plants during unfavorably hot weather, or so the thinking goes.
My experience proves fall crops of peas are not only possible, but that their flavor is often superior. I believe the techniques I've developed will work for gardeners who live in zones 5 through 8. Farther north than zone 5, the growing season isn't long enough for two crops. Farther south (and west) than zone 8, gardeners primarily plant fall crops because spring fades too quickly into summer.
The fall crop in my Delaware garden is lighter than my spring crop, but because the late peas mature in cool temperatures, they generally taste sweeter than spring peas. Production is a gamble. An early hard frost, particularly when the plants are in blossom, can ruin the crop. But, as with any gamble, if you make sure the odds are in your favor, you're more likely to hit the jackpot. With careful variety selection and some simple precautions, I've had good luck.
Best Varieties for Fall Crops
The key is to plant only varieties with known tolerance of (or resistance to) heat and diseases.
Powdery mildew is the most common disease of peas in late summer. Other diseases that cause problems include: pea enation mosaic virus (primarily in the Pacific Northwest); bean yellow mosaic virus; common wilt; and pea leaf roll virus. To be cautious, call your local extension office or Master Gardener service and ask which pea diseases are common in your area, then select varieties resistant to those diseases.
Timing. The number following the variety name is the nominal --days to maturity--listed for the variety. The goal in fall planting is to time growth so that the first flowering occurs before the first frost in fall. Depending on the variety, that means planting 70 to 90 days before your average earliest hard-frost date. But because young plants grow slowly in late summer heat, I recommend you add 9 to 14 days to the days listed on the packet (and below). That way, the plants won't blossom (you hope!) before a hard frost arrives.
- 'Alderman' (same as 'Tall Telephone', 73) is a 4- to 5-foot-tall variety that tolerates heat and produces well, but it is prone to powdery mildew and other pea diseases.
- 'Green Arrow' (68) grows about 3 feet tall and produces high yields of pods with superior flavor. It resists wilt, pea leaf roll virus, and powdery mildew.
- 'Knight' (58) grows 2 feet tall and is resistant to all pea diseases except pea leaf roll virus.
- 'Maestro' (61) is similar to 'Green Arrow'. It grows 2-1/2 feet high and resists all diseases except pea leaf roll virus.
- 'Novella II' (65) is a 1-1/2-foot-tall, semileafless variety that produces a sufficient tangle of stems and tendrils to support itself upright. It is resistant to wilt, bean yellow mosaic virus, and powdery mildew.
- 'Oregon Trail' (70) grows 2-1/2 feet tall and is resistant to wilt, mosaic virus, and powdery mildew.
- 'Top Pod' (70) is a 2-foot-tall variety that takes more heat and dry weather than most peas and conveniently produces its clusters of pods at the plant tops, making harvest easy. It is also resistant to all diseases except pea leaf roll virus.
- 'Utrillo' (71) is a 2-1/2-foot-tall variety that is resistant to powdery mildew.
- 'Cascadia' (60) is a 2-1/2-foot-tall variety recommended for the Northwest for its resistance to mosaic virus. It is also resistant to powdery mildew.
- 'Super Sugar Snap' (62) grows on a trellis to 6 feet; it's resistant to pea leaf roll virus and powdery mildew.
- 'Oregon Giant' and 'Oregon Sugar Pod II' are the same, except the latter grows nearly twice as tall as 2-1/2-foot 'Oregon Giant'. Both are high-sugar snow peas and both are resistant to wilt, bean yellow mosaic virus, and powdery mildew.