What My Dead Peas Taught Me


By Sarah Mooney

As a novice gardener, one technique I have adopted to help me learn is to just go for it. My peppers, chives, and pumpkin plants are thriving on one side of my garden, while on the other side the sugar snap peas hang browned and shriveled, with only subtle hints of life. While some might view this as a setback, I am seeing it as an opportunity to learn about what is going wrong.

With a little research I discovered that my timing is all wrong. Temperatures have reached into the 90s this summer, and for a plant that thrives in cool weather this is detrimental. In order for me to have successful pea production, I should have planted the seeds as early as Saint Patrick's Day. A good guide for starting peas is to identify your last frost date, and plant a month before that. Your pea plants will even be able to survive snow fall. This is not to say that your peas will not survive in the summer heat; I have read that this is possible. Some varieties actually prefer warm weather, however my sugar snap peas clearly do not.

Luckily, despite my huge miscalculations with my peas, I will still have a chance at success. Starting in August, seeds can be sewn and nursed through the end of the summer heat to yield results in the fall.

What should I do to prepare my soil for planting peas?

It is important to note that peas do not need an excess of fertilizer, since they do not do well with an abundance of nitrogen. Peas do like phosphorus, which can be added by scattering bone meal onto your beds.

Make sure you have good soil drainage. This can be determined by creating a hole about a foot deep into the ground and filling it with water. Once it drains completely, fill it a second time and measure the amount of liquid that is able to drain over the course of an hour. If your water is draining at a rate greater than two inches per hour, your soil drainage is adequate.

Add organic material such as grass clippings, dead leaves, compost, etc. to enhance the quality of your soil. Doing this in the fall allows an ample amount of time for your organic material to break down for the next growing season.

Adding wood ash to your soil can also enhance your pea crop because it contains potassium, which is necessary for the success of many plant varieties.

It is good to get in the habit of checking your soil pH every couple of years. Your local garden store should have kits, or you can find them online. You could also seek the assistance of a professional. Peas prefer a pH that is close to neutral, in the 6.0-7.0 range.

Always refer to your seed packet before planting. This will provide you with great information about your specific pea variety, such as when you should plant, seed spacing, sun requirement, and even recipes. No two pea cultivars are the same, so paying attention to detail can offer insight into the personality of the type you have chosen. If you do make mistakes, do not be discouraged. You can choose to look at your dying plants as failures, or you can see them as a valuable teacher.