It’s Time to Plant Fall Peas
Have a crop this summer that hasn’t done well for you? You can either keep nursing the plants through bug infestations and disease, or just put an end to their misery (and yours) and plant some peas instead.
Peas in fall, you ask? Why, yes, if your first frost date is still at least two months away like ours. Peas may be the proverbial spring vegetable, but they are also well-suited for late summer plantings to mature in early fall, given that they are a vegetable that prefers cooler weather. Spring-planted peas must mature during the heat of late spring (which tends to feel like summer here in eastern Kentucky), but fall peas come into maturity during October and early November’s cooler days. Peas are happiest when they mature in cool weather, and it shines through in the quality of their pods and peas — you may actually come to prefer the taste and texture of fall-maturing peas as I do.
I like to plant peas after corn and other nitrogen-loving crops, since nitrogen-fixing bacteria help supply the peas’ needs. I usually time my primary corn harvest for late July — I topple the stalks after harvest and leave them in the beds for a few weeks, allowing time for more of the corn’s nitrogen stores to return to the soil. The corn leaves can then be left on the soil surface as a natural mulch, and the peas sown directly into the vacant corn rows.
When selecting pea varieties for fall harvest, pay attention to the “days to maturity” on your seed package. Some peas, like the snap bush variety Sugar Ann, mature in only 52 days, whereas others, particularly shelling peas, may take close to 80 days. Since pea plants will be damaged by hard freezes (<26 F), those few weeks in difference to maturity can determine whether or not you get a harvest! I prefer to plant peas for fall that mature in 60 days or less; these include the snap varieties Sugar Ann, Maestro, and Cascadia, and the snow pea variety, Snowbird. An added benefit of these quick-maturing varieties is that they don’t get very tall or require any trellising like other peas usually do — that’s a big benefit when you’re pretty tired of trellising beans and tomatoes all summer!
I’ve also had good luck with taller pea varieties in the fall, such as Mammoth Melting Sugar and Oregon Sugar Pod II. However, another disadvantage to these taller varieties, besides their longer time to maturity, is that they will be extremely difficult to cover if an early frost does hit your area. Bush varieties can easily be covered quickly with a light-weight row cover (such as Agribon-19) to protect the more frost-sensitive pods (the plants themselves can tolerate several light frosts), but that gets a little trickier with a row of plants that is 4 to 5 feet tall.
So plant some peas this weekend! They’ll make a great stir fry when Halloween rolls around, along with all of those delicious Asian greens (maturing at the same time when sown by September 1st) and fall broccoli (transplanted by August 15th) that you’ll be growing in the fall garden!