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How To Pre-Sprout Peas

The idea that peas should be planted on St. Patrick’s Day is just not a piece of advice I follow. The soil in my garden is always very chilly and very wet on March 16th—conditions that encourage peas to rot, not germinate. Instead of relying on a calendar date for planting peas, I wait until my soil thermometer reads between 48 and 50 degrees F and I pre-sprout my peas indoors. Pre-sprouting really reduces the chance that the peas will rot in cool, damp soil because the seed already has a growing root that is taking up water. I find that if I pre-sprout the seeds, which just takes a couple of days, my peas end up germinating about 10 days faster than ones directly sown in the garden. To pre-sprout the peas get a double layer of paper towels wet. Arrange the peas in a single layer on one half of the paper towel.

Then, fold the other half of the paper towel over the peas so they are encased within the wet paper towel.

The peas tend to be very roly poly, so I usually fold the edges of the towel over each other to make a kind of sealed envelope.

Slide the peas into a resealable plastic bag and zip the bag 3/4 of the way shut. Place the bag in a warm spot (I usually leave mine in the kitchen). Every day, slide the peas out of the bag and take a peek at them. Also, make sure that the paper towel stays quite moist.

Don’t forget to label each bag with the variety of pea you are growing. This year I’m growing two types: ‘Dakota’ English pea and ‘Super Sugar Snap’. ‘Dakota’ only gets about two feet tall, so I planted it in my new vintage barrel container. ‘Super Sugar Snap’ grows over six feet tall, so I have that variety planted around a large rusted steel obelisk.

As soon as you notice little roots emerging from the seeds, it is time to plant them. The roots pop out surprisingly quickly, usually within 3 to 4 days.

I plant my peas about an inch apart. I then thin out every other seedling when they are about 4 inches tall and eat the pea greens. If I’m planting peas in a row, I dig a 1-inch deep furrow and plant the peas in the bottom of the furrow. When I’m planting them around the bottom of a trellis I make individual holes (you can use a piece of bamboo or your finger) that are about an inch deep and an inch apart. Usually I also inoculate my peas with rhizobia bacteria, but I forgot to buy some when I purchased my pea seeds. So this year my peas went un-incolutaed, which is fine. I’ll just get slightly lower yields.

Plant the peas roots side down in the hole or furrow. Be careful with the seeds, because the little roots snap off easily. Backfill the hole or furrow with soil and then water the peas in well. I then usually wait to water again until I see the peas or emerge. In drier climates only water the peas between planting and germination if the soil dries down to the bottom of your second knuckle before the seeds germinate (you don’t want to overwater and rot the seeds).

The peas should poke up out of the soil within two weeks. Birds find pea seeds and seedlings irresistible, so you may want to consider covering the bed with bird netting after you sow to prevent them from gobbling up your carefully planted seeds.

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21 Responses to “How To Pre-Sprout Peas”

  1. 1
    Eden Says:

    I pre-soaked my peas about three weeks ago by putting them in a bowl full of water on the kitchen counter. After three days the root started coming out and I planted the peas in the garden. Now I’ve got six rows of pea shoots coming up in my raised beds (in Bellevue)! I’m not sure if this method will work for everyone, but it seems easier and less wasteful than using a plastic bag and paper towels.

  2. 2
    patricia Says:

    I have never presoaked peas. I think I will try this since I was planning to plant tomorrow but, after about 2 weeks of warm weather, winter returns tomorrow.
    It is the quail that eat my just sprouted peas.
    Thanks.

  3. 3
    Chris Alkire Says:

    Mine sprouted in a small amount of water also then I planted them. The seed envelope directions said to soak over night but then I didn’t get to planting them for another 2 days…hmmm. Would this be the same procedure to take with sweet peas?

  4. 4
    laguna dirt Says:

    that just looks so gratifying! thanks for the idea!

  5. 5
    Robert Says:

    The Dakota English pea or Super Sugar Snap: Which is better for cold climate ?

  6. 6
    Anna Says:

    In Maine they say to plant peas by patriots day (April 22) so you can eat them on the fourth of July. In a colder climate and much shorter growing season, March is way to cold and snowy.

