• Lori Adams discusses everything she’s learned about planting peas in her latest Daily Sitka Sentinel garden column

(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in theDaily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 6 of the Wednesday, May 9, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)


By Lori Adams


When I first started growing peas in Sitka I had terrible results. Some people said, “Why don’t you stop growing peas? They take up so much space for so little harvest!” But I was determined and kept trying different things and now peas are one of my biggest producers of poundage.

The first thing you need to know about peas is that they are from the legume family. As a rule the members of this family grow pods with seeds in them; peas, beans, alfalfa, clover and peanuts are the most commonly known legumes. Legumes can do something no other plants can do – by working in a cooperative partnership with the Rhizobia bacteria found in the soil they can pull nitrogen right out of the air.  In this nitrogen-fixing process nodules form on the roots and the plants store nitrogen for pod formation. When you plant peas in a garden bed for the first time there is good chance that the proper strain of this bacteria will not be present in the soil, so it is important to “inoculate” the seeds.

Inoculant bacteria can be purchased in powder form and sprinkled onto the seeds at planting time.

Before planting peas prep the soil with a little compost and lime and put fencing in place to support the pea plants up off the ground. I recommend growing tall varieties of edible podded peas for the most poundage per square foot. Many gardeners prefer “self-supporting” varieties because they readily grab the fencing themselves, but I have never grown them. It does take up some of my time, but I tuck the vines in myself if they grow away from the fence.

The evening before you are going to plant, count out enough pea seeds to plant your row with two-inch spacing and put them in a jar of water to soak overnight. Do not screw the lid on tight. The next day pour the water off and sprinkle inoculant over the wet seeds.

Plant the seeds immediately in a raised bed and then cover the row with floating row cover to prevent the birds from eating the seeds. Don’t ask me how the birds know they are there, they just do — I’ve woken up the next morning to find the entire row ripped up and most of the seeds gone. Water the soil and keep it damp (not soaked) until the peas sprout, then reduce water to a minimum until the pea plants flower.

Once they flower it important to keep the soil consistently damp for optimal pod production. Try to water the ground keeping the foliage as dry as possible. It is important to pick pea pods EVERY day to encourage the plants to produce more over a long period of time. If your plants get too tall simply “top” them and throw the tender tips in your salad bowl or stir fry. When the plants die down in the fall do not remove the foliage from the row, but dig it into the soil to capture as much nitrogen as possible for next year’s crop of heavy feeding greens.

Good luck!

Next week’s column — Everything I’ve learned about planting celery.

Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden

2103 Sawmill Creek Road

Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

747-6108 or 738-2241