By Jennifer Poindexter
Austrian winter peas are a versatile crop that work as a spring or winter food source for yourself (or your livestock if you’re a homesteader). They also serve as a cover crop and green manure. No matter your reason for growing them, it’s important to understand how to encourage winter peas to thrive in your growing location.
I’m going to share with you the proper growing conditions and planting techniques for this crop. I’ll also share how you can care for and protect it from hazards in the garden, as well as the benefits of intercropping with winter peas.
If you’re interested in growing winter peas, here’s what you should know:
Growing Conditions for Winter Peas
Austrian winter peas have a few specific growing conditions that you must meet to give yourself the greatest chance of a harvest.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that Austrian winter peas and field peas are the same. However, these are not the same as cow peas.
You may grow Austrian winter peas to enjoy in your salads or even to cook in a stir fry. It’s a cool-season crop that’s enjoyed over the winter or spring months but is also grown as a cover crop and green manure.
As a cover crop, this annual legume will pull nitrogen out of the air and feed it into the soil, which is great when growing nitrogen-loving plants behind winter peas. Intercropping winter peas with other crops can also improve overall soil health and biodiversity.
Though using this crop as a source of nitrogen in your garden is a wonderful idea, these plants also produce beauty along with their functionality.
Winter peas produce flowers that provide white, purple, and pink blooms. The leaves and stems of this plant are also a valuable source of protein for deer and other wildlife or for livestock, if you are a homesteader. Now that you understand some of the things winter peas can offer your garden, let’s discuss growing conditions.
Whether growing this crop as a boost to your garden or for harvest, be sure to select a growing location with full sunlight.
Plus, the soil should be well-draining. This crop is hardy in planting zones six and up but is frequently grown as an annual considering its role as a cover crop.
If your garden could use a little help with adding nitrogen, consider adding winter peas to your growing location.
How to Plant Winter Peas
When planting winter peas, you may do so in the spring or fall. As long as the temperatures are between 40- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit, your crop should produce.
Once the appropriate time is chosen, till up your garden and begin sowing the seeds directly into rows in the growing space. You might consider conducting a soil test before planting to make the soil has the required nutrients.
You should plant approximately three pounds for every 1,000 feet of growing space. Lightly cover the seeds with soil and water them gently.
It’s wise to keep the soil wet but not overly soggy while you wait for the seeds to germinate. It can take three to four weeks before the seeds sprout.
If you’re growing this plant in the fall, it’s important to give the seeds enough time to establish root systems before winter sets in. Planting in August or September is a good time frame to ensure establishment before winter.
Once your winter peas are in the garden, it’s time to learn how to care for the crop during the growing season.
Caring for Winter Peas
Caring for winter peas is a simple task. The main things this plant needs are water and protection when the temperatures become too harsh.
When watering winter peas, it’s best to practice the deep watering method. This helps ensure the plants aren’t oversaturated.
Before applying more water, be sure to test the soil next to the plant. If it’s dry to your first knuckle, it’s time to add more water. If not, wait a few days before testing the soil again.
You will also need to cover your field peas if the temperatures dip below freezing. If you live in an area which receives a good bit of snow, this may serve as insulation to keep your crop from freezing.
If freezing temperatures are a concern for your area during the winter months, it may be best to grow this crop in early spring. If you don’t receive many freezing temperatures, you may plant this crop during the fall and should be able to enjoy the harvest all winter long.
As a general rule of thumb, those who live in a southern climate grow this crop in both fall and spring. Where those who live in a northern climate, only grow these peas during the spring.
Finally, you may add phosphorus to your field peas a few times throughout the growing season. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product packaging.
However, you won’t need to add nitrogen to this crop since it has an ability to draw nitrogen from the air.
Though the list isn’t long, be sure to utilize these tips and provide adequate care for your winter pea crop.
Garden Pests and Diseases Which Might Impact Winter Peas
If your peas are impacted by blight, it’s best to treat them with a fungicide to deter further issues. You also should improve drainage and airflow in the area.
Be sure to remove and destroy any damaged parts of the plant to stop the spread of the disease.
Root rot is the result of plants growing in areas with poor drainage or being oversaturated. If you suspect root rot, it’s best to pull the plants up and try to move them to an area with better drainage and more sunlight.
You may also need to trim the damage from the roots. However, many plants don’t bounce back from root rot, so it’s best to deter this issue from the start.
Fusarium wilt has no cure. If you suspect this disease is harming your winter peas, pull the plants up and destroy them as you don’t want to transfer the disease to other plants by composting those that are sick.
Downy mildew is another fungal disease which can be treated with a fungicide but is best to avoid when possible by planting in areas of warmth, full sunlight, and proper drainage.
Now that you know what diseases you should be aware of, let’s discuss the major pest which draws to winter peas. This would be the aphid.
Aphids are small bugs which are common in most gardens. They suck the sap from your plants and leave a sticky residue behind them which attracts ants.
If you allow these pests to have free range on your crop, it can kill it. Therefore, it’s best to treat aphids with an insecticide at the first sighting.
Take these complications into consideration when growing winter peas to ensure they have the best chance of surviving pests and diseases around the garden.
Harvesting Winter Peas
The last thing we must discuss when growing winter peas is how to harvest them. What you do with the peas will depend upon your purpose for them.
Let’s first discuss how to harvest if you plan on consuming this crop. To begin, whether you grow winter peas in fall or spring, this crop should be ready for harvest in approximately two months.
Some people eat the greens, pea pods, and flowers, so consider which parts of the plant you’d like to harvest.
Once you know what you’d like from the plants, examine them. If they have morning frost on them, don’t harvest yet.
If you harvest from the plants while still wet, it will make the greens become discolored and wilt. Instead, wait until the temperatures warm up and then snip the greens from the plant. You may also gently pluck the pea pods.
It’s best to harvest the greens and pods while young as they’re more tender. However, if you’d like to dry the pea pods for soups or stews, wait until they begin to discolor for this purpose.
You may harvest the flowers at the same time as you harvest greens and pods by carefully snipping them away from the plants.
If using winter peas as a cover crop,let them grow until you’re ready to plant. Some people like to till the crop into the ground.
When doing this, it’s best to till them into the soil a few weeks prior to planting. This gives the plants time to compost.
However, you may also pull the plants up or cut them down. From there, leave them on top of the soil. Then plant your crops right in the midst of the winter peas.
These peas make an excellent mulch to help retain moisture in the soil as your plants are growing. Plus, they’ll break down and add nitrogen to the soil over time.
If you’ve grown winter peas either for harvest or use as a cover crop, take these tips into consideration when it’s time to put the crop to work.
Winter peas aren’t a difficult crop to grow. They make a tasty addition to many recipes or serve as a nitrogen source for your garden.
No matter your reason for producing this crop, allow these tips to help guide you through the growing process.