Some of my fondest memories growing up were in early summertime, helping my parents and grandparents shell peas. We would either grow peas or purchase them from neighbors that had a good crop of peas. We would put down brown crowder and purple hull peas for the rest of the year.
Growing up we would hand shell our peas. Many today still do that, but some use a mechanical pea sheller and market the shelled peas. Peas are sold by the bushel or shelled by the pound in many markets.
Southern peas are a warm-season crop. Peas grown in the South include blackeye peas, cream peas, crowder peas, Mississippi silver and pink eye purple hull peas to name a few. Peas grow in well-drained soils, preferably sandy loam soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Peas also need full sun. Plant southern peas after the chance of a killing frost have passed.
The ideal growing conditions for southern peas are warm to hot days (85 to 95 degrees) and warm nights (60 to 65 degrees). Peas need water, but do not need to be overwatered. Regular rainfall should be adequate to make a crop. Irrigation could be used in dry periods as needed. Rows should be spaced 24 to 36 inches apart.
Common diseases of pea varieties include ashy stem blight, cotton root rot, Fusarium wilt, leaf spot, mosaic, powdery mildew, root knot nematodes, rust and southern blight. If a disease is suspected in the pea crop, it is important to detect it early and follow all label direction for use of pesticides in the field.
Insect issues in the pea crop include aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, leafminers, loopers and stink bugs. Another issue in some areas of East Texas is wildlife. White-tailed deer and other animals may cause economic damage to the crop of peas. Fencing or other exclusion means may be warranted.
Fertilize peas according to soil test recommendations. Since peas are a legume, meaning they have the capability of fixing nitrogen on their roots, avoid over application of nitrogen fertilizer. Applying high applications of nitrogen may result in increased vine growth of the plant as well as reduced yields. Most nitrogen is applied pre-plant.
When planting peas, it may take 6-10 days for the plant to emerge from the soil. Peas are direct-seeded and are hard to transplant. From the time peas are planted they will be ready to harvest in 60 to 70 days.
Harvest time for peas varies, but most will be ready when the pods are filled well and begin to turn colors. Some will turn from green to purple, silver or straw in color, depending on the variety.
Crop rotation is important when growing peas. They should be rotated with a number of vegetable crops to prevent issues with nematodes. You may even grow a cover crop in the off season to help with nematode issues.