Soil Preparation for Growing Peas
Homegrown peas will only be as good as the soil that they are grown in. In order to have the best peas, take time before planting to improve your soil. You must first determine the type of soil that you are working with. There are many types of soil including, sand, clay, loam, or even a combination of these types. To determine your soil type, a soil sample can be sent to your local Cooperative Extension service. This service will perform a number of tests on your soil and tell you what kind of soil and what the organic makeup of your soil is. This service will also provide you with suggestions to improve your soil.
Working the soil is an important step for growing any vegetable. Since seeds need oxygen to properly germinate, loose soil is important. This also enables seed roots to stretch out in order to obtain the food and nutrients they need. This will make plants stronger and healthier. Till or spade your garden early in the spring to a depth of 10 inches. Wait until the soil is dry enough to work or you will end up with clumps of dirt that will dry and harden, making it impossible for roots to grow. To test the soil, squeeze a handful into a small ball. If you can break the ball easily by poking it with your finger, it is dry enough to be worked. When you have worked the soil it should be free of clumps and very loose. Working the soil also cuts down on weeds. Every time the soil is turned, tiny weed producing seeds are unearthed and brought to the surface where they die. The others are too deep to germinate. This will cut down on the time and effort spent weeding a garden.
It is important that your soil is improved before planting seeds. Once seeds have been planted it is too late to improve and add needed nutrients. Remember, healthy soil yields healthy vegetables. Probably the best way to improve soil is to incorporate organic material. This can be old leaves, kitchen scraps, compost, or any number of organic materials that will break down and improve the quality of the soil. In sandy soils, this organic material will hold the soil together. In clay soils, the material will wedge between the soil particles to loosen it, allowing water and air to reach the roots of the plants. Inorganic material can be added any time but, adding it during the fall season gives it plenty of time to break down before the spring planting season.
Soil pH is another factor that should be considered. The pH is simply how acid or alkaline your soil is. A testing kit can be bought at your local gardening center to test this. Peas grow best in a pH of 5.8 to 7.0. The pH of 7.0 is a neutral pH with 5.8 being a little more on the acidic side. To bring your soil to the correct pH, add lime (to bring the pH up and lessen the acidity) or sulfur (to bring the pH down or make it more acidic). Ashes from wood stoves or fireplaces can be used in place of lime. Use 4 to 5 pounds of lime or ashes (12 quart bucket) for every 100 square feet of soil to be treated.
Fertilizers are also recommended when working the soil. There are two different types of fertilizers, organic and chemical. Organic fertilizers will not burn plants as will their chemical counterparts. Since the pea is a legume, it absorbs its supply of nitrogen from the air after germination. Bone meal can be used to supply nitrogen until then. It has slow action and does not harm any crop. One suggested organic fertilizer for peas consists of one part dried blood (obtained from a slaughter house), one part bone meal, and one part greensand, potash, or granite dust. Other organic fertilizers include blood meal, peat moss, and manure. Manure is a natural fertilizer for plants but also has a high salt content. This is not a problem in areas of high rainfall where the salts are washed away. It becomes a problem in areas in which the rainfall is not sufficient to wash away the salts, thus causing a “burned leaf” appearance in the pea plants. Commercially prepared chemical fertilizers are available and can be bought for the needs of a particular type of soil. When purchasing these, look for the three numbers associated with the type. This tells you how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium is contained in the product. The first number specifies the percentage of nitrogen. The second and third specifies the percentages of phosphorus and potassium. That means that 10-10-10 on a package of fertilizer corresponds to 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, 10 percent potassium, and 70 percent inert ingredients. Whether using chemical or organic fertilizer it is important to use the correct type and amounts needed for your particular soil. Using more than required will not make your soil better. It can result in burned pea plants and low yield.
Once pea plants have been harvested it is a good idea to turn the plants back into the soil. Peas are especially good for this because of the nitrogen content in their roots. Tilling them back under the soil preserves this nitrogen and improves the soil for future crops. This is called “green manure”. Many people plant an early pea crop and immediately till them back into the soil after harvest so that they can plant a second crop of vegetables. This method takes advantage of the nutrients that the pea crop has left behind in the soil.
Taking the time before planting season to prepare your soil correctly will assure that your peas are healthy and strong. You will be sure that it was well worth the extra effort when you are enjoying the “fruits of your labor”.