How to Grow Organic Garden Peas
Organic Vegetable Gardening
Going organic in the garden isn't difficult to do. You don't need to go all out with your own compost heap or harvest your own seeds for next year's garden to ensure organic source materials. There are practical ways to pursue organic gardening.
Last year, my pet rabbit got sick with kidney disease. One of his favorite things in the world were pea vines. Since a house rabbit does best with organically grown produce, I set about growing organic peas to keep him healthy and happy. This is how I did it.
Fresh Pea Vines From the Garden
What Organic Gardening Means
Organic gardening begins with the soil. You must create a rich and healthy environment full of micro-nutrients and beneficial bugs and insects so plants can grow without the need for pesticides or chemical fertilizer. Think of the soil as a living entity that you have to feed so that it can maintain other life sources.
To create a healthy soil, you need "organic matter," like cow or chicken manure, dried plant matter like leaves and grasses, and decomposing green matter, like previous crops that you dig under the soil and bury. The organic matter breaks down to create healthy, nutrient rich soil.
Shortcut to Organic Soil
For immediate planting, though, you don't usually have time to compost your own soil. It's perfectly fine to drive to your nearest home improvement or garden center and buy organic bagged soil. This soil is rich in organic matter and is usually heavy on the cow manure. Pick a bag that feels heavy and is not too dried out. If it's been raining, pick a bag from the center of the pile that it is not too wet.
You can fill a raised bed with bagged organic soil, or mix it into an existing plot, about 50-50 with native soil, in that case.
Organic Seeds and Plants
The second part of the organic gardening equation is the plants or seeds themselves. It is important to choose seeds or plants that are clearly labeled as "100% Certified Organic." Inspect seed packets carefully and look for the "USDA Organic" logo. With plants, purchase from a reputable nursery or garden center, and look for the USDA Organic logo.
"100% Certified Organic" with the USDA logo means that the seeds were produced without the use of pesticides or fungicides, and that the company adheres to strict standards to meet the "100" organic" criterion.
For my organic peas, I like the Seeds of Change brand. The company is reputable and the varieties are generally hardy and tolerant to disease.
Using a good mulch is an important part to building up soil, as mulch breaks down each year and adds to the structure of your soil. If you're buying bagged mulch, read packaging carefully and look for "100% organic."
I like organic cocoa mulch, primarily because it helps to acidify my very alkaline soil, and because it helps to deter garden pests like snails, slugs and sowbugs. I don't use any pesticides, so cocoa mulch is a big help. You only need about a 1" - 2" layer of cocoa mulch to block weeds, so a little goes a long way. If you have a dog, you can't use cocoa mulch, however. It's a chocolate product and is hazardous for dogs.
Other good mulches to use include pine needles and dried leaves, in a layer about 2" - 4" thick. We often use leaves from our apple tree. Once the leaves have fallen to the ground and have dried, we load them into a clean plastic trash can and whirl a weed whacker around the can. The weed whacker breaks up the leaves into a nice sized mulch that is lightweight and blocks weeds well.
Organic Pea Seeds
Growing Peas in the Garden
I have very little room in my backyard for my organic garden, and so I make use of raised beds. Throughout the main growing season, I make use of every inch of available space.
Grow Vertical: For peas, I always use a trellis or pea fence, even when growing bush peas. The type of pea fence I use is a rigid one that bends into three sections. I zig-zag it into one 3'x6" space in a corner of my largest raised bed. This way, I can grow other things like tomatoes and corn in the same raised bed.
Grow Sunny: Peas like full sun and not-too-cold soil. Here in Southern California, I can get away with growing peas almost year-round. But if you live in a hot part of the country, the best time to grow peas is in early spring or fall.
Plant Often: As long as you keep the soil well-nourished, you can stagger-sow your seeds about 2-3 weeks apart and right next to existing plants. This will keep you in peas for a much longer season, potentially for most of the year.
Forget Pesticides, Get Beneficial Insects
Peas are a short grow season crop, some varieties are often ready in as little as 50 days from sowing. In an organic garden, you won't use pesticides, and they really aren't necessary for peas since they grow so quickly. Instead, get beneficial insects like ladybugs that will eat aphids and other soft-bodied pests. Really bad aphid infestations can also be washed off pea plants with a strong spray of water. Certain types of mulch, like cocoa mulch and coco coir mulch, can also deter pests like sowbugs and snails.
Planting Organic Peas
If this is your first year planting organic peas, I suggest that you plant from seed and use bagged organic soil as a quick-start rather than taking the time to compost and create soil. Composting can take several months for organic materials to break down, and you may miss an entire growing season waiting. Miracle Gro makes a nice organic bagged soil that is rich and lovely, so take the short-cut and buy soil your first year.
1. Prepare your planting area by spreading a thick (at least 6") layer of organic soil.
2. Set up your trellis and stake it in place with lightweight plastic or metal stakes. You can find stakes at the garden center or camping center.
3. Sort through your seeds. Discard overly small seeds and broken ones.
4. Using a pencil, a stick, or your finger, poke a line of holes about 2" deep, 3" apart, and about 2" away from your trellis.
5. Place 1 or 2 seeds into each hole.
6. Cover each hole with soil and press down firmly. Water in well.
7. Spread mulch up to the planting area, about 2" thick. If you are using cocoa mulch, don't cover the planting area. Rather, push the cocoa mulch all around the planting area. Cocoa mulch, if applied too thickly, can block out too much light, making it difficult for pea seeds to germinate. Once seeds have germinated, push mulch around each seedling.
8. Continue to water and weed. After 2-3 weeks, sow more seeds.
Occasionally check for garden pests during the growing season. Snails can be picked off and removed, and sowbugs can be deterred with diatomaceous earth.
Harvest when peas are filled out and most of the blossom is dried up and gone. Taste test one or two peas daily to determine the optimal harvest time.
Growing Garden Peas: Step-by-Step PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Types of Mulch
Acidifies, breaks down nicely, keeps weeds down.
Can take awhile to break down
Keeps weeds down, lightweight, won't impact germinating seeds.
Need to be sure to gather leaves from an organic source
Acidifies, keeps weeds down, snails don't like it, lightweight, only need 1"-2" layer, smells nice for a time.
Not recommended for dog households. A chocolate product
Coco (coconut) mulch
Attractive, keeps weeds down
May pull nitrogen from soil
Attractive, keeps weeds down
May have artificial colorants. Check package labels carefully
Organic Gardening Video
The folks at Howdini have an excellent video that provides a lot of tips for starting out with organic gardening, including:
- Tools you might need
- How to set up a garden bed
- The importance of compost
- Battling weeds naturally
The Benefits of Growing Organic Vegetables for Your Family and Pets
In his last year of life, my house rabbit maintained a good quality of life by having an organic garden to play in and organic vegetables to eat. He especially loved his peas, which he often "harvested" himself by uprooting the entire vine and dragged it into the house to eat. I never had to worry about him being hurt by pesticides or ingesting anything dangerous. (NOTE: Dog owners shouldn't use cocoa mulch, as it is a chocolate product and can be dangerous to dogs) By making successive plantings, we always had enough peas for the family and for the bunny to share. If you are interested in gardening but have never grown anything before, try planting peas as your first crop. They're easy to grow and delicious to eat.