Peas are classified as legumes and a "founder crop" domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 11,000 years ago according to online research publications.
They are a type of legume native to the Middle East, specifically to the area around what is now Turkey and Iraq.
Garden peas or “minji” as commonly known in Kenya are a major source of income and food for most small scale farmers. The crop stands out as the most ideal enterprise where scarcity is a problem.
That is, where farmers can only afford to do less than an acre of land. These are farmers mostly from Kiambu, Nyandarua and Meru counties. But this doesn’t mean they can’t do well for large scale farmers. They can actually do very well too.
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Common in many Kenyan households, peas are mostly eaten with chapati or rice, a delacy that you would not want to miss.
They are value added by freezing or canning, drying into food and animal feeds or ground into flour according to infonet-biovision.org.
Varieties of peas grown in Kenya include snow, sugar snaps and garden. Sugar snap peas have edible pods and are popular in the European markets. Garden peas are the most common.
How to prepare land for garden peas
Garden peas do well in deep fertile sandy-loam soils with relative rainfall. If done in clay soils, they tend to stunt producing extremely small peas,” explains Bernard Limo a farmer from Wote in Makueni County.
The land should be well-drained and free of weeds before planting.
“Rows planting is the most ideal one. The rows are drilled at a spacing of 45cm apart and well-decomposed manure is added at a rate of 12 tonnes per acre,” he says.
How to select best garden peas varieties to plant
Even though there are many varieties, the most common are summerwood and green feasts. Both varieties do well but each has very distinctive characteristics. They have a slight variance in taste making the consumers have different preferences.
Short varieties are preferred for ease of management and to avoid breakages at bearing stages. Infonet-biovision.org notes that peas do best in cool and moist growing conditions.
They are grown by directly sowing them on well prepared moist soils with a pH of 6 to 7.5 that is rich in organic matter.
According to Limo, the seeds should be planted at a depth of 2.5 cm, with double rows of 10 x 50 to 60 cm. “In dry, light soils the seeds should be planted about four centimetres deep,” he says.
“Peas need warm soil to grow and good spacing for adequate sunlight. Their root nodules contain bacteria that fix nitrogen in the soil.” Says Limo.
Seeds are sown at a spacing interval of 7cm from each other and 45cm apart. Top-dress with Diammonium phosphate (DAP) on the seventh day.
Garden peas require a lot of water for high yields. It’s therefore either you plant at the onset of rains or use irrigation during dry seasons.
They require temperatures of 10 to 30 degrees celsius with a minimal of 400 to 500 mm rainfall in the growing season says infonet-biovision.org.
Add compost or organic manure to boost soil fertility and ensures maximum production.
Mulching and weed control
Mulching can be done to preserve moisture, prevent soil erosion, keep off pests and diseases and add soil fertility on decomposition.
“Weed control is also essential to keep off pests causing diseases and reduce competition for soil nutrients, water, space, and sunlight,” says Limo.
Crop rotation is recommended with grains, carrots, cabbages and potatoes.
Staking is done as peas require several poles erected to support the vines and keep them off the ground.
Health benefits of peas
Green peas have a myriad of health benefits such as protection against chronic diseases like heart diseases, diabetes and cancer. It also controls blood sugar levels and aid in digestion.
Good Source of iron
Peas are a good source of iron. According to Healthline.com iron deficiency is the leading cause of anaemia. If you don't have enough iron, your body can't make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells thereby causing hemoglobin deficiency.
Peas are rich in vitamin C, which makes it one of the best immunity building foods. According to Healingfoods.com, "a single serving of peas or snow peas supplies half your daily needs. Peas, especially pea shoots, also contains phytoalexins, an antioxidant that can inhibit H.Pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach and duodenal ulcers and stomach cancer.
Good for heart
The insoluble fibre content present in peas helps reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Apart from this, peas also help in ensuring stable blood sugar regulation in the body.
The bite-sized peas can help you shed some quick pounds too. Peas are low in fat and also immensely low on calories as compared to heavier legumes like beans and cowpeas. Some 100 grams of peas contains only 81 calories. The high content of fibre too plays its role in weight reduction. Fibre helps induce the feeling of fullness which keeps you from bingeing into other foods.
Good for men's health
Peas can help increase the sperm count and motility. According to Healingfoods.com, "Glycodelin- a substance found in snow peas, can help strengthen sperms and improves their ability to fertilise an egg. Have them in your soups, stews, gravies or sandwiches, but make sure you don't miss out on the goodness of these lovely and healthy pods.
Harvesting and Cost
The crop is usually ready for harvesting two to three months after planting, with the appearance of the pods being full with the pods matured.
In many Kenyan markets, a kilo of peas will cost between Sh60 and Sh85 depending on the market location or the region that you are buying from.
Pests and diseases to watch out for
Garden peas are mostly attacked by cutworms, African bollworm, caterpillars, aphids, pea blue butterfly, thrips, leaf miners, spider mites, root nematode, weevils and beetles. According to infonet-biovision.org, you can control them using crop rotation and applying appropriate pesticides and insecticides.