My Pea-Popping Experiment

by Kathryn Hamilton, EMGV

If I had my way, I’d have something growing in my garden every day of the year. In the glory that was last year’s gardening season I seeded my snow peas on January 31. But with a low of 19° this January 31, which followed single-digit temps earlier in the month, there was no way that on January 31 my soil was50 degrees soil for peas going to reach the 40° necessary for pea germination. Although the soil would heat up by mid-February, by my calculations I’d lost two weeks.

But it  didn’t have to happen. Just a week later, contrary to everything I’d read, I learned, in a class on spring veggies held at the NC Botanical Garden, that you can begin peas indoors and gain three weeks on the growing season. If this information were to prove true, I could capture all the time I had lost and maybe then some.

I tested the theory by wrapping 10 seeds in a moist paper towel and placing it in a perforated plastic bag which I set on a heat pad. At a temperature of 38° peas should germinate in 21 – 30 days. At 65 – 70° they should begin to sprout in 7 – 14 days.

The first sprout, a little white tail, which is actually the root,

pea tail
The first sprout is actually the root.

popped in about five days. By the eighth day I had eight sprouting peas, although two had rotted. Six of these went into a six-pack which was placed in a domed container, on a heat pad, under a grow light.

The same day, I also planted peas directly in the garden. It was a 70° day following a five-day stretch that had also been in the seventies, and the soil temperature had reached 50 degrees. It rained that day, and rain was forecast for the rest of the week. Of course, peas don’t like it too soggy, either.

For the next part of the experiment I will seed two different varieties of snap peas directly into potting soil, and try growing them over heat and under a dome. At the same time, I’ll subject the same two varieties to the paper-towel / plastic bag / heat treatment and see which peas win the race.


Two days under the dome
Sprouted seeds after two days.
Pease under the dome
Growing under plastic from a grocery-store, take-out chicken.

According to North Carolina State University, peas can be started anyplace between January 31 and April 15. You want to pick them before the temperature gets above 80° and the peas become tough and bitter. If you are doing succession gardening, you’ll also want to start them early enough so they can be replaced by another early-season veggie, perhaps yellow beans or squash. When my peas are done, I’m planning to replace them with cukes, and green and yellow beans. And one way or another, I expect to be picking snow peas the first week in May. Stay tuned.