NGA Articles: Peas for Fall

Peas for Fall (cont)

By: Weldon Burge

How to Grow Peas in the Fall

Before planting late peas, add plenty of compost to the soil to help it retain moisture and stay cool during the summer when the peas really have to struggle. I spread about 2 inches of compost over the planting area and cultivate it in. Avoid high-nitrogen organic materials, such as lawn clippings or manures. Because peas are legumes and fix nitrogen in the soil by root nodules, fertilizing isn't necessary. In fact, overfertilizing fall peas increases the plants' susceptibility to frost.

The ideal temperatures for the germination of pea seeds are between 60&deg to 65&deg F for soil and about 75&deg F for air temperature. At those temperatures, the seeds will emerge in a few days. To hasten germination, or if growing conditions are slightly less favorable, soak the seeds overnight in lukewarm water.

If you've never grown peas before and the soil is not well conditioned, consider using a legume inoculant. These inoculants are beneficial bacteria that encourage the formation of the nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots of legume plants.

After soaking, drain the peas and sprinkle the inoculant powder over them while they're still wet. Then sow them immediately at a depth of 2 inches.

Sowing peas directly in the garden on an overcast day or during a cool period is preferred, particularly when a few days of rain are forecast. I don't recommend starting seeds indoors and transplanting. During a summer of drought and scorching sun, I started 'Super Sugar Snap' peas indoors in peat pots, but they didn't produce well.

It's often a challenge to get the plants through the first month or so, and the heat sometimes wins if the nights are also hot and humid. You must protect the plants from direct, blazing summer sun, preferably with some form of screen. An easy solution is to plant late peas in the shade of tall garden plants like sweet corn or trellised beans or tomatoes that will be harvested in late summer. But even a strategically placed sheet of plywood or corrugated cardboard suffices.

Water and mulch. The weather is extremely hot and humid here in Delaware when I plant. I keep the bed watered until the seeds germinate, and then I water deeply every week until the plants are well established. Never allow the soil to dry out totally, or you'll drastically reduce production.

Because peas' feeder roots are shallow runners, mulch is essential to keep the soil around the roots cool and moist. When the seedlings are 1 to 2 inches high, mulch the plants with a layer of straw, rotted leaves, or compost. As the plants grow, you can add another layer or two of mulch.

Pests. Aphids are the scourge of the fall pea patch and can spread mosaic virus if you haven't selected disease-resistant varieties. Vines that are 4 to 5 feet tall, like 'Alderman' and 'Super Sugar Snap', are especially tempting targets. Sprays of cold water in the early morning will knock aphids off the plants before a heavy infestation can occur.

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