Peas thrive in a well-drained rich, sandy, alkaline soil. Because they can rot in cold wet ground, it is often worthwhile, especially for early plantings, hilling up soil somewhat under pea fencing or in pea beds. Peas will tolerate some shading.
Peas are natural climbers but there are many low growing ones that will support themselves with the help of their neighbours. Varieties over knee-high should be given some support or planted along a fence or trellis.
Varieties range from those with tiny round seeds to large, rectangular ones. There is a major division between fresh-eating peas and those best used as a dry bean. Although most shelling peas aren't very good soup peas and vice versa, many edible-pod peas are rich and flavourful when used in soups and curries. Some soup peas break down quickly to make a rich broth and some retain their shape to pleasing effect.
Peas generally can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked until June. August plantings for fall harvest can also succeed if the weather cooperates.
As with other legumes, an application of garden inoculant, either to the soil or to the seeds themselves before planting, can be very beneficial. Sow seeds 1 inch apart and 1 inch deep. Pea plants can tolerate crowding so rows can be spaced as close as a few inches apart.
Peas are light feeders; if organic matter such as rotted manure, compost, leaf mold or old hay has been worked into the soil they should do very well.
It's best to weed peas well at the beginning, because once peas get going it's hard to get in between stalks without damaging the vines.
Peas like having wet feet and it is most important to maintain even moisture during flowering and pod set.
Dry peas are ready to harvest when the pods have dried.
As with other legumes, peas are easily threshed by hand or foot and they should be dry enough so a fingernail can't make a mark.
Because peas tolerate crowding they are capable of very high yields. I've obtained up to 17 pounds per 100 square feet from varieties broadcast in wide beds. Rows of fenced peas can provide over 20 pounds per 100 feet.
Your own dry peas will take 60 to 90 minutes simmering to soften up. Varieties vary considerably in holding their texture and you may prefer shorter or longer cooking depending on the kind of stew or soup you're preparing.
Saving Your Own Seed
Peas are self-fertile, so saving your own is simply a matter of keeping some of your harvest for the next planting. I have not seen any pea crosses in all the years I have been growing them.
Peas are a common item in most seed catalogues, yet few companies promote them as dry legumes. There are many varieties that could expand and enhance our diets if we became aware of their potential. I think dry peas will become more popular as gardeners realize they don't have to be split to be usable: peas are already known as an easy, satisfying crop and soup from your own peas need only be tried once to win converts.