Pea Woes and Wows

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist;

Winter weather has delayed early pea plantings. While this first March weekend will be warmer, rain is expected and frozen soil conditions will return by the end of next week. March planting delays will delay harvests, affect processing plant activities, shorten and compress the season, and place additional stress on harvest operations.

As the weather breaks, growers should be cautious on trying to get into fields that are too wet. Peas are very unforgiving of compaction during tillage and planting operations because they have relatively weak root systems. You can drive by pea fields in April and May and easily see wheel traffic patterns where fields were tilled or planted too wet. Compacted soils limit pea root development and stay wet for longer periods leading to increased root rots. Yield losses can exceed 50% in compacted pea fields.

The use of forage radish cover crops has shown great potential to reduce shallow and deep compaction. Research at the University of Delaware has shown that pea yields are equal or greater when no-tilled into fields with winter killed forage radish.

On the positive side, the University of Delaware Vegetable Program is one of only two research programs in the East (the other being Cornell in NY) that conducts processing pea trials. This is done every other year and 2014 is a trial year again. This information is important for maintaining the competitiveness of our processing vegetable industry on Delmarva and is used by pea breeders to test their varieties under our conditions, which are more stressful than Northern production areas. It gives our processors important information for selecting the varieties that our growers will then use. There are two trials, one for early varieties and one for main season and late varieties. Emmalea Ernest has led these trials since 2005 and she has produced a very interesting video of the research process that can be viewed at