Give Peas A Chance – Growing Peas On Your Farm

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:

  • posts and insulators ~ $40.00
  • fencing ~ $30.00
  • abor ~ less than ½ an hour (assume a rate of $10/hour for labor)

Total: $75

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:

  • posts and insulators ~ $70.00
  • fence ~ $45.00
  • labor ~ less than 1 hour ($10)

Total: $125

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.

This entry was posted in Articles by Farmer Paul Betz, Commercial Growing, Farmer Authors, Growing Tips, Variety Highlights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Give Peas A Chance – Growing Peas On Your Farm

  1. Bob Spencer says:

    Cool! I bookmarked it. I have been growing Green Arrow in Virginia and I am about to move to Maine and I am glad to hear they do well in New England.

  2. Mollie Curry says:

    Thanks for the cost/benefit analysis. One question: When calculating the labor, did you think about the gathering of materials and cutting of rebar? The labor calc. seemed unrealistic.

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      I didn’t add in those expenses. Often times the place where you buy the rebar has a bender/ cutter that you can borrow, and each cut takes about 15 seconds, so the making of the stakes is pretty quick. If that tool isn’t available, a right angle grinder with a cutoff wheel or a sawsall makes pretty short work of it as well.
      -Paul

  3. When do you plant for late August harvesting?

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Where we are it’s into mid-May. Our summers are probably cooler than yours… you’re in PA, right? We usually don’t see real heat until August. I am considering planting a third hit of the Cascadia this year for the first time, as it seems like people are always sad when the peas are over, no matter when that happens.
      -Paul

  4. Chuck Frase says:

    HI ,
    Great cultivare choices> I have trouble geting them to germinate in the spring.
    Diseases from cold wet springs give diseases or bugs an early meal. I am now trans planting my valuable first crop. I farm organically in southern Wisc. zone 4b

    What date do you use for first seeding in your area. Any seed treatments?

    Peace,
    Chuck

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      Hi Chuck,
      I am usually on my ground by mid April, but the timing can vary; we can have snow go out as early as first week or late as the last week. I haven’t ever taken soil temp, but that might be an interesting thing to do this year…

      I sometimes inoculate, but not always. I often get frustrated with the peas jamming in the chute when they are at all wet from the treatments. I haven’t used actinovate/ root shield for rot/ low germ issues. I have talked with other people who are also transplanting their snap peas to ensure a good stand.

      It is often true that the later plantings have better germ and effectively “catch” the earlier plantings; growing taller and setting bigger/ better peas. I have also heard about people soaking and planting a seed that has just germed as a way of getting around the sitting and waiting phase that seems to put the seed in jeopardy, but I can’t speak to it from personal experience.
      all my best,
      -Paul

  5. Nadia Maczaj says:

    Paul, how do you clean and store the fencing after pea season?

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      I find that the peas get kicked off the fence real easily, and I roll it up and put it on a corner of the field. I put down a piece of landscape fabric first so grass won’t grow up through the fence. I am hoping to soon have a fence trailer that will be set up to store all the fence and posts and then allow me to put it away once, and then move the trailer. More on that once I build it.
      All my best,
      Paul

  6. Margaret says:

    Paul,
    We are in Ontario Canada Zone 5a and bought 5 lbs Sugar Ann peas from Johnny’s. We find your tips very useful and hope for a bumper harvest. We have been able to take snap peas to the market in mid fall with a late-summer planting. Thank you!

  7. Ricky Robinson says:

    You say you are doing two rows of Sugar Ann on a 4 ft. bed. Is that one trellis with a row planted to each side of the trellis? And one row of Cascadia per trellised row? How many seed per ft. in each row?

    • High Mowing Organic Seeds says:

      It’s actually four seeded rows. Each trellis has a row on each side of the fence. I doubled up on the Sugar Ann because they don’t get really big and I wanted to get more to market early in the season. Their productivity is also such that I wanted the extra yield. Real estate on the farm in Spring for me is pretty tight.
      There are also two seeded rows per one fence on the Cascadia.

      Each four foot bed:

      For Sugar Ann For Cascadia

      Peas peas peas
      Fence fence fence
      Peas peas peas Peas peas peas
      Fence Fence Fence
      Peas peas peas Peas peas peas
      Fence fence fence
      Peas peas peas

      I hope that translated through the email.

      I am using an Earthway seeder, and am probably kicking out 20- 25 seeds per foot. At 90% there’s a pea every 1/2 inch or so.
      Best,
      Paul

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