A Succession of Peas, Please!

Pea pods compressed  This season, I’m tweaking the succession plantings to make my potager even more productive.  If crops (peas for example) are available for weeks, then we can eat them fresh and skip the energy (mine and the power company’s) it takes to can or freeze them, and just preserve enough for the weeks they aren’t available.  Growing up, I clearly recall eating peas every dinner and supper for the week they were ready to harvest, and then getting them sparingly canned or frozen the other 51 weeks of the year.  That’s because the entire garden was planted at once, including rows and rows of peas that were all ready to pick at the same time.

In my potager, things are different.  Six foot rows are planted weekly, which gives a harvest over a longer period.  Last year shelling peas were harvested from June 10-July 19 and again September 21-October 13.  Twelve weeks.  Not bad, but this year I want to do better and extend longer.  So, I’m plotting and planning a succession of plantings.  Here’s the current plan:  When the first daffodil appears, usually about March 7, I’ll seed “Strike” a compact pea taking around 50 days to harvest, and “Little Marvel” also compact, 60 days.  For years, I’ve planted “Little Marvel” as my main crop because they don’t require support and I didn’t want to bother with pea stakes or fencing.  (And because it’s the variety my mother always grows.)  Now I’m curious to see if there is another compact variety that may outperform it, thus a series of comparison plantings.  A variety that comes out 10 days earlier, so something else can go in the ground sooner, would be a big bonus.

Now, a pause here for some explanations.  Bear in mind it is now March 2 with nary a daffodil bud in sight.  Foliage is up only 4″ but at least the sun is finally shining!  Weather is always a factor.  It may be that the first daffodil blooms a week early or a week later than I estimated, so I may gain a planting or lose a planting.  And I can put my date on the calendar, but Mother Nature may send a hard freeze or a snowstorm or drown us in rain all week.  Trying to work sodden soil just defeats the purpose, so there may be a rain delay and a planting date or two may be missed.  Having raised beds has certainly helped in this case, because they dry out much more quickly than a regular garden, and I don’t have to wait to get in with a tiller to prepare the soil because it’s  been ready and waiting since autumn!  In any case, it’s not the end of the world, so I don’t fret.  Be flexible.  Also, the “date to harvest” (in “Little Marvel’s case it’s listed as 60) is an approximation based on ideal conditions.  Very early spring is not always ideal conditions.  For example, last year “Little Marvel” was planted with the first daffodil on March 7, but was not harvested until June 10…65 days.  Shorter days and colder soils slow growth.  Also, hive populations are not high in early spring so there may be fewer insects to perform pollination, and they can’t work on drizzly or cold days.  The plants may look terrific and be full of flowers, but pods are sometimes slow in setting on because the flower aren’t getting pollinated fast enough.  Be patient.  It will happen.

On March 14 (or “thereabouts,” as my dad always said) “Legacy” also compact but 64 days and “Little Marvel” will be sown.  And now peas can climb the fence around the potager, so I do plant taller varieties.  For comparison, “Green Arrow” (68 days) and “Knight” (56 days) go in the ground along the fence on March 21.  The following week, “Progress #9” (60) will be planted.  April starts with “Sabre” (65) and more “Green Arrow.”  April 15 is “Knight” and “Green Arrow”.  I should be out of fence by then!  April 22 repeats “Legacy” followed by “Little Marvel” the following week.  These overlapping crops will yield plenty of peas for freezing.  Generally I get 3-4 pickings from each crop before they are replaced with another vegetable.

Early May is when my mother will be planting all her “Little Marvel” peas at once, but I’ll be alternating weekly plantings with the compact varieties mentioned above through that month.  A June 1 planting would mature at the end of July or early August, theoretically, but in reality it gets so hot here that a planting that late just doesn’t do well.  Besides, by then we’re tired of peas, the freezer should have its quota, and the potager’s beds are needed for summer crops, so I’ll stop planting peas at the end of May.

Pea planting begins again July 26 with “Wando” a heat-resistant variety that performs well for me in this situation.  It does need support since it grows 36″ tall, and matures in 70 days.  That was my latest planting last year, but I’m gambling on one more planting in early August this year.  As the days grow shorter it will likely take more than 70 days, but hopefully they’ll be picked before hard freeze comes.  It’s worth a try!

And now, another topic.  I read so many blogs about saving seeds, open-pollinated seeds, and heirloom seeds that are misguided.  The pea seeds I’m planting are open-pollinated, that means NOT hybrids, so theoretically I could save the all the varieties of seeds for planting next year BUT I WON’T!!!  Why?  There are several reasons.  The first is that because I am growing several different kinds at once, no doubt two or more will be flowering at the same time.  The bees and other insects will be gathering pollen and visiting them all, thus cross-pollinating.  “Little Marvel” will be mixed with “Sabre” or “Legacy” or “Green Arrow,” so I won’t get “Little Marvel” seed.  I’d get “Little Arrow” or “Green Sabre” or “Legacy Marvel Sabre Strike!!!”  Bees travel long distances.  My neighbors across the road may be growing a variety I’ve never heard of, but it could “contaminate” my seed with cross-pollination. (And, I haven’t even mentioned the two varieties of snow peas that will also be growing in the potager.)  Unless there is ONLY ONE variety flowering within half a mile, the seed is unlikely to be TRUE to the parent, that is identical in growth, taste, disease resistance, size, performance, etc.  This is true of peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, apples…..anything that is pollinated by insects or wind.  That means allotment growers, suburban, and even rural gardeners like me can’t reliably save even open-pollinated seeds in most cases.

Secondly, in order to collect seed the plants must be allowed to die and dry.  They can be cut off after turning brown and hung to dry in a protected location, but still it requires the plants to be in their allotted garden space a long time.  I need to plant another crop of something else quickly, so as soon as the variety is no longer producing an adequate return on space investment, out it comes!  Oh, and I hope you just clip peas off at soil level, allowing all that nitrogen the pea plants have collected on their roots to remain in the soil to feed the next crop that goes in.  Don’t pull them out!

Lastly, leaving crops in the ground long enough to produce viable seed is an invitation for insects to set up a long-term breeding hotel resulting in generations of bug production, and for diseases to get totally established.  I’ve found this especially in beans and cucurbits.   I’d rather harvest my crop and remove old plants quickly, taking any diseases and insect eggs out with them.  It helps keep the potager healthy.

So, the only pea seed I’ll be saving is “Wando” because it will be the only variety growing in August and September, and I know my neighbors won’t be growing a different kind then.  It’s late in the growing season, the space isn’t needed for new crops so I don’t mind letting the peas ripen to old age in peace.

That’s the pea plan.  It will be interesting to see how it relates to reality.  It’s not chiseled in stone, so adjustments will be made along the way, but they will be carefully recorded, along with dates in/dates out, harvest results and any other relevant notes.  Were the peas tasty?  Tough?  Hard to shell?  Hard to pick?  Prone to disease?  Split when blanched?  Oh!  I can hardly wait.  It’s SO exciting!!!

About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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16 Responses to A Succession of Peas, Please!

  1. Robbie says:

    Great post, very helpful. I am still trying to perfect the pea growing in my area. I liked Snow pea DeGrace last summer. The humid weather hits us so early each year, I just can’t get the timing right-I will try some you suggest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting point about plants going to seed attracting insects. I wasn’t aware of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. prepper365 says:

    We’ve been doing this with beans for a couple of years, failed at peas last year, but will try again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • carolee says:

      The key is to keep trying. You’ll work out the kinks, and think you have it nailed. And then Mother Nature will laugh and give you a new test! That’s what keeps us young!!!

      Like

  4. terrifortner says:

    I am firm believer in succession plantings. I will be planting 45 green bean plants which is a hughe upstep from the 18 we planted last year. I am slo planting them in 5 different plantings, or sets so each one will come to harvest (mostly) at different times. This means more fresh and less to can at each harvest, but still putting up just as much is they were all planted at the same time. Can’t wait to see more on this adventure.

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    • carolee says:

      Sounds like a good plan. I’ll be doing succession cropping with beans as well, again experimenting with some new varieties and pushing the season at each end. Isn’t it FUN to learn? Happy growing!

      Like

  5. bcparkison says:

    I hear yu…just not sure i can follow all of this.

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    • carolee says:

      Meaning…..I wasn’t clear presenting the plan, or that you can’t implement something similar? I don’t really expect anyone to do it just as I do it. Every garden is different in terms of space available, just as every gardener is different in terms of what they want to eat, their goals in growing, and the time they can invest. Blessings!

      Like

  6. The pea plan! Love it – I had problems with both my peas and beans this year – first time planting out my new garden beds and we had some horrible hot dry windy days that just frizzled them all. Im still learning and loving your blogs – so many helpful hints and you have a great sense of humour.

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    • carolee says:

      It has taken some adjusting to these raised beds. They do dry out much quicker than the ones at my old farm, which were half as tall (only 4″) and got lots of moisture from run-off from the big greenhouses. I didn’t water nearly enough the first year, and even last year I’m sure now there were times I didn’t water SOON enough. THanks for reading and best of luck.

      Like

  7. Artisan says:

    Really interesting post! I’ve grown legumes for years, but had never realized how easy it was for my plants to hybridize with my neighbours’. I totally agree with you about the value of succession sowing for peas and beans, though. I also find it works for carrots. With the help of early sowings in our polytunnel I can usually rely on a steady supply of peas from late May to late September, broad beans from late May to late August, and French beans from late June to late September. I’ve never tried succession sowing with runner beans, though – their growing season is really too short where we live (North-West England). For reasons I now can’t remember I delayed sowing runner beans till mid-June one year. It was really frustrating when an early frost in September killed them off when most of the beans were still too small to pick. The joys of gardening!

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    • carolee says:

      I am still learning to grow broad beans. This will be my second season, and I’m experimenting with growing locations and trying to get them to produce before it turns hot here! I do succession cropping with just about everything…carrots, beets, peas, bush beans, squash, melons, cipollini, cabbages, kohlrabi, lettuces, spinach. Not cukes, pole beans, drying beans or potatoes…just not enough room! Thanks for reading and responding. I always feel a late planting of peas or beans is worth a try, even if it gets killed off by frost it’s still improving the soil!

      Like

  8. I love succession planting…unfortunately our growing season is so very short frost to frost (10-12 weeks) that there isn’t much that we can succession with. As I have worked to extend my season on both sides with the use of wall-o-waters, hoops, etc. I have been able to succession with a few more plants. Currently I can succession with leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, etc) several plantings, and in warm years I can get two plantings of cabbage, beets & turnips. I can for sure get greens off the beets and turnips the second round, but not always good roots.
    Despite our challenging climate, if we are creative and keep trying I find we can find ways to be successful in our own way and continue to increase our production. I think that is true to anyone who faces gardening challenges related to where they live, whether it be challenges with climate, space, or soil, etc.

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  9. Pingback: Playing in the Garden – Renee Wittman

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