Growing peas in Florida might not occur to new gardeners here; after all, peas seem rather… European, not tropical! Fortunately, peas do grow easily in Florida. Snow peas, snap peas, shelling peas… you can grow them all here.
Before I get further into this plant, let me get one thing straight: in a survival situation – or even a pinched grocery budget – peas wouldn’t be my first choice as a staple. They’re a lot of work for only a little food. Fortunately for them, they aren’t useful for their peas alone.
The common garden pea is not just a tasty cool-season vegetable, it’s also a nitrogen fixer (and it has cousins that are nitrogen fixing trees!) and a decent producer of fast-decomposing organic matter. If you grow various field pea varieties, you can get a decent yield of dry peas without too much work. It’s certainly less work than shelling green peas.
When I put new ground into circulation, I have some cold-weather green manures I like to throw down before planting serious crops. Peas, along with lentils and chick peas, and occasionally rye grass or turnips, are some of my favorites. If you’re lucky, you can get bags of whole dried peas in the grocery store. They’re also often available in big bags at farm-oriented retailers. I use peas more for ground-covering nitrogen fixers than anything else.
Anytime there’s a gap in my fall, spring and winter gardens, I try to tuck in some peas. If they produce peas for me – great. If they don’t, they’re still feeding the soil and making biomass for my compost. I’ve been known to chop them down in spring and plant peppers and other transplants right into their newly mulched remains.
Another thing about peas that many don’t know: you can eat the leaves and shoots in salads. They’re a pleasant, crunchy, vaguely pea-flavored green that mixes will with other common salad ingredients. And of course, the young pods can be stir-fried (yeah, they’re stringy… unless you get an edible podded snow-pea type variety).
All that said – go ahead. Plant some peas as the world burns. Just don’t expect to get fat off them.
Latin Name: Pisum sativum
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Seeds, unripe or dried; leaves
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled, young pods stir fried, pods raw, leaves in salads
Storability: Poor – use immediately, if possible. Blanch and freeze for long-term storage, or simply allow the pods to mature on the vine and use the peas as a pulse.
Ease of growing: Easy