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If you haven't planted your peas yet, you better get busy. Well actually, you have until the middle of April to plant peas in Mid-Missouri. If you are not planting peas, then I hope you will reconsider. Peas are one of those vegetables that are so much better fresh from the garden that there is really no comparison with processed peas.

Peas straight from garden are sweet and crisp but quickly lose flavor if held at room temperature. According to the University of Missouri Extension, peas can lose up to half of their sugar content within three hours of picking if stored at room temperature. Unshelled peas stored in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator retain their flavor for up to three days. Eat peas grown in your garden as close to harvest as possible for best flavor and texture.

Peas are a cool-season crop that can with stand a light frost and are able to germinate in somewhat cool soil temperatures. Warm summer temperatures can negatively affect both yield and quality; the earlier you can plant, the better — preferably as early in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Peas, like most garden plants, prefer a well-drained soil.

Peas need to be planted in a sunny location. Be sure they will get at least six hours of sun per day. Sow seeds directly in the soil about 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows spaced 18-24 inches apart. Some taller varieties will do better with 3 feet between rows and will need some sort of trellising or support. "Green Arrow," "Lincoln" and "Bolero" are taller types recommended for Missouri and will need something to climb on.

As with most garden vegetables, there are decisions about what kind of peas you want to grow. English or green peas are plump, round peas that grow in pods. These pods are not eaten; the peas are shelled out and pods discarded. Snow peas and sugar snap peas have tender pods that are meant to be eaten.

Snow peas are flat pods that contain tiny, immature peas. You can add both to stir fries or eat raw in salads. Sugar snaps are a cross between snow and green peas. You can eat pods and peas, or eat just the sweet, tender peas. I usually plant both English and sugar snap peas, but if I am only planting one kind, I go for the sugar snap and eat the pods till the peas start getting bigger then eat or freeze them. Some sugar snap varieties to try are Sugar Snap, Sugar Ann and Sugar Sprint. These have proven to do well in Mid-Missouri.

Peas do not compete well with weeds, so weeds must be controlled. Hand weeding and shallow cultivation probably are the best way to control weeds in the home garden. Garden peas will need about 1-11/2 inches of water each week. If you are depending on rain for your water source, it is important to keep track of how much rain falls and be sure to water when needed. This is important for all garden plants, but it is especially important for peas.

Although peas are relatively pest free, aphids and leafhoppers can be a problem, watch for these pest and try to control them early for the best success. Powdery mildew as well as root and seed rot can be troublesome in poorly drained soil or during wet springs. Although we were pretty close to a drought earlier, that all changed quickly, and it can go back the other way just as fast — we are in Missouri after all. Rotating planting location in the garden from year to year is helpful in the disease management of peas.

Depending on variety, planting date and temperatures, peas usually are ready for harvest about the middle of June and can be harvested for about two weeks. Timing the harvest of peas is critical for top eating quality. Pick the pods as soon as they have swollen and appear round. Peas allowed to mature on the plant too long tend to convert sugars to starch thus reducing their sweetness. As with sweet corn, peas are tastiest immediately after being picked.

Peas are easy to grow, delicious when harvested fresh from the garden and contain a wealth of nutritional benefits. Why not get an early start on this year's garden by growing peas?

Peter Sutter is a life-long gardening enthusiast and a participant in the MU Extension's Callaway County Master Gardener program. Gardening questions can be sent to [email protected]

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