by Jennifer Poindexter
Are you interested in adding cover crops to your garden? Have you thought about growing field peas as a cover crop? Many people grow field peas for harvest. However, few think of them as a way to add nutrients to your growing area.
Cover crops are a wonderful way to protect your soil, fight weeds, kick pests and diseases out of your garden, and to add nutrients to your soil. If you love the idea of utilizing cover crops, you’re in the right place. I’ll walk you through all you should know to grow field peas as a cover crop.
Here’s the information you need to, hopefully, make this experience a positive one.
Growing Conditions for Field Peas
Field peas are a unique cover crop. Not only are they functional, but they also add beauty to your garden area.
This crop goes by a few different names. They consist of Austrian field peas and Canadian field peas. This might give you the idea that these peas are cold hardy.
If you thought this, you’d be correct. Field peas are an annual plant that can be planted as you’re heading into winter.
They’re hardy to temperatures as low as 10-degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, they don’t like excessively warm temperatures.
Anything over 90-degrees Fahrenheit will cause the plants to shrink back and wilt. Once the field peas are planted in late fall, they’ll emerge the next spring and should show no impact from the cold during the winter months.
When the plants emerge and begin to grow, they produce beautiful blooms to add a little color to the area in the earliest portion of spring.
If all of this sounds wonderful to you, be sure to supply the two basic needs for field peas’ growing conditions.
The first thing you must supply is well-draining soil. This crop isn’t particular about what type of soil it’s growing in. It can grow in clay or sandy soil.
However, the water must be able to drain away from the plant quickly. You don’t want to force field peas to grow in consistently soggy conditions as this will cause problems for your crop.
The other thing field peas desire is full sunlight. Ensure your crop receives a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day.
If you can provide adequate lighting and well-draining soil, you’re taking steps to set this crop up for success.
How to Plant Field Peas
Field peas are an annual crop. It’s important to understand how to plant them to ensure they grow as well as possible in your designated growing space.
To begin, you should plant field peas in the fall. Ensure you clean the garden area from the remnants of plants grown in this space previously.
Remove any dead plants and weeds. When all the debris is removed, pull back any mulch that you had applied previously as well.
When the soil is visible, till it to make sure it’s aerated and everything beneath the surface is exposed. After the soil is prepared, it’s time to sow the seeds.
Scatter the seeds over the prepared growing space. After the seeds are in place, cover them with approximately one inch of soil.
If you apply too much soil, the seeds will rot before they can reach the surface. Be mindful of how much soil you use during this step of the process.
Once planted, keep the area consistently moist. It will take around two weeks for the field peas to start growing. Keep in mind, the plants will go dormant during the winter months.
If they stop growing when the temperatures drop, it’s okay. They should live until the temperatures consistently drop below 10-degrees Fahrenheit.
As long as the winters aren’t brutal in your planting zone, the plants should bounce back in the spring. Now that you understand how to plant field peas, let’s discuss how you should care for this crop.
Caring for Field Peas
Field peas are a low-maintenance crop. You must understand how to water them properly and when to terminate. If you can master these two concepts, they should grow well in your gardening area.
To begin, field peas should be watered deeply. This means you’ll water the plants for longer periods but fewer days of the week. By doing this, it allows the roots to become saturated during the initial watering session.
However, as the days go by, the plants’ roots will dig deeper into the soil to retrieve more water. This encourages stronger root systems which equates to healthier plants.
If you aren’t sure when to water the crops again, try the finger test. Insert your finger into the soil, next to the plant.
When your first knuckle comes out dry, you should water the crops deeply again. If the soil is still moist to the first knuckle, you can hold off on applying more water.
The other thing you must do, to care for field peas as a cover crop, is to terminate the plants at the appropriate time.
As field peas start to bloom, allow them to achieve a full bloom. When this occurs, it’s time to terminate the crop.
This should be done approximately one month prior to planting your spring garden. You can mow or chop the crop down.
Leave the terminated cover crop on the soil when done. After a month, clean-up the remnants, and add them to your compost pile.
During the month-long waiting period, the field peas will serve as a mulch to your garden area and start releasing some of their benefits into the soil.
However, before we dive into the benefits of raising field peas, let’s first discuss what might threaten this crop in your garden.
Pests and Diseases Which Can Harm Field Peas
Unfortunately, field peas have a few threats when growing in your garden. The diseases you must be most mindful of are root rot and blight.
These are typically fungal diseases that can be avoided by providing proper growing conditions. You should also ensure the crops have adequate airflow around each plant.
The best way to avoid these diseases, aside from providing the right growing conditions, is to rotate growing field peas from year to year.
This way, the diseases won’t have the same plant to thrive on each year. If you notice your crops are developing root rot, the main way to fix the issue is to plant where the soil drains better.
If you notice signs of blight, treat with a fungicide while improving airflow and reducing the amount of water being supplied to the plants.
There are also a few pests you must watch for when growing field peas. This crop is susceptible to aphids, lygus bugs, and spider mites.
They can be treated with an insecticide at the first sign of any issue developing. Take the appropriate action to protect your cover crop. It will ensure you receive as many benefits of the crop as possible.
Benefits of Growing Field Peas as a Cover Crop
There are two main reasons why gardeners raise field peas as a cover crop. The first reason is that this crop is wonderful for suppressing weeds.
If you’re tired of battling weeds in your garden, consider planting a cover crop which will smother them out of your growing space.
The other benefit of raising field peas is that it’s a great source of naturally adding nitrogen to the soil. As field peas grow, they serve as a net for nitrogen in the air.
When it floats by the plant, it absorbs the nutrient. After the crop is terminated, it’ll begin to compost in your garden.
During this process, it releases the nitrogen back into the soil. If you need more nitrogen in your garden, and fewer weeds, field peas could be a great choice in cover crop for you.
This concludes our discussion of field peas. With the information provided, you should be able to begin growing this crop and be prepared for many of the challenges you might face.
Getting the crop to grow is the first big step, but understanding when to terminate the plants to receive benefits is also vital. Hopefully, these tips will help your cover crop thrive to provide natural care to your garden plot.