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Seed Starting: Peas


Starting peas early in the year is not something most people think about – but did you know you can plant peas as early as January 6 in Indiana, USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and 6? While I didn’t get out into the garden or hoop house to plant my pea seeds this year because of the blizzard, I have done it plenty of times in the past. Sometimes the pea seeds I plant later in the year germinate faster, however the ones I plant this early come up stronger – and the difference in germination times is two to three days.

So what’s the point of going out in the cold weather and planting pea seeds if they don’t germinate earlier? Well there are several advantages. The first one is you have one more crop planted and ready to go come spring. This has made a huge difference here because during the early spring months it gives me more time in the greenhouse and barn to deal with seedlings and baby animals. As I said, the plants are actually stronger – something that I hadn’t expected but saw with my own eyes. Another advantage is you don’t have to worry about how wet your garden is come spring – and we all know you shouldn’t work wet soil.


Here is a little bit of basic information on seed starting. First, most pea seeds germinate in 7 to 14 days – the exception being the ones you plant before the ground begins to warm up. It is best to direct sow pea seeds in the garden and I do cover my pea seeds with row cover or plant them inside a tomato cage. This helps prevent critters from digging them up and they climb on the tomato cages once they begin to grow making harvesting easier. An alternative to tomato cages is garden netting. Sow pea seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. A good rule of thumb is to make the planting hole twice the depth of the actual seed. As you can see from the photo above, pea seeds come in different colors and sizes. This is why knowing how deep to plant each seed is important. Planting seeds too deep affects germination. The seeds in the photo above are ones I saved from my own garden.

To prevent peas from cross-pollinating, it is recommended to plant only shelling peas or only edible-pod peas in the garden. If you want both, plant one as an early crop in the winter/early spring and plant the second type in late summer/early fall. To estimate the best time to plant fall harvested peas, add the maximum germination time for the variety you want to grow plus the number of days to harvest then figure out what your first fall frost date is. Count the days backwards and you will have the last possible summer planting date for that particular variety.

For example – let’s look at the Alaska Pea. It takes 7 days to germinate plus up to 60 days before it is ready to harvest. That means it takes 67 days minimum to get a harvest from this pea. Our first fall frost date in Indiana is September 15. That means the last day I would want to plant would be July 21. Now since this is pushing it – unless I use a cold frame or frost cover – I would plant three plantings of peas – one planting on that day or maybe the day before, one planting the week before and one planting the week before that. This assures me that I am going to get some peas from my fall crop. If I used row cover or cold frames to protect them (although peas can take a light frost) I will continue to harvest peas until the first hard frost which is typically mid to late November.

Here is the varieties of peas I am growing this year and a bit about them.



This is a very  common variety of shelling pea. A shelling pea is the type that you remove the peas from the pod. They require a bit more work at harvesting time because of this but some people prefer them instead of the edible pod type.

Typically this variety takes 7 days to germinate and is ready to harvest in 55 to 60 days. Plants seeds 1 to 2 inches deep and 2 inches apart.


Blue And Yellow Blend Edible Pod:

These are my favorite and a garden staple. I ordered these from Cook’s Garden. Although the packet says they are a bush type, they will climb if given something to climb on.  They have edible pods and taste best when harvested as soon as you see signs of the pea beginning to swell. I personally do not care for the older peas because I think the pod gets tough and they loose their sweetness. The blue (purple) and yellow peas add color to the garden, color to the plate – especially if eaten raw and are a sure conversation piece at the farmer’s market.


Dwarf Grey Sugar:

This is another variety with edible pods. It is an heirloom variety as well. It is a good choice for those who preserve their garden peas in the freezer.

Typically this variety takes  8 to 12 days to germinate and is ready to harvest in 65 days. Plants seeds 1 1/2 inches deep and 2 inches apart.


Dwarf White Sugar:

This is an open-pollinated heirloom variety first introduced in 1941. The seeds came from a friend’s garden.

It is ready to harvest in 59 days.


Early Frosty:

This seed packet was sent to me to trial. I have no information on it as there was none on the packet and I haven’t actually grown it yet.


Edible Pod:

This is a mixture of the different types of edible pod peas I grow in my garden. All the seeds were saved from my own plants. I get yellow, purple, green and sometimes speckled pods from these seeds. I harvest them just as the peas begin to swell inside the pod.



This is an edible-podded variety that says the pods reach 4 1/2 inches long. I am anxious to trial this variety. I am very curious about the taste.

Typically this variety takes 7 to 14 days to germinate and is ready to harvest in 68 days. Plants seeds 2 inches deep and 6  inches apart. Allow 2 feet between rows. While this seems like extreme spacing compared to other varieties of peas, larger varieties of vegetables do require more growing room. This allows each plant to take up more nutrients and water.


Little Marvel:

This is a highly-productive shelling pea ideal for canning or freezing.

Typically this variety takes 8 to 10 days to germinate and is ready to harvest in 60 days. Plants seeds 1 to 2 inches deep and 2 inches apart.

Are you interested in knowing even more about seed saving and starting? Check out my book The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Seed Saving & Starting! 

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