St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, and it is the time to plant peas. These are the earliest garden vegetables to reach edible maturity and do well at lower temperatures than most vegetables. The plants survive a light frost, although flowers and young pods may be damaged. They do poorly when temperatures rise to 80 degrees and higher.
These members of the legume family do well in cool, moist weather, and in a fertile, well-drained soil high in compost or well-aged manure. Before planting work in 2-3 inches of well-composted organic matter and one pound of an all-purpose fertilizer, such as a 16-16-8, per 100 square feet of garden area. Work the soil thoroughly to a depth of at least 6 inches.
Plant rows in a north to south direction to optimize sun exposure and air circulation and prevent mildew. Soak the seeds for at least an hour before planting and treat them with a nitrogen-fixing bacteria inoculant to hasten germination. Inoculants can be purchased at your local nursery.
Find a sunny spot to grow your peas, because the ground will thaw there first, and later, the sugar content will be higher than if planted in the shade. In clay soils, plant seeds 1-2 inches deep.
In sandy soils, plant them in a furrow 4 inches deep and cover them with 1 inch of soil. Gradually fill in the furrow as the seedlings grow. Space the seeds 1-2 inches apart in rows 12-24 inches apart. Seeds germinate in eight to 20 days, depending on the soil temperature, moisture and weather. Stagger the plantings at two- to three-week intervals through mid-spring to lengthen the harvest period. Peas require regular watering with a bit of drying in between to avoid rotting the roots.
Little additional fertilizer to that worked into the soil prior to planting is needed. As the weather warms, mulch the soil to keep it cool and moist.
Most peas reach maturity in 60-70 days. Bush types are self-supporting, while taller varieties grow best when grown on a trellis or on poles. Some varieties can grow as tall as 6 feet or more. Locate tall-growing peas where they won't shade out other crops, or plant shade-loving crops, such as lettuce, in their shade. The wrinkle-seeded pea varieties are generally sweeter than the smooth-seeded types.
For more information, e-mail email@example.com or call me at 887-2252. You can "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu.
•JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.