As an experiment I planted bush and snow peas in my main vegetable patch at the start of June, a good month after the latest time for outdoor pea plantings listed in the Ballarat and District Vegetable Planting guide but well within the Cool Zone planting guides’ average planting times.
The result was poor. The strike rate was low (only about a quarter of the seeds coming up) and of those that did come up they struggled in Ballarat’s winter conditions. I eventually replanted the crop in August as I felt the strike rate was too poor for the crop to be productive.
At the same time, when my outdoor pea plantings were struggling, plantings of climbing and snow peas in my greenhouse thrived (though admittedly they were planted a little earlier than the outdoor plantings). I have already begun picking snow peas (end of the third week in August)
This failure of my outdoor crop could not have been due to poor quality seed as it was the same seed used for the greenhouse plantings. And the soil preparation was the same, standard manuring (see Fertilsing Vegetable Beds for details) with a bit of added lime.
To me this outcome highlights the shortfalls of general vegetable planting guides. If my experiment is anything to go by, peas planted in June and July in the Ballarat area will struggle in Ballarat’s harsh winter conditions. This is reflected in the Ballarat & District pea planting guide, which only recommends planting peas in a greenhouse or a poly tunnel during this period. And yet four of the six Cool Zone planting guides I have examined say you can plant peas throughout the winter.
Though of course one planting in a single season is not nearly enough of a sample to draw any definite conclusions from. But consider these points.
- While this is the first time I have planted peas in June I have planted peas in April on a number of occasions. And every time, while they have started well, they struggled in the depths of winter, hardly growing at all, and sometimes sustaining considerable snail and slug damage. They all produced a crop in the early spring, so it is doable, though definitely not optimal.
- My June pea planting was in a raised bed (raised beds have warmer soil than vegetable beds on the ground, soil temperature is as important for plant growth as air temperature). If they had been planted in the ground they would probably have fared even worse.
- My garden is in inner city Ballarat, urban areas generate artificial heat that usually makes the average temperatures slightly warmer than the surrounding countryside.
- There are many places colder than Ballarat, (for example Daylesford). If winter pea plantings struggle in my garden then surely they would struggle even more in these cooler areas?
So, should you try planting peas in winter in Ballarat or if you live in an area with a climate like Ballarat’s? Definitely, after all the only way to tell whether vegetables can be grown at a given time of the year is to plant them. Gaining gardening knowledge is all about practical experimentation. But do view any vegetable planting guide with a degree of skepticism, including the Ballarat & District Planting guide, largely put together my myself!
LEFT: Some of the bush peas that I planted outside. RIGHT: Snow peas that were planted in my greenhouse at a similar time.