Growing early season dwarf peas in pots is a great way to enjoy fresh peas without needing a lot of space. But how early is too early?
According to my Three Year Garden Gratitude Journal, my Oregon Giant peas were already well up by March 8th last year and starting to climb their fence in my garden. But because it has been colder with snow on the ground I have not even seeded them yet. Until today. In Qualicum Beach, on Vancouver Island. Yes it seems early, and for my Calgary garden it would be too early, but that is because there is still snow on the ground in Alberta.
The year before last I tested a new dwarf pea from Renee’s Garden seeds. Little Crunch grew well in pots but I made a mistake and put them in small pots that dried out too fast. This time I want to start both Little Crunch and Oregon Giant in large root pouch bags in my back garden early in the season. When they are planted early, they benefit from early spring rains and cool nights, conditions perfect for peas. And anyway, pea seeds are cheap so they can be replanted if they fail to thrive.
Here are some steps to help you successfully grow your Little Crunch dwarf peas or Oregon Giant peas in pots and protect them from birds:
Choose the right pot: Select a pot that is at least 12 inches deep and has a diameter of 12 inches or more. This will provide enough space for your dwarf peas to grow.
Fill the pot with soil: Use a high-quality potting mix or a blend of garden soil and your own compost. Fill the pot to within an inch of the top.
- Jam a tomato trellis into the pot or prop up three bamboo poles and tie them together at the top to support peas as they grow. If you do not support your peas, they may fall over during a heavy wind or if you move or relocate the pot when it is tall.
Plant the seeds: Spread the Little Crunch or any other pea seeds about an inch apart in the pot. Push the seeds into the moist soil with a finger so they are about 1 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Water well if the soil is dry – but at this time of year I find the soil, left in the pots since last year, is wet. You can spread seeds out more but, again, seeds are cheap and cool soil may mean some seeds rot. And of course you can’t count on 100% germination from seeds you saved yourself or stored for more than a season.
Protect the seeds: To protect the seeds from birds, you can cover the pot with a layer of netting or a piece of chicken wire. This will prevent birds from pecking at the seedlings and pulling them out of the soil as they emerge. I find I am too lazy to protect seeds with netting because I will have to remove it later. Also, I have had good luck with spreading straw over the soil surface so small seedlings are not detected by birds until they are at least a few inches tall and better rooted so harder to pull out. This year I am downsizing and I didn’t get around to buying straw so I grabbed handfuls of leaves I saved last fall and spread a thick layer on top of the planted seeds.
Water regularly: Peas need regular watering to grow well. Water peas when the soil feels dry to the touch. I like to grow in root pouches so I allow water to sit in trays under the fabric pots and this keeps the soil evenly moist.
Provide support: Dwarf peas will grow best if they have something to climb on. You can insert a small trellis, a tomato cage or some bamboo stakes into the pot to provide support. I use a tomato cage in pots and a system called the Vine Spine in my open garden. These linking stakes used to be sold at Lee Valley tools in Canada but I see they are absent from the catalogue now and a cheaper, non-linking version, has taken their place.
Harvest and enjoy: Little Crunch dwarf peas are ready to shell and eat in about 55 days while Oregon Giant can be eaten as both flat-podded peas or sugar snap peas about a month later. Pick Little Crunch when the pods are full and the peas are tender. Oregon Giant peas get a lot taller than Little Crunch but also produce in your garden or pots about 3-4 months after sprouting so plant both early and late! I forced the season a bit this year, but not as early as in 2022. I plan to take seeds with me to Calgary and as soon as the snow melts in April I will pop seeds into pots in the prairies. I learned this personally from Lois Hole, and who can argue with the diva of all things green?
By following these steps, you should be able to successfully grow your Little Crunch dwarf peas in pots and protect them from birds. I am trying Oregon Giant in pots as well but I will also seed them directly into the ground this week and next and even the next if I have to. Good luck!