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All About Peas — From Choosing Varieties, To Planting, To Caring For

At times I almost feel a bit of a celebrity. It’s the result of your letters, phone calls and emails. What can I say but “thank you” to the good folks out there who read my Grainews pitter-patter of words.

Let me assure you however, that I’m still a plain ol’ country boy, a garden-lovin’ country boy. I plant my seeds, eat my taters, sing my songs and I go to church on Sunday. Enough said about that before I get emotional.


For me there’s hardly ever such a day: nulla dies sine linea. (Latin.) Loosely translated, it means: No day without writing a line of something.

Back on March 24, I got a call from Wilf Tolway who farms 2,000 acres about six miles north of Grande Prairie, Alta. His farming talent lends itself to growing seed oats, fescues and canola. Wilf also works in the oilpatch. As busy as he is, Wilf is a bit of a hobby gardener too and has a particular fondness for fresh peas. He enjoys eating peas right off the vine and hopes I’ll write about them this pea-growing season.


I think of peas as a wonderful source of vitamin C and other immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamins A and B6. Modern pea categories include shelling peas (pods are not eaten), sugar snap peas and snow peas. Shelled peas are actually a good source of fibre and have an apparent ability to keep cholesterol levels in the normal range. I agree with Wilf Tolway when he says, “there’s no better snack and something special about eating peas freshly plucked from the pod.” Keep in mind that peas begin losing flavour within hours after picking, as sugar turns to starch.


Rotate peas into a different planting site each year and don’t return to the same growing spot for four years. (Sounds a bit like growing tomatoes.) This will help avoid pea diseases such as bacterial blight, root rot, wilt and powdery mildew. Aphids and pea weevils are the most common insect pests. Squish aphids between fingers and spread some sudsy water over the weevils. Peas need full sun. When planted in shade, the sugar content will be low and they’ll taste like peas that have been “sitting around for a while.”

Double rows use garden space more productively than single rows. Make two shallow furrows four to five inches apart. The double-row method is especially helpful for trellising tall pea varieties. A simple support made of flexible tree branch limbs can be placed between double rows or about three inches alongside single rows. Peas naturally grasp any trellising support with their tendrils.

Best results are obtained when peas planted side by side in double rows have a wide space that’s at least 40 cm/16 inches before the next double row. Insert seeds one to two inches apart, about one to 1-1/2 inches deep. A mulch consisting of bark, unsprayed lawn clippings, pine needles, leaves or straw placed between single or double rows helps retain moisture and keeps soil cool. Water early in the day and avoid frequent light waterings. The most critical time for adequate hand watering is just as peas are beginning to flower. Once peas are finished producing, cut up and then till or spade the entire vine back into the ground. In so doing, nitrogen in the root nodules will be added to the soil. If your season permits, there may be time to grow something else such as radishes, beans, lettuce, spinach and other greens in the same spot. Aforesaid will do well in soil where nitrogen-fixing legumes grew. Also, plant more peas elsewhere in a different area about four weeks down the road from the first planting, for a later pick of peas. Remember, peas are a cool-weather crop that can take some frost.


… and this is just a brief review of a few popular modern-day varieties.

1. MR. BIG: sweet flavoured, high yielding, disease resistant, easy shelling five-inch pods with seven to nine dark-green peas inside.

2. SPRING: early, dark podded, seven to nine green peas per pod, a good fresh market and freezing variety; wilt tolerant.

3. CASCADIA: a snappy, edible dark-green pod pea; pods are crunchy, juicy and sweet; can be picked early as snow peas; trellis is not needed, but try placing some tree twig branches for vines to tumble upon; virus and powdery mildew resistant.

4. GREEN ARROW: double podded, four to five inches length, average 10 peas per pod, a favourite for fresh eating and freezing; mildew resistant.

5. PALADIO: big, easy to open long pods full of sweet peas; several pickings, trellis not required; vines tumble on short, bushy plants.

6. SNOW GREEN: dark-green three-inch pods borne in multiples, excellent in stir-fries; short plants need no support, powdery mildew and virus resistant.

Pea varieties 1 to 4 are available from Early’s in Saskatoon; phone 1-800-667-1159; pea varieties 3 to 6 are available at West Coast Seeds, Delta, B. C., phone 1-888-804-8820; pea varieties 1 and 4 are available at T&T Seeds, Winnipeg, phone 1-204-895-9962. Seed catalogues list more varieties.

For heirloom, non-staking and climbing peas such as Manitoba pea, Russian Sugar and Amish Snap pea go to www.saltspringseeds.comor write Salt Spring Seeds, PO Box 444, Ganges, Salt Spring Island, B. C. V8K 2W1 for a catalogue.

A good selection of heritage peas for planting is also available from Heritage Harvest Seed, Carman, Man. R0G 0J0. Go to www.heritageharvestseed.comor write for a catalogue.


… are extended to farmers Christina and Michael Mooney, who farm near Imperial in Sask., for their generous gift of flaxseed, red lentils and whole yellow peas.

Homemade red lentils and pot barley soup is phenomenal and I’ll never tire of pea soup. I grind flax in a coffee grinder and use it in recipes, stirring some into oatmeal and sundry other ways. As far as I’m concerned, these grains are all brain foods and help keep the thought and mind processes healthy.

Drinking flaxseed tea makes a splendid hot drink for cold winter days and a cool, thirst quencher during summer.

Thanks also to Don Kenney of Calgary who phoned “to say thank you for winning Eagle Creek seed potatoes” and to Beth McKeown of Duncan, B. C. who sent me a card in the mail.


… in the family? A teenager had just received his driver’s licence and asked his father if they could discuss use of the family car. The dad offered his son a deal. “You bring your grades up from a C to a B average, study your Bible a little, get your hair cut and then we’ll talk about the car.” The lad thought about that for a moment, decided he’d settle for the offer and they agreed on it. After about six weeks his father said, “Son, I’ve been real proud. You brought your grades up and I’ve noticed that you’ve been studying your Bible, but I’m real disappointed you didn’t get your hair cut.” The young man paused a moment then said, “You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had long hair, Moses had long hair and there’s even a strong argument that Jesus had long hair.” To this his father replied, “Did you also notice that they all walked everywhere they went?”

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. Each new day brings blessings. The distant roll of thunder and touch of spring are upon us. Let’s hope for just the right amount of rain to caress and gently water our fields and gardens. May every daybreak render us a sunrise that brings freshness to new life pushing through the soil and enrich individual lives. Invite the swallows, purple martins, frogs, toads and dragonflies to eat mosquitoes. With a song in my heart as sweet as the meadowlark, I wrote a tune: “I’ll Come Running,” a tribute to Oma and Opa. My email address is [email protected]

About the author


Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.



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