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The Garden Pea

The Garden Pea

by Liberty Hyde Bailey and W.W. Tracy
from Cyclopedia of American Horticulture, 1901

The garden Pea is the most important member of the genus Pisum. It is native to Europe, but has been cultivated from before the Christian Era for the rich seeds. The field or stock Pea differs little from the garden Pea except in its violet rather than white flowers and its small gray seeds. There are many varieties and several well-marked races of garden Peas. Whilst Peas are grown mostly for their seeds, there is a race in which the thick, soft green pods, with the inclosed seeds, are eaten. The common or shelling Peas may be separated into two classes on the character of the seed itself, — those with smooth seeds and those with wrinkled seeds. The later are the richer, but they are more likely to decay in wet, cold ground, and therefore are not so well adapted to very early planting. Peas may also be classified as climbing, half-dwarf or showing a tendency to climb and doing best when support is provided, and dwarf or those not requiring support. Again, the varieties may be classified as to season, — early, second-early, and late; examples of these classes are shown in the pictures, 1656, 1657, 1658, respectively. Vilmorin’s classification (les Plantes Potageres) is as follows:

A. The Pea round (smooth).
B. Plant climbing.
C. Seed white
CC. Seed green
BB. Plant half-dwarf.
C. Seed white
CC. Seed green
BBB. Plant dwarf.
C. Seed white
CC. Seed green
AA. The Pea wrinkled (divisions as above).

The Garden Pea

The Chinese gardeners about New York City grow a Pea which is described as follows: “The Pea (Ga-lon-ow) of the Chinese gardens behaves like a little improved or perhaps ancient type of the common Pea. It is the same species as ours. It differs chiefly in having somewhat knotty or constricted pods, as shown in the illustration (Fig. 1639). The pods ‘shell’ very hard, and there is a tendency to develop a broad border or margin along the lower side. The Peas are small and are variable in color, and they generally turn dark in cooking. In quality they are sweet and excellent, but they do not possess any superiority over our common varieties. The seeds which we have obtained from the New York Chinese gardeners are mixed. In color, the Peas run from nearly white to dark brown. The brown seeds, however, have given us much earlier pickings than the light ones. In one instance the seeds were sorted into three grades — light, medium light, and dark brown — and all were planted in sandy soil on the 20th of April. On the 5th of July the dark-seeded plot gave a good picking, while the light-seeded, and even the medium plots produced much taller plants and very few of the pods had begun to fill. The dark- and medium-seeded plots produced plants with colored flowers — the standard being rose-purple and the keel black-purple and splashed. The light-colored seeds, on the other hand, gave pure white flowers, larger leaves and broader pods. These facts are interesting in connection with the evolution of the garden Pea and its relationship to the red-flowered field Pea.”

Left to themselves, the varieties of Peas soon lose their characteristics through variation. They are much influenced by soil and other local conditions. Therefore, many of the varieties are only minor strains of some leading type, and are not distinct enough to be recognized by printed descriptions. This accounts for the confusion in varieties of Peas, particularly in the dwarf or extra-early types. The varietal names are many. In 1889 American dealers catalogued 154 names. L.H. Bailey


The Garden Pea

Peas for the Home Garden. — Green Peas are at their best when perfectly fresh, and should come to the table within 5 or 6 hours from the vine. Those bought in the market can rarely be served until 24-48 hours after picking, when they necessarily have lost much of their good quality. It is, therefore, a great advantage to have a home-grown supply. Though they are of easy culture, it is not always feasible to give them a place in one’s own garden, because they require considerable space, 1-2 yards of row being necessary to produce a single “portion,” and it is rare that more than 2 or 3 pickings can be made from the same vines. Peas need a rich, friable soil, but an over-supply of nitrogen or the use of coarse and fresh manure will result in a rank growth of vines, with few pods and Peas of inferior quality. The best manurial condition for Peas is found where a heavy dressing of fertilizer has been applied the previous year. If such a soil is not available, the application of 3-6 bushels of well-rotted stable manure, or, in place of this, about one-half bushel of wood ashes, 3 or 4 pounds of salt and 5-10 pounds of ground bone or other commercial fertilizer to the square rod, and well worked into the surface soil just before planting, will give good results. Most of the cultivation for Peas should be done before they are planted, and it is more important for this crop than for most that the ground should be well worked and made as friable as possible before the seed is sown. While Pea vines will be killed by a hard freeze, they will endure a slight frost with but little injury, and thrive best in a cool, damp soil and atmosphere. It is, therefore, desirable to plant as early in the spring as the soil can be worked. The writer likes best to plant in double rows about 6 inches apart, with the distance between the pairs about equal to the height to which the variety grows. If the soil is sandy and well drained, form a trench 4-6 inches deep and drop 10-20 seeds to the foot according as the variety is a tall- or dwarf-growing one, and cover about an inch deep, gradually filling the trench as the plants grow. In proportion as the soil is heavier and less porous and well-drained the trench should be shallower until, on tenacious clay soils, the seed should be within an inch of the surface.

