Peas are so much fun to grow and are super beneficial to people, animals, and soil alike.

This season, we’ve dedicated approximately 3 acres to growing peas as a cover crop in an effort to enhance a large section of our market garden soil. You can see below exactly where the peas are located in relation to the other fields on the Pye Centre farm property. Although we seeded them relatively late, they wasted no time getting started!

A Perfect Partnership

We decided on peas because they fix nitrogen to the soil, which is an important element in growing delicious, nutritious food. You may wonder, “what is nitrogen fixing exactly?” — I assure you it’s more interesting than it sounds!

  • Nitrogen fixers, like clover and peas, form a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia, a bacteria found in the soil.
  • Rhizobia attach themselves to a host plant’s roots and form nodules, which are like little hotels.
  • The bacteria extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that can be absorbed by the plant. This store of nitrogen in the roots is what’s considered “nitrogen fixing.”
  • As parts of the plant break away and decompose, nitrogen becomes available in the soil for use by other plants, and that is how nitrogen is fixed in your soil!
An illustration of a (very simplified) nitrogen fixation process.

You may now be wondering, “what’s in it for the bacteria?” Well, on top of a cozy place to live, rhizobia need to eat. The pea plant produces carbohydrates through photosynthesis, which the rhizobia use for food, thus completing one of the most important partnerships in agriculture.

You might say that this partnership is literally at the root of the Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems!

Growing like weeds peas!

Peas are helpful in weed suppression because they flourish quickly and rapidly convert the environment into one that doesn’t favour grassy weed growth. The transformation from last season, when weeds were standing at almost 4 feet high, to today, is simply amazing to see. Next year we will plant peas in this area again and continue to monitor how they affect the soil. We also have plans to try them in other areas of the farm that didn’t do so well this year. For now, we aren’t harvesting them to eat or use as animal feed, but returning them to the soil where they can decay and build our soil quality for the benefit of next years crop.

More peas, please!

In this photo, you can see what the field looks like now after a few passes with our discer (an implement normally used for cultivating soil, but it turns out that it does a pretty good job of chopping up pea plants!)

The pea field at the Pye Centre farm, after a few passes with our discer.

We’re in the process of acquiring a flail chopper, which is a piece of machinery that chops plant matter into smaller portions and spits it out onto the field, aiding tremendously in decomposition.

In Northern boreal regions, our soils tend to be poorer because things decay at a slower rate, given fewer frost-free days throughout the year. So, the organisms in the soil can use all the help they can get in breaking down plant material! Our flail chopper will give these organisms a head-start, so to speak, but for now, like many farmers in the North, we work with what we have. As you can see, our discer has done a fine job!

Next year we will plant this field again with peas. We aspire to eventually harvest them to share with the community and hope to make it yet another reason to visit the Pye Centre. On that note, if you are ever wondering what plant to begin a garden with, maybe give “peas” a chance?

-Jamie Jackman, Program Coordinator, Pye Centre for Northern Boreal Food Systems, Labrador Institute

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