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.