All the garden varieties, if planted in the way suggested, will give a fair return without trellising, but those growing over 2 feet high will do better if supported. There is nothing better for this purpose than brush, but this is not always available, and the vines can be well supported by driving stakes 2-4 inches wide 12-20 feet apart in the double rows, and as the vines grow enclosing their tops between wires or wool twine stretched opposite each other on either side of the stakes.

Anything more than mere surface tillage is apt to do the Pea crop more harm than good, but any crust formed after rain should be broken up, and the vines will be greatly benefited by frequent stirring of the surface soil.

The Garden Pea

Peas for Market. — The above notes will suggest the best methods of culture for market, and profit will depend largely upon the selection of varieties suited to the needs of the trade, and the use of pure and well-grown seed.

Peas for Canning. — The quantity of Peas canned, and the popularity of such goods, has been largely increased by the use of the machines known as viners, in the use of which the vines are cut when the green Peas are in the best condition for use, and fed into the machine, which by a system of revolving beaters and cylinders separates the green Peas as effectually as a threshing machine does those which are ripe and dry. As the vines will begin to heat and spoil within a few hours after cutting, it becomes essential to get them through the viner and the Peas into the cans the same day they are gathered, and the canned Peas come to the table fresher and better in quality than from most of the pods obtainable in market. When grown for canning or for seed, Peas are usually sown broadcast or with grain drills and no farther culture given, though the crop is improved by a judicious use of the roller after sowing and a weeding harrow just after the plants are up.

The Garden Pea

Varieties and the Growing of Seed. — There are few vegetables in regard to which there is greater difference in tastes as to desirable qualities. To some people tenderness is the most essential quality; to others sweetness, while still others care most for a rich flavor and marrow-like texture. Varieties have been developed to meet all these wants, as well as those varying in growth from 6 inches to 6 feet in height and of great diversity in the size, form and color of the pods. In this vegetable the quality and purity of the seed used is of great importance, for every “mess” of Peas consists of the product of many seeds, and as the pods are so near alike that it is impracticable to separate them in gathering, the product of a single inferior seed may injure the entire picking. Again, Peas grown for seed return a very small fold, very rarely as much as 20 and more often less than 5 times the seed planted; so that it is impracticable for the seedsman to offer his customers seed grown direct from the seed of individually selected plants, as can readily be done in the case of tomato, squash or other vegetables, which give a larger seed return. The most that can be done is to use the greatest pains to keep the varieties pure and of high quality by constantly renewing stocks by selection and the preventing of deterioration or mixing while growing and handling. With none of our common vegetables is the planter more dependent upon the ability and honesty of their seedsman.

Some of the most distinct types of the hundreds of varieties of garden Peas are:

A. The earliest kinds, such as Alaska and First and Best, which produce early-maturing, comparatively small pods filled with Peas of rather low quality, on vines about 2 feet high.

B. A long list of dwarf-growing sorts like American Wonder (Fig. 1656) and Premium Gem, which produce small-medium-sized pods generally crowded with Peas of fine quality on vines ranging from 6-18 inches in height.

C. A large class like Strategem and Heroine, which produce very large pods containing large, rich-flavored Peas on thick, heavy vines growing 18-30 inches high.

D. Lastly, there are the taller growing sorts, like Telephone and Champion of England (Fig. 1658), which yield large crops of large- or medium-sized pods on vines growing from 4-6 feet high.

In addition to the above named sorts grown exclusively for use as green Peas, there are a number of kinds with hardy, vigorous, tall-growing and usually branched vines which produce in great abundance smooth, hard Peas which are used when ripe for split Peas or other form of “soup stocks” or for stock-feeding; though some of them, like the Marrowfats and the “Turkey” or French Canner, are quite extensively used for canning, most of the celebrated Petit Pois of France being put up from the last-named variety. In field culture for stock the ground should be made ready in the fall and the surface simply “fined” with a cultivator, disk or gang plow in the spring. As early as the surface can be got into good condition sow broadcast, carefully covering with a gang plow or disk harrow, from 1 1/2 to 3 bushels of seed to the acre, according to the variety used; or they can be put in rows better with an ordinary grain drill, provided it will be of a pattern with the feed so arranged that it will not crack the Peas, many a poor stand being due to the seed being injured by the drill. It is generally an advantage to roll after sowing, and in some cases a weeding harrow can be used to advantage when the plants are an inch or two high. The crops should be harvested before the vines are so ripe that the Peas will waste by shelling, and it can be done by pea harvesters, which are attachments to ordinary mowing machines, or cut and “rolled” into windrows or bunches with a short scythe. They are easily threshed. The ordinary yield is from 20 to 50 bushels to the acre. W.W. Tracy