Introduction: Grow Pea Shoots

About: Science fiction and fantasy author. Once-archaeologist. Foodie. Mom. Occasional woodworker and beginning gardener.

Pea shoots are delicious, super-easy to grow, and reasonably economical. Many quick-growing sprouts, microgreens, and shoots can be prohibitively expensive, but I've found pea shoots to be budget-friendly. I've included data on costs and yields here.

You can grow pea shoots outside, or on a sunny window ledge. And I don't mean you can grow spindly, half-dead looking plants on a window ledge and you really need a grow light -- pea shoots are harvested very early, so it's okay if they get a touch leggy. Because these take so little time from sowing to harvest (as early as 14 days), this is a great project for those with limited space, impatient children, or a hankering for a taste of spring ASAP.

You'll need:

1/2 lb of pea seeds. At my local nursery, I can buy a bag this size for $2.50. It's worth shopping around to find bulk bags of seed like this, because growing shoots uses a lot of seeds.

A growing container. It's easy to make these out of recycled materials, but here I'm using a 10"x20" nursery tray -- one with holes set into one without. These each cost $1.25 at my local nursery, for a total of $2.50.

About a quarter of a cubic foot of potting soil, or 6-7 quarts, if I've done my math right. This price can vary drastically based on how you buy your potting soil. Small bags tend to be expensive. If I mix up a large batch of potting soil, it costs me $5.66/cubic foot, or $1.41 per batch of peas. For me, this isn't a lost cost, though, as the potting soil with the pea roots gets composted and reused.

So, the grand total for starting this project: about $6.50. Less if you make trays out of recycled materials, like cut-up milk jugs. Every batch thereafter costs $2.50 or $3.90, depending on whether or not you want to count the potting soil.

Step 1: Soak the Peas

These poor guys are all shriveled and dry. You can put them straight into the potting mix like that, but they'll sprout quicker with a little bath. Get a container much larger than your peas, cover them with a few inches of water, and come back in 4-12 hours. They should be looking plump and happy!

Step 2: Day 1: Plant the Peas

Here are my black, 10"x20" nursery trays. I've set the one with drainage holes in the bottom on top of the one without holes. Now any excess water will drip into the tray instead of onto my counter. Fill the tray with about one inch of potting soil, and water gently, but thoroughly.

Next, spread the peas on top. Yup. They're super-close together. Since they're getting harvested so young, they don't need much space. Cover with another inch or so of potting soil, and water well again.

Loosely cover the whole thing with a bit of plastic wrap, to keep everyone nice and moist. Feel free to poke at the potting mix every day to make sure it's not drying out. When the little peas begin emerging, remove the plastic wrap.

Step 3: Day 7: Admire the Peas

After eight days, you should have little shoots! I moved my peas outside once they germinated, removing the bottom tray since I didn't care if any moisture drained through onto the ground. Peas like cool weather. If it's not freezing and it's not blistering hot, you should be able to set the peas outside. Just keep checking the soil with your finger and making sure it's not dried out. Thanks to the wind and sun, outside shoots can dry out faster than those kept inside.

If your pea shoots are not destined for the great outdoors, make sure they're getting plenty of light on a south-facing window (or north-facing, for those in the Southern Hemisphere).

Step 4: Day 14: Harvest Extra Small Pea Shoots

Look how they've grown! To harvest, just cut down the little shoots along the soil line. Make sure to wash them well after this -- nothing tastes good with a bit of dirt clinging to it. At this stage, the shoots taste brighter than fresh peas and are as tender as butter lettuce.

During this harvest, I cut down about 5", or a quarter, of my tray. I got just about two ounces of pea shoots. Which means this bowl of gourmet greens cost me about $0.63, or about $5/lb -- the same as the seeds. If you're counting the cost of potting mix, it's more like $7.80/lb. Still not bad, considering that a 5 ounce bag of baby greens at Wal-mart costs $2.98, or $7.95/lb.

Step 5: Day 23: Harvest More Pea Shoots

A little over a week later, and the pea shoots are still growing. I harvested another 5", or about a quarter of the tray. This time, these guys weighed 4.44 ounces, more than double what they were nine days ago. So, about $0.31 for this bowl, or $2.50 a pound. At this stage, these guys are crunchier -- more like romaine than butter lettuce.

You can let them go longer than this, but I recommend harvesting everything up soon. In another week, they won't be tender enough for salad, and eventually the tight quarters will become an issue.

Step 6: Ways to Eat Pea Shoots!

14 Day Pea Shoots: These are really tender and it seems a shame to eat them any way but raw.

Salad. These make an amazing salad green all by themselves. I prefer to dress them really lightly and simply to let their fresh pea-flavor shine through. A bit of lemon juice, olive oil, and Parmesan makes a regal salad.

Blitz them with ricotta and mint for an amazing spring-time spread. Here's an instructable on how to do it.

22 Day Pea Shoots: You can go raw or lightly cooked with these.

More salad! They're a bit bigger, and mix nicely with other greens.

Toss on top of a veggie pizza.

Mix into risotto at the end of cooking.

Fold into hot rice with some fresh mint for a pea-mint pilaf.

Mix raw with a bit of soy sauce and soybean paste for a side dish worthy to sit next to your kimchi.

Toss into chicken soup, or bowls or ramen, or make cream-of-pea-shoot soup as you might make cream-of-spinach. Can't go wrong with soup.

Or curry.

Or throw into a stir-fry, a minute before eating it.

Mix into alfredo pasta, with or without ham.

Really, add most anywhere that you might want peas or spinach...or a spinach-like thing that instead tastes marvelously of peas.

Step 7: Troubleshooting

I live in a dry climate and have never had a problem with mold in the pea shoots, though I've heard rumors that such things can happen in really humid places. If you find any nasty-looking spots, you may want to spray with hydrogen peroxide. Perhaps you'll need to use fewer peas per tray, so the pea plants stay drier. You might not need to cover them with plastic wrap when starting them off. Setting them outside can help with air circulation, as can letting a fan blow over them inside. If you're in a humid climate, bottom watering become more important (pour the water into the bottom tray and let it soak up through the holes, rather that watering onto the surface of the soil).

But I've never had any of these problems. Inside, nothing seems to bother them, and outside, I've only found the occasional slug, which is easily washed or picked out. Even then, the slugs left no visible damage. Nothing much seems to bother pea shoots! They are a joy to grow, and to eat.

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