It seems like the first crops of the season make the biggest impact on me. Whether it's lettuce, peas, green onions, or asparagus, these early spring veggies just seem loaded with extra freshness and flavor. These foods are always a welcomed sight on the dinner table, especially after having relied on frozen vegetables during the winter.

So which of these early spring veggies is my favorite? It can be tough to single out one, but for me the winner is English peas. I love to eat them fresh from the garden. And since they are first crop I plant in the veggie patch each spring, English peas signify the start of my vegetable gardening season.

When Do You Plant English Peas?

If I could have asked my grandfather, he would have told me exactly when to plant English peas. It would be St. Joseph's day, which is celebrated annually on March 19. At least, this is what my father passed along to me.

So for years, I made it a point to plant my English garden peas on this date. Sometimes, the peas germinated well, but more often than not, many rotted in the soggy cold soil. I would end up with patchy rows, half-filled with pea seedlings. Even heavily sowing these spring legumes didn't give me full rows.

Now I don't blame my forebears for this advice. After all, most pea seed packets indicate this crop can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. It's possible the microclimate of my grandfather's urban garden made St. Joseph's day the ideal time for him to plant these early spring veggies.

Which brings me to my point. Sowing the first crops of the season is inherently risky due to the instability of spring weather. This is especially true for gardeners like myself, who have gardens located in more rural areas.

My garden is more exposed to the elements than my grandfather's or father's. It's not surrounded by heat-retaining roads and buildings. Nor does it benefit from the intricate drainage systems which cities and suburbs use to remove excess rainfall.

How to Plant Peas

Bottom line, I've had to adopt different criteria for when to plant English peas. I now sow my first crops of the season when the conditions are right for germination, rather than on a set date. Here are key factors I consider before choosing my pea planting day:

  • Can the soil be worked? Spring rains combined with snow melt can keep my veggie patch much too wet to rototill in March and April. To speed up the drying process, I use a pitchfork to loosely turn over the soil in the small area of the garden where I'll plant my peas.
  • What is the ambient and soil temperatures? The optimal soil temperature range for pea germination is between 40 to 70 degrees F. (4.4-21 C.). I follow the extended forecast and look for the prediction of warm, sunny weather for several days in a row. This helps warm and dry the soil which keeps seed loss at a minimum.
  • Can I speed up the germination process? Depending upon the soil temperature, it can take anywhere from 7 to 30 days for English garden peas to sprout. Soaking pea seeds overnight can speed up this process which prevents the seeds from rotting should cold-weather conditions return.

Once conditions seem right, I dig in (literally) and welcome the start of the growing season!

Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.