What Are Austrian Winter Peas: A Guide To Growing Austrian Winter Peas

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

What are Austrian winter peas? Also known as field peas, Austrian winter peas (Pisum sativum) have been grown around the world for centuries, primarily as a valuable source of nutrition for humans and livestock. Don’t confuse Austrian winter peas with cowpeas, which are also known as field peas in the southern states. They are different plants. Read on for info on growing Austrian winter peas.

Austrian Winter Pea Information

Today, Austrian winter peas are often planted agriculturally as a cover crop, or by home gardeners or backyard chicken farmers. Game hunters find that growing winter Austrian winter peas is an effective means of attracting wildlife such as deer, quail, doves and wild turkeys.

Austrian winter peas have ornamental value, and the peas are tasty in salads or stir fries. Many gardeners like to plant a few seeds in a patio container outside the kitchen door.

Austrian winter pea is a cool season legume related to the familiar garden pea. The vine plants, which reach lengths of 2 to 4 feet (.5 to 1 m.), bear pink, purple or white blooms in spring.

When used as a cover crop, Austrian winter peas are often planted with a mixture of seeds such as oilseed radishes or various types of clover.

How to Grow Austrian Winter Peas

When growing Austrian winter peas, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

Austrian winter peas perform well in nearly any type of well-drained soil. However, the plants need consistent moisture and don’t do well in arid climates where rainfall is less than 20 inches (50 cm.) per year.

Austrian winter peas are winter hardy in USDA zones 6 and above. Seeds are typically planted in autumn, after the hottest days of summer have passed. The vines may do well in colder climates if they are protected by a good snow cover; otherwise, they are likely to freeze. If this is a concern, you can plant Austrian winter peas as an annual in early spring.

Look for inoculated seeds, as inoculants convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into usable form, a process known as “fixing” nitrogen, and will also promote vigorous, healthy growth. Alternatively, you can purchase inoculant and inoculate your own seeds.

Plant Austrian winter pea seeds in well-prepared soil at a rate of 2 ½ to 3 pounds for every 1,000 square feet (93 square meters). Cover the seeds with 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm.) of soil.

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Read more about Cover Crops

Three Legume Cover Crops for Nitrogen, Better Tilth and More

By Noah Courser-Kellerman, Farmer at Alprilla Farm

Cover crops are the backbone of our soil building strategy at Alprilla Farm. Most of our land is a heavy silt loam tending towards clay, laid down by the shallow sea that covered our area after the glaciers receded. While our soils can be quite fertile, they can also be challenging to work with. When wet, they are very prone to compaction. A tractor tire or foot traffic after a rainstorm is enough to squish the air out of the soil, closing off pores and suffocating the soil life below. In this state, our soil is more like concrete than something plants can thrive in. Tillage, even when carefully timed and executed, tangibly degrades the soil’s structure after just a season or two .

Australian Winter Peas and Winter Rye in late fall

We learned pretty quickly that no amount of subsoiling or chisel plowing , adding compost, o r balancing minerals will “repair” compacted, poorly structured soil . Because there is little sand or gravel in our soil, the only way to maintain good aeration is through biological forces.

The onl y thing that has worked (and kept us in business) are the tenacious, opportunistic roots of cover crops. Their r oots open new channels as they grow and decay, reinforcing the crumbly structure (aggregates) of the soil around them with exudates that feed friendly microbes and glue soil particles together like timbers shoring up a tunnel in a mine. Mycorrhizal fungi, fed by the plant roots in exchange for mineral nutrients , make their own long-lasting glues. Earth worms tunnel deeply, eating decaying plant material and depositing nutrient rich castings loaded with good microbes on the soil’s surface . The soil breathes again. Life in the soil creates an environment that fosters more life.

As in human societies, diversity lends depth, stability, resilience and beauty to our farms. Cover crop mixes or “cocktails” are an innovative way to achieve greater benefits for the soil than one or two species alone could provide. Too often, however, not enough attention is given to the individual species in a mix and what they need to thrive.

The group of plants, in my experience, which is always included in a cover crop mix but does not always thrive is the Legume family. With a little forethought and attention to timing, these plants can be harnessed to fix all the nitrogen your cash crop needs, while improving your soil’s tilth and breaking up compaction in ways that no other plant family can. Red clover, yellow sweet clover and Austrian winter peas are indispensable on our farm.

Austrian w inter pea Pisum sativum

Australian Winter Pea in full bloom

Austrian winter peas are the same familiar species as garden peas and field peas, but with a key difference: When planted in the early fall, they will go dormant but survive the winter, growing up to six feet tall the following spring. Like hairy vetch, Austrian winter pea benefits from planting with winter rye. The peas climb up the rye stalks, forming a dense thicket, head high, almost impossible to walk through and studded with purple flowers.

This kind of biomass is ideal for suppressing weeds in no-till farming. We have successfully killed this winter pea/rye mix with a roller crimper and planted winter squash into the mulch. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, melons and other main season crops would be ideal candidates for this cover crop based no-till system. On a smaller scale, tarps (either opaque for occultation or clear for solarization) can be used after the crop is flattened by hand or other mechanical means. I have heard of rolling a cover crop using a flail mower with the PTO disengaged. If tillage is used, consider incorporating before the crop gets too unmanageable, or shred with a flail mower first.

Rolling Crimping Australian Winter Pea and Winter Rye

We drill rye and Austrian winter pea in a 50/50 mix at 150 lb /acre (for smaller areas divide rate/acre by 43560 and multiply by the square footage of the are a you intend to plant) . If broadcasting, increase the rate a little, and try to make sure there is decent soil or mulch coverage to ensure good germination. We had some luck this year sprinkling seed between rows of kale mulched with sweet clover residue and then irrigating heavily.

More than any other cover crop we grow, planting date is important for Austrian winter p ea . If planted too early, winter peas will grow fast and resemble field peas. Like field peas, they will winter kill. Planted too late, your cover crop won’t be able to protect the soil and catch nutrients as effectively, and may heave out of the ground if the soil repeatedly freezes and thaws. We find that a week on either side of the fall equinox works well.

In addition to being a superb cover crop, Austrian winter pea is delicious. Starting in late April or May, the rampant new growth of the peas is an early season “bonus crop.” We have snapped off the growing tip of the vines for sweet, pea- flavored greens to fill CSA boxes in the lean early season. Chefs love the purple flowers, too!

Red Clover Trifolium pratense

Red Clover growing up through wheat stubble

Humble red clover is easily the most powerful soil conditioner I have seen. Compacted, brick-rubble soil can be turned to crumbly, ric h chocolate cake in one season. Red clover has a deep penetrating taproot and fibrous lateral roots that break up plow pans and bust clods. The benefits of this plant are numerous: As livestock feed, bee forage and plant medicine, it is invaluable. Farmers have appreciated red clover for a long time, using it as a forage and soil conditioner in the traditional American grain and forage rotation of Corn-Oats-Wheat- Sod ( the latter being a mix of clover and timothy or orchard grass). We use clover in this traditional way, frost seeding it into our winter wheat crop in March. Clover seedlings are more shade tolerant than most weeds. As the wheat grows, the tiny clover seeds germinate and get established. When the wheat dries down and is harvested in mid July, the clover quickly covers the ground, forming a dense mat. We mow it to knock down any crabgrass or other weeds once in August, then let it grow through the fall and into the next growing season.

Shallowly plowing down Red Clover

Red clover is a weak perennial, meaning that it will grow for three or more seasons, but loses vigor after the second growing season. Because it is a perennial, it can be challenging to kill it without tillage. We have had some success with solarizing to kill the top growth, then mulching to smother regrowth from the roots . Usually, though, we shallowly plow it down . We typically plow down at the beginning of May for potatoes, or wait till mid June for fall brassicas. No nitrogen will be needed for crops following plowed down clover if it was a decent stand and you have reasonably good organic matter. If you have the land base for it, a pasture mix of red clover and grasses for three seasons will do even more to restore land for vegetable farming.

Establishing red clover , in my experience , requires bare soil , which presents a challenge to tillage reduction. Frost seeding has not worked for me when I’ve t ried it on no-till grain fields. I think this is be cause the residue from mulch or previous crops between the winter grain plants makes for poor seed to soil contact and a habitat for slugs. Red c lover seed is very small- an inch of straw on the ground may be too deep for clover se e dlings to germinate through. However, if you do have bare soil, either from tillage or prolonged tarping , or if you rake the soil clean before establishing a winter grain “nurse crop,” establishing clover is easy. Broadcast 20 lb /acre in spring when the soil is regularly freezing an d thawing. As the surface of the soil heaves and melts, the clover seed is incorporated just enough to germinate and get established . In a vegetable farming system, one could frost seed clover into winter rye, then mow the rye to use as straw just after it heads out. Be sure to inoculate the seed if you have not recently had clover growing there. Red clover can be planted later in the season, up until mid-August , but will have more competition from weeds.

Yellow Sweet Clover Melilotus officinalis

Yellow Sweet Clover in bloom

Yellow Sweet Clover is a versatile legume that can be established more easily at different times of the growing season than Austrian winter pea or red clover. It is a true biennial, lik e carrots or onions, in that it completes its life cycle in two seasons. The first season is spent storing food in a large, almost carrot like taproot that penetrates compacted clay and plowpans , while fibrous lateral roots break up clods and re-aggregate the soil. The following spring, the sweet clover puts its energy into top growth and floweri ng, topping five feet by late May on our farm. If left to grow, the plants are covered in spikelets of yellow flowers resembling tiny lupines by the first week of June, which are excellent bee fodder. As the flowers mature and set seed, the plant dries down and dies.

Sweet clover’s biennialism is the key for successful management as a cover crop. Once flowering begins, the plant has committed its energy to above ground growth. If its stems are severed or broken, it will be unable to regrow and will die. Like rye, vetch, and Austrian winter pea, sweet clover is ideal for organic , no – till farming. Mowing or rolling/crimping at the beginning of full bloom would be a great way to set up a field for main season vegetable crops. On our farm, we had great success by rotary mowing, then occulting for a few weeks before planting fall brassicas. A word of caution: I attempted to mow a stand of sweet clover with a flail mower this summer, and made it five feet before I had a giant ball of clover plants wrapped around the drum. Maybe a better flail mower, with sharp knives, with low ground speed and high rpm would do it. I think that for no-till systems, though, rolling then tarping is the way to go.

Establishing yellow sweet clover is relatively easy. Its seeds are much bigger than red clover, giving it a little more resilience to high residue conditions, drought and slugs. In bare ground (tillage) systems, sweet clover can be broadcast into main season crops like corn or squash at the last cultivation at 30 to 40 lb /acre. This will work even better if done just before a rainstorm or irrigation. Like red clover, sweet clover seedlings are shade tolerant to a degree, though they will be starved out by too dense of a canopy above them. Another way that I have established sweet clover successfully is by no till drilling it in late July into grain stubble where red clover failed to establish by frost seeding. An equivalent situation in a market garden might be following garlic or onion harvest, or the removal of other early season crops. Because sweet clover takes some time to cover the ground, I think it’s a good idea to add some other species to a cover crop mix. For an August seeding, I would add field peas, buckwheat, oats and even sunflowers to the mix, at a light rate. Broadcasting sweet clover into thin mulch between vegetable rows would work as long as there were a few days of wet weather or irrigation to let them get their roots down into the soil.

Yellow Sweet Clover in Mid May

If yellow sweet clover has an Achilles heal, it is frost heaving. Some springs, I notice sweet clover plants pushed up almost out of the ground, standing on their taproot stilts. Often, these plants recover and grow ok, but sometimes they die. I recommend broadcasting some rye into a pure stand of sweet clover in early or mid September to help mitigate this problem. The rye roots form enough of a sod to hold the lateral roots of the clover in the ground.

I think these cover crops have a place on all vegetable farms . Legumes are generous plants: when given the right conditions to get going, they give back much more than they take, harnessing the sun’s power to run the flywheel of soil fertility. They help our crops thrive, and we are grateful to them. I hope they find a home on your farms and gardens too.

Growing Peas for Winter Greens

Growing Peas

No matter what variety of vegetable pea plants you are growing in your garden, all parts of all varieties, including the buds and blossoms, are edible. Note that flowering ornamental peas are excluded. They are poisonous.

Austrian winter peas are easy to grow, come up fast, and are particularly resistant to cold temperatures. If, as I do, you winterize your garden with a cover crop of Austrian winter peas, you are all set to harvest the tips as winter greens.

Some gardeners prefer to grow edible pod peas. Like Austrian peas, they are easy to grow and they tolerate cold temperatures. Plus you have the advantage that they produce edible pods as well.

Two types of peas have edible pods: snow peas and snap peas. Snow peas, also called sugar peas or Chinese pea pods, produce an abundance of flat, succulent pods. Harvested before the peas fill out and the pods turn tough, they are popular for stir fries. The pods, along with the shoots and tendrils, may also be eaten raw in salads.

Snap peas are a cross between snow peas and standard English garden peas. Also known as sugar snap peas, they are not quite as sweet or tender as snow peas, but are considered more productive because they produce both edible pods (when young) and shelling peas (when mature). Snow peas are typically steamed, used in stir fries, or added raw to salads.

English garden peas, also known as green peas or shelling peas, take longer to mature, the shells are too tough to eat, and you have to grow and shell a lot of pods to make enough peas to serve with a meal. Since shelling is so tedious, but the homegrown peas are so delicious, our family typically harvests only a handful of pods at a time to add raw, sweet peas to a garden salad.

Growing Pea Vines

To avoid dealing with trellises when growing peas, we plant bush varieties and scatter them over the soil, like we sow Austrian winter peas, so they will grow thick and the plants will support one another. When growing pea shoots, plant the seeds closer together than you would when growing peas for pods. You can then harvest early shoots by thinning the plants.

Depending on your climate, peas planted for shoots can go in anytime between mid-October and early January. The pea plants themselves are more resistant to freezing than are the blossoms or pods.

If you miss your window of opportunity, you can try growing peas and other vegetables in pots indoors. I picked up a couple of window boxes at a local nursery, which I place under grow lights to produce winter greens when the weather turns too bitter for gardening (the plants may survive out there, but I’m not sure I would).

Harvesting Shoots and Tendrils

Young pea shoots are tender and crisp and taste much like pea pods. If you garden where the season is too short for peas to mature, you can still enjoy the pea flavor of shoots and tendrils. When the plants grow to at least 6 inches tall you can have your first harvest by thinning out some of the young plants. Or you can snip off just the top set of leaves, which will not only give you your first harvest but encourage the plants to branch out and produce more tender tips.

From then on you may continue to harvest the top 3 or 4 inches every few weeks, always snipping tender new growth. As the vines mature, they get tough and bitter. At that point let the plants mature and develop pods.

Serving The Harvest

One of my favorite ways to eat pea shoots is to break off the tops of pea plants to snack on while I’m working in the garden. Another favorite way is to add them to a variety of greens when making a tossed salad. And the curly tendrils as garnish look nothing less than exotic when floated on top of a bowl of soup.

As a wilted green, pea shoots may be gently heated in a little olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper. Some people like to add a few drops of lemon or lime juice, which enhances both the flavor and the color. Others like to add shoots to sautéed garlic, crushed or sliced, for a Chinese-style stir-fry served with soy sauce.

Pea shoots are not only delicious, but they’re loaded with two important antioxidants, vitamins A and C. They’re also high in folate, a B-vitamin that’s important for healthy body cells and blood. And they’re a good source of fiber.

Fresh homegrown pea shoots and tendrils are both tasty and good for you. What’s not to like?

Reader Interactions


What is your experience with A. Winter peas, will be of value as a cover crop if flown into soybeans at leaf drop in Lucas Cty Ohio area? Will they get that 5 to 6 weeks of growth as mentioned above. The same question with crimsom clover.

Flo, Flying peas into standing crops is pretty risky. I have seen it work pretty well…but only into good moisture (and it stayed pretty moist). Peas work much better incorporated to a depth of 1 to 1 1/2″ deep. On the other hand Crimson Clover works very well flown into soybeans or corn at the right maturity stage. The nice thing about Crimson Clover is that it most likely will live through the winter and produce more nitrogen in the spring as well. The peas might do that but crimson clover will be more winterhardy most years.

my question is if i wanted to raise peas to combine for my own seed use how would i go about it. what time of year for seeding, are they hard to harvest. i live in east central missouri. thanks

Hi Marty, I will have to admit that I do not know the answer to your question. Peas are generally raised in our northern tier states and in Canada. maybe some of our other readers will know the answer to raising peas in your region. Sorry I could not be more helpful. Dave

HI me again I feed my goats and horse a mix of baled winter pea barley and oats.They way they ate it you would have thought they died and went to heaven.but this year my little pasture is useless and I am going to have to feed store bought even more than normal but if by some miracle I could plant something like this,maybe I still have time.I live in ne texas most of my soil is clay .have any advice.

Jacquie, You are right, animals love to eat the mix that you had! The good news is that all of those are also great for building soil. I believe it is too late to plant peas at this late date if you want to graze them For soil building it might still work, but not for harvesting of grazing…they would be too small.

I’ve planted Austrian Winter Pea in the Fall in SE Oklahoma and they were growing to 7 feet in May/June.

Can I plant a winter pea and oat mix in July (after wheat is harvested) and get a forage harvest that same fall assuming proper weather provided? If so, on 45 lbs/a, how much yield can I assume either dry or wet hay? Does it ferment well?

Steve, That is a good question and the answer is …maybe. If we have a cool and moist summer than probably “yes”. If there is a hot dry summer than probably not so good on yield. The later is July you plant the better as most areas generally get more August rains. I’d probably wait until August to plant if you can as you will get cooler temps and a better chance for moisture (most years),

I am seeking a cover crop for the sole purpose of building the soil over the winter. I would till it into the ground for spring planting of my garden. Comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Will, Many different cover crops could be used for what your goals are. I would suggest a legume (peas or crimson clover) + a grass (Oats or Rye) will work well together and help build your soil! Good luck! Dave

I have a CRP field in Huron County Ohio that I will moldboard plow on October 1. I will drill it with cover crop within a week or 2 after that, depending on weather. I definitely plan to plant cereal rye to hold the soil. Additionally, since it is going to corn in the spring of 2014, I am hoping to add a legume to fix some nitrogen “for free”. I’m willing to drill it twice to get this benefit. Do you think that Austrian winter peas is a good candidate or am I too late? We’re in zone 5a with an earliest frost date of 9/20 – I expect a “hard” frost in late October/early-November. I also have the possibility to run something through the small seed box when I’m drilling rye – maybe hairy vetch is an option? Or, do I give up on nitrogen altogether? What do you recommend? Thanks! Eric J.

PS: I’m planning to broadcast cereal rye on the entire farm this fall after corn/bean harvest. I’ll incorporate it with a vertical tillage tool, eliminating that tillage pass from next spring’s planned fieldwork. Wish me luck! -EJ

I know of a gent in Ashland County Ohio that plants Austrian Winter Peas after harvesting his soybeans and he has had success each year of getting the peas up 4-6″ in the fall then they have over wintered! In the spring the peas get up to around 10-12″ then the farmer kills them off (Tills them in?) and he enjoys all of the benefits of what peas bring to his fields. Rye is a “no-brainer”…peas have greater risk but they may be worth a try! Please keep me up to date on what you do! Oh, be sure to inoculate the peas. Dave

hello, just thought i’d comment on all this fascinating work all you farmers in the states are doing with cover crops, no-till e.t.c. I was completely landless up until two years ago but now have a small plot roughly 50′ by 15′ for veg n’ what not..i’m basically a frustrated farmer but i do have my feet in the soil at last and can’t get enough of this soil health ‘revolution’. It really is awesome.. i decided to ‘no-till’ one year ago, had tried green manuring years ago but have really taken a quantum leap in my level of enthusiasm and ‘knowledge’ since discovering what you guys are upto across the pond..Just wanted to say thanks really to all you farmers for doing what your doing and sharing all this amazing knowledge..i’m just itching to get my covers in next year..cheers!

Thanks James! Best of success over there!

I was thinking of using the A Winter Pea for needed N. I live in S.C., very hot, so 1) when would be the best time to plant 2) can this be done year-after-year? Thanks in advance.

Planting winter peas in late August through mid-late September in your region. You can plant them annually. Be sure to inoculate the peas each year you plant them. They do like cooler temperatures!

I’m interested in planting some cover crops for this winter. I know it’s a little late already, so can you recommend some that may still work for east-central Texas? It’s quite hot and humid here so I think I met still have time to get a decent cover. I’m thinking of winter wheat and a legume such as Austrian winter peas or clover. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Peas and Winter Barley or Rye or Wheat would be very good. Also, Annual Ryegrass and Crimson Clover would be a great too!

is the latest you can plant Australian peas

Stacy, It depends on where you live. I’d say a good rule of thumb is plant the peas 5-6 weeks before a killing freeze. The longer they grow the greater the benefit. Best of success!

When will Austrian Winter peas start to bloom in N. TEXAS? (DFW area)
If grown with ryegrass and cut before peas bloom, for baleage, will peas have regrowth?

I am not sure when Peas will bloom in North Texas. Sorry…Usually peas do not regrow well after they have harvested. The regrowth would typically be very limited if any.

Winterize Your Garden with a Cover Crop of Austrian Winter Peas

As winter approaches and you harvest the last of summer’s vegetables from your garden, sowing Austrian winter peas is an ideal way to protect your precious garden soil through the winter while providing green manure in the spring. And, as a bonus, the leafy green vines may be periodically pruned and fed to chickens and other livestock at a time when fresh forage is otherwise scarce.

What is a Cover Crop vs. Green Manure?

Cover crops and green manures are plants grown for the benefits they provide the soil. A cover crop suppresses weeds and protects bare soil from erosion. So what is green manure? A cover crop becomes green manure when it is incorporated into the soil to improve soil fertility. Green manure is, therefore, a cover crop that serves as both a mulch and a soil amendment.

Austrian winter peas (Pisum sativum subsp. Arvense) are one of the most common cover crops for gardens in winter because they are well adapted to cold temperatures. Some of the benefits of winterizing your garden with a cover crop of Austrian winter peas are:

2. Building soil organic matter.

3. Increasing the soil’s nitrogen content.

4. Reducing soil compaction.

6. Controlling weed growth.

7. Disrupting insect and disease cycles.

8. Providing early spring nectar for honeybees

Growing Field Peas as a Cover Crop

Austrian winter peas, also known as field peas or forage peas, may be purchased at nearly any farm store by the pound or by the bag. For a garden large enough to use one or more 50-pound bags, that option is generally cheaper per pound. And any peas you don’t use this year may be saved to sow next year.

Although winter peas are related to garden peas, they are not grown for their fresh green pea pods. Instead, wildlife managers use them to create food plots for deer. Farmers use them as livestock forage and also as part of planned crop rotation. Organic gardeners grow them as green manure.

Like other legumes, winter peas capture nitrogen from the air and “fix” it in a form plants can use. In healthy soils, they fix nitrogen with the help of naturally occurring rhizobium bacteria. Where peas have not been previously grown, inoculating them with Rhizobium leguminosarum helps assure good nitrogen fixation.

The process of inoculation is quite simple. Rhizobium leguminosarum comes as a powder in which the pea seeds may be shaken before being sown. Or the powder may be sprinkled over the soil after the seeds are scattered. The more bacteria you use, the better it works. As the peas grow, the bacteria bond with the roots and produce the nodules that are responsible for fixing nitrogen.

Austrian peas prefer well-limed, well-drained clay or heavy loam soil of moderate fertility and near-neutral (6.0 to 7.0) pH, but they adapt pretty well to a wide range of soil types. Each fall, after clearing our garden beds of the season’s final crop, we liberally scatter peas over the soil. Since these peas are long-vined, unless they are seeded fairly thickly the growing plants tend to fall over against the soil and rot.

After we scatter the peas we cover them with about an inch of loose soil. Alternatively, they may be raked in to incorporate them into the soil. Peas left on the soil’s surface will not germinate well. They need adequate contact with moist soil, which also provides better anchoring for the roots of the growing plants.

If rain is predicted, we let the rain give the freshly sown peas a good soaking. Otherwise, we water them well and then let nature run its course. In a week or less the peas start to sprout, and within a couple of weeks, our garden beds are covered in a sea of green.

When to Sow Field Peas

To maximize winter survival, Austrian peas should be sown early enough for the vines to be 6 to 8 inches tall before the soil freezes. Since they are sensitive to heat, they must be sown after the heat of summer has passed. But as soon as the weather turns cool and moist, they grow rapidly.

Here in zone 6, we try to get our garden covered during September and October, although fall-harvested vegetables sometimes delay sowing the cover crop into November. As long as the peas sprout before the soil freezes, they will grow. If, as often happens in our area, we have a hard freeze followed by a period of warm weather, the peas just come up a little later than usual.

In zones 8 and 9, delay sowing until mid-October. In zone 5, try to get them sown between mid-August and mid-September. Although Austrian peas don’t consistently overwinter in areas colder than zone 6, your garden will still benefit as long as they have grown a good stand before freezing weather arrives.

When temperatures dip below freezing, the vines may lose some of their top growth, but they usually continue to grow even at temperatures as low as 10°F. However, long periods of cold below 18°F without a snow cover typically results in winterkill.

Whether the peas succumb to winterkill or survive into spring, they serve their intended purpose. Plants that freeze into a mat covering the soil’s surface act as a mulch, retaining moisture and retarding weed growth. Plants that remain green outcompete spring weeds, provide an abundance of early greens for our chickens and dairy goats, and produce beautiful purple blossoms that attract honey bees at a time when little else is blooming.

Preparing the Spring Garden

In years when our peas freeze to form a mulch mat, we rake the dead vines off the soil’s surface in the spring and toss the residue into the compost pile. The roots are left to rot in the ground.

Peas that survive into spring grow rapidly to a height of two to four feet. The slender, hollow, succulent plants are easily killed by snipping them back to ground level, by mowing them or by shallow cultivation.

When allowed to mature to full bloom, besides serving as one of the earliest bee-loving plants, vines that are then incorporated into the soil decay rapidly and contribute a quick source of nitrogen for the vegetable crop that follows. If we don’t need a particular garden bed right away, we’ll let the peas continue maturing until they produce seed, which we harvest to use for next winter’s cover crop.

Watch the video: Austrian winter peas

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