It seems that everyone likes eating peas, but the planting and picking part can be a challenge. At my farm, we have decided that they are an important piece of our crop mix, and have found ways to ease their burden and have them week after week for our markets without too much stress.
Lots of the problems around picking can be solved by trellising. We trellis all our peas, even when they only top out at two feet. The initial expense of the fence and the posts can be modest, and the labor to put up the trellis is quick. We have been using the same fences for close to twelve years now, and they are still in good shape. We build our trellises to two different heights, a 2 foot and a 4 foot, using 2” chicken fence.
We use a 4 foot piece of 1/2” rebar for our posts on the shorter varieties. I can get 5 posts from a 20’ length of rebar, so each one ends up costing only a few dollars. Two round post electric fence insulators securely hold the fence. I space them about every twelve feet. I have been using 6 foot studded T Posts for the four foot varieties. While they cost more than a wooden post, they don’t rot, they are much sturdier, easier to drive into the ground, and are quick to hang the fence on. They are usually on sale in the spring. I use 3 clip-on electric fence insulators per post, and space them every 8 to 10 feet in the row, since the weight of the pea vines can get heavy.
So, in summary, here is a break-down of the cost:
For a 100’ row of 2 foot trellising:
Assuming you would be getting 15 lbs of peas each picking, three pickings would give you 45 lbs of peas. At $4.50 per lb, the value of the peas would be over $200.00. The cost of the fence is then absorbed in the first year.
For a 100’ row of 4 foot trellsing:
Given a harvest of 100 lbs over three to four pickings, at $4.50 per lb the value of the peas would be $450. Again the upfront costs are absorbed in the first season. Take care of the fence and use it for the next 15 years, and you can see the value of the initial expense.
As for varieties, I am really hooked on the Sugar Ann and Cascadia for snaps, and the Green Arrow for shells. The Sugar Ann is really quick, and will yield well over three to four pickings. The Cascadia is a later variety that tops out around 4 feet, so it’s easy to fence.
We focus on snap peas for our markets; we find that the demand for them is higher than shell peas. To do my best to have them every week, I plant numerous successions in the spring, as soon as I can get them in.
For the planting layout, we use a 4 foot bed width, and I can fit either two rows of the Sugar Ann or one row of the Cascadia per bed. I run a band of seeds down each side of where the fence will be set, giving me a double row. On the first day, I plant both Sugar Ann and Cascadia. Then, in a few weeks, I plant both varieties again. Then one week later I plant a last shot of the Sugar Ann. The plan is for the three plantings of Sugar Ann to lead in to the Cascadia. I am often picking the last round of the Sugar Ann when the Cascadia come on, but I don’t mind having some overlap. Once the peas are up, I weed them really well and install the fence when they are about two to three inches in height. Wait too long, and it’s really hard to get the fence between the two rows.
I am often picking peas into the waning days of August, depending on the season, and my markets are happy to have them. A little extra work in the spring can go a long way, and I also get a great breakfast snack whenever I walk by the patch.
-Paul Betz, owner of High Ledge Farm in Woodbury, VT, and a High Mowing Organic Seeds Sales Associate