  7. 7
    Sarah Says:

    If you inoculate the peas, do you still pre-sprout them in the same way? (I’m new to you blog and loving it and I’ve enjoyed hearing you on KUOW for a while now! Thanks for sharing your expertise!)

  8. 8
    Jodie Says:

    Lovely post. I already stuck some of my peas in the ground, but will try this for the second batch. We can get some very soggy spring conditions here.

    Plus, I agree with you on ignore the calendar, go with the conditions. Sometimes those dates seem so early and are there to satisfy excited gardeners.

  9. 9
    amy manning Says:

    I live in the Pacific Northwest. I planted mine early January and the plants are a couple of inches tall. I learned some tips from Carol Deppe’s book, which you might be interested in reading: http://www.mysuburbanhomestead.com/pea-seed-planting-tip/

  10. 10
    Lindsey Says:

    I might try the bowl of water trick. I hate buying paper towels but would have made an exception for sprouting peas!
    I want to try and put in my first batch this weekend. Thanks for the post, Willi!

  11. 11
    Lara Alexander Says:

    My peas have been soaking and I can’t wait until garden work day tomorrow! By the way – totally jealous of your crates!

  12. 12
    Lisa Says:

    I only soaked them a few hours and then plant them indoors, they are growing great, more then 10 cm now! This week I will plant them in the garden.

  13. 13
    Chelsey Says:

    Beautiful photos. I can’t ever seem to grow anything… well, maybe it grows and then dies shortly after. :) So, I found your blog by googling Urban Chicken coups (found this helpful post: http://www.digginfood.com/2009/03/backyard-chickens-101-cool-chicken-coops/) I need to know, did you ever build a new coup?

  14. 14
    Willi Says:

    Chelsey–We ended up moving, so we didn’t build a new coop. But we are considering getting chickens at our new house, so stay tuned!

  15. 15
    Lorie Says:

    I sprouted mine, but didn’t get them into the ground in time. Now some have fuzzy mold. Can I plant them anyway after washing them off? Sounds icky, but they do have lovely sprouts? :) Thanks

  16. 16
    Willi Says:

    Eden–I’ll have to try that. I of course reuse the bag and we go through about one roll of paper towels a year. I’ve had really bad luck just soaking peas in the past, but I’ve never left them long enough to develop a root.

    Sarah–I just sprinkle the inoculant over the pre-sprouted peas before I plant

    Amy–I’ll have to check out Carol’s book.

    Lorie–I’m not sure, if they are molding that is not a great sign, but you could always wash off the mold, plant them and see!

  17. 17
    Bill Brikiatis Says:

    Like Amy, I use Carol Deppe’s method of pre-sprouting seeds. I find that it is very important not to crowd the seeds in water and to stir and change the water frequently to make sure there is enough oxygen.
    Bill Brikiatis´s last [type] ..Book Review: Carol Deppeā€™s The Resilient Gardener

  18. 18
    bakingbarb Says:

    I am happy I read this because I have a high fail rate with peas, I should either buy innoculant or presprout – I chose to presprout and they are just starting to show signs of life. What a fantastic idea, thank you!
    I just put them in water, covered the dish and rinsed them off every day. Perfect!
    Looking forward to growing and eating.

  19. 19
    Charlotte Says:

    Thanks for this tip! I had sowed a few peas indoors earlier, and they seem to be doing fine with being directly transplanted as seedlings to the garden. I figured pre-sprouting might be a good way to get back on track with my garden this cold, cold winter, and it’s great to read I am not totally crazy! Just a little bit! ;) I shall start them off today, as my new raised beds are going down on Saturday :)

  20. 20
    Biptu Says:

    I Have pretty good success sprouting seeds using the paper towel method, but with peas they seem rot and stink before they sprout..any ideas on whats wrong?

  21. 21
    Brande Plotnick Says:

    Thanks for this tip. I’ve not had great success with peas but I susect that I’ve always planted too early-St. Paddy’s Day! Now, I have them sprouting in the kitchen and will plant in a few days. Love your blog and your book. I’ve been studying all winter!
    Brande Plotnick´s last [type] ..Seasonal Eating and What to Eat Now

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