How To Have Peas All Year From Your Own Garden

Winter is a valuable time for the garden to rest after producing all summer. This rest gives the land time to regenerate through decomposing plant matter, and it breaks the life cycles of diseases and parasites that infest it. Unfortunately for us, this is the time when it is difficult, if not impossible, to have fresh vegetables from the land. Here are some ways to enjoy peas from your garden all year long.

Even in a small garden, you can easily grow enough peas to eat all summer and still have enough to preserve for the winter. Peas store well when they are frozen, canned, or dehydrated. If you are lucky enough to live in an area with temperate winters, you can grow peas all winter if you give them a bit of protection.

Not only are peas delicious, they are a great source of protein in your diet. Let’s look at how to grow enough peas for an entire year.

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Growing Peas For A Year

If you live in a cold climate with harsh winters, growing anything over winter is unrealistic. If your winters reach -40C with over a meter of snow, you will laugh with hilarity and envy when other gardeners say they grow vegetables all year round. Whether you are a northern gardener or live in a temperate area, you can be self-sufficient by preserving what you grow in the summer to eat in the winter. Peas are a great vegetable for your winter store because they are easy to grow, produce lots of food in a relatively small space, and are easy to preserve.

How Many Plants Do I Need?

When you plan on growing food to preserve over winter, the big question is how many plants do you need? This can be a difficult question to answer, but here are some guidelines to get you started.

Many seed companies have an average yield for their suggested sowing rate, such as this one here. This particular guide is quite accurate, but it does call for a very heavy sowing rate. Just remember that any suggested yields are extremely variable, and your garden might get less (or a lot more!) than they say.

When growing for self-sufficiency, always remember that a smaller scale will be more productive per plant than a large field of the same crop. This is because the care and dedication that you put into each plant will help it grow better than if it was one of a thousand in the field.

Bowl of peas by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Here is a rough idea of what we harvested from our garden in southern Alberta. (We planted our peas early to mid-May, and our killing frost was in the middle of September. Your growing season has a significant effect on how many peas you can grow throughout the year… more on this later). We planted 27m (90ft) of peas with the plants spaced 15cm (6 inches) apart. Thus we planted 180 seeds in total. Most seed packages suggest sowing much closer than this but we like giving the plants a bit extra space to grow. Peas are particularly susceptible to mildew and disease and this further spacing can help the plants breathe and stay dry.

From these 180 seeds, our plants produced 6.5 kilograms of peas that we froze for winter, we sold another 10kg, plus another 10kg that we ate fresh throughout the summer. We didn’t shell any of our peas but left them all in the pods.

Remember every garden, and every year, will be different. Some years you will get a bumper crop, and some years you will bust.

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Preserving The Harvest

Peas are very easy to preserve and they store very well. They can be frozen (they need to be blanched first), canned (make sure to follow the instructions specified by your canner to properly kill bacteria), or dehydrated (this works best if they are shelled). How you choose to preserve your peas will depend on how you want to eat them. Freezing is the easiest preserving method to get started with. Frozen peas are very versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes.

Frozen peas by PDPics
Image by PDPics

Growing Through the Winter

Some climates allow peas to grow all year round, and peas are well suited to grow over winter since they are very cold hardy. Even if your days are too short and the nights are too cool to allow the peas to flower and bear pods, you can plant the seeds as late as November so they will be flowering months before any spring-planted variety. Here are some factors to consider when growing peas over winter.

Choose the Right Variety

An important part of growing peas all year round is choosing the right variety. There are many varieties that are more cold hardy and these make a logical choice. Shorter vines are also better for overwintering as they are easier to keep covered so there is less chance of the sprawling vines being nipped by the cold.

Another important aspect to consider is the type of seed. Pea seeds are either wrinkled or round. Wrinkled seeds can collect water in their creases which can freeze and burst the seed. Round seeds are smooth and do not collect water as easily, making them ideal for cold weather sowing. Unfortunately for the cold-weather gardener, wrinkled seeds produce sweeter peas than their round cousins.

How Low Can You Go?

Peas are a very hardy vegetable, but even they have a limit at which point they succumb to winter’s chill. Once the soil temperature drops to 5°C (41°F) growth will significantly slow down and might stop altogether.

If your pea plants are already established they will survive quite nicely until -2°C (28°F). Even down to -6°C (20°F), most pea plants will be fine though they may suffer some damage. Some growers have witnessed their peas survive -15°C (5°F) when insulted under a thick blanket of snow.

Most pea plants will be undamaged by a light frost and even some snow. A hard frost, however, will often freeze flower buds or kill seedlings so it is necessary to protect pea plants over winter.

There are several different ways to protect your peas from the cold.

Types of Season Extension

A simple low tunnel can often be enough to keep the frost from nipping the leaves and to raise the temperature a few degrees to keep the pea plants from freezing. Tunnels can often be made quite simply with materials you have lying around or you can purchase ready-to-assemble kits

If you are serious about getting into winter growing, it might be worth investing in a greenhouse. Even an unheated greenhouse can be managed in a way that significantly increases the temperature inside it while protecting the plants from frost, ice, and snow There are many ideas online for building and customizing your own, or there are many that you can buy.

Don’t the flowers need bees?

Peas grow well under cover because they are self-pollinating and do no need the assistance of insects.

Planting for an early spring

Peas are one of the first seeds that you can plant in the spring. But if you want to get a jump start on the season, you can start peas under protection up until November (check with your local garden centre if this is practical in your area). Make sure you plant the seeds before the days get too short, and you might want some artificial light to aid germination. The peas will grow slowly in the cold weather, but they will really take off in the early spring and will be bearing pods when your spring-sown peas are germinating.

Growing Them In Pots

No matter what your winters are like, you can always grow a few peas in pots. Pea plants make an attractive and productive houseplant. You won’t get very many peas from a plant or two, but it is still a welcome treat to crunch on a freshly picked pea while watching the snow fall outside.