No-Till (For Real!) Field Peas

Purple Hull Pea Blossom
Six weeks after planting, the no-till Purple Hull peas are in bloom.

Growing no-till field peas is embarrassingly easy.  It’s so easy, I never would have thought of it myself because I like to dream up complicated scenarios that involve a lot of steps. Having hatched such a plan, I become so overwhelmed by its intricacies that I become discouraged and talk myself out of doing anything before I can even get started.  Thus it’s a miracle that I stumbled across a garden plan that was so simple and appealing, I was actually able to follow through and do it.

I already knew about Purple Hull peas because I’m from southern Arkansas and my mother grew them every year.  Back then, the old country folks did not know anything about environmentalism or sustainability; the earth was something to be plowed, poisoned, and pounded into submission.  It was the only way they knew, and they did the best they could.

Doing the best you can with what you’ve got:  that’s what they did back then, and that’s what I’m doing now.  I don’t have land to speak of; just a quarter-acre city lot, and the part of it that gets full sun is in my front yard.  I don’t own any equipment nor do I want to, as I cannot bear the sound of the gasoline engines that give yard equipment its jaw-clenching, grinding whine. (Even some of the electric equipment is pure noise pollution:  if it’s a leaf blower or sounds anything like one, get it the heck away from me!)  And I don’t have a lot of energy: I get up with the chickens and by lunchtime, I’m exhausted and get nothing else done that day.

3 rows of purple hull peas in the front yard have grown to make a solid patch.
3 rows of purple hull peas in the front yard have grown to make a solid patch.

Nevertheless, despite limited resources and energy, and armed only with a butter knife and some pea seed, I produced 13 quarts of purple hull peas from my front yard last year.  This is good news for anyone who thinks they don’t have the time, the money, or the skill to grow some of their own food.  Turns out, you can start out with almost nothing and still succeed at growing a crop of field peas. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t have dreamed this up entirely on my own. I surfed around and found an article by a man who has done something similar; I’m grateful to him for sharing with the rest of us. Check out Jack Guidry’s article on No-Till Peas.

I did a couple of minor things differently, such as physically planting each pea seed and marking it with a small stick, because I’m so anal I have to know exactly where the seeds are; and I’m so hungry for gratification that I have to see the seedlings coming up in three days. So here’s the slideshow demonstrating my version of no-till field peas, and I will follow up with some extra detail. 

  • The peas are being planted directly into turf grass by making a half-inch deep slit in the ground with a butter knife, dropping in the pea, then smoothing a bit of dirt over the slit to seal it.
    The peas are being planted directly into turf grass by making a half-inch deep slit in the ground with a butter knife, dropping in the pea, then smoothing a bit of dirt over the slit to seal it.

What You Need:

  1.  A section of yard that gets full sun, drains well, and preferably is growing some kind of plain old turf grass.  Or even weeds and stickers.  It’s good to have some kind of vegetation already growing to serve as living mulch for the seeds while they’re germinating and for the young seedlings while they’re getting established. (I only know this because I did it, and it worked.)
  2. A lawnmower.  Yeah, sorry.  I’m anti-equipment but some tasks cannot be avoided; yards have to be mowed to be in compliance with city codes. Leave enough space between rows that you can mow between them until the pea vines get established.  I suggest three feet, but this will vary based on the width of your lawnmower. Fortunately, my husband bought a very quiet electric lawnmower, so nothing disturbs my pastoral tranquility but the sound of eighteen wheelers on the nearby interstate.
  3. Field pea seed.  Local feed stores are good places to buy seed cheaply in bulk. I bought a half-pound of purple hull pea seed last year, planted 100 feet of row, and had seed left over for this year.  All for less than two bucks.
  4. A butter knife.  Just raid your silverware drawer.  Surely you have some cheap stainless that you can press into service as a yard implement.
  5. A water hose.  Soaker hoses are nice but not necessary.  Just be sure to water your rows thoroughly right after planting, and for a couple of weeks after the seedlings are up (if you’re like we are in Texas and never get enough rain.) After that, keep an eye on the plants and water if they look like they need a drink.
  6. Elbow grease and patience. The plants will do better if you keep the grass around them short–although, again, that’s not strictly necessary. I yank off the long ends of surrounding grass by hand, and my husband mows between rows.  The peas should start blooming about 6 weeks after they come up, and a couple of weeks after that, you’ll get to pick peas!

I know I’ve left out some details; I will go back through and expand this post later.  A good resource for more information is .  It includes links to publications produced by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service that go into depth about conventional methods to raise field peas; it also contains the article by Jack Guidry which inspired me to start this project.