winter field peas

How to Plant Winter Field Peas as a Cover Crop

Do you want an easy way to feed your soil and protect it from erosion over winter? Plant a winter cover crop of winter field peas to improve the soil.

Winter cover crops are critical to build up your soil. They add organic material that then gets tilled under in spring prior to planting your summer crops.

The cover crops also are a living mulch that keep the soil from eroding from wind, rain and any other nasty weather.

Austrian winter field peas is one such crop that does quite well and is actually hardy. This means it won’t completely be killed off by freezing temperatures. While the plants won’t grow if it is too cold, they will continue growing in spring once the air and soil temperature increases.

And the blooms add some colour to the spring garden for a short period of time before you cut them down.

Preparing the seeds

You will need to buy the seeds. Here is what I recommend:

Outsidepride Austrian Winter Peas Legume Coated & Inoculated Seed – 1 LB

Rhizobium bacteria helps legume (eg. peas, beans) crops such as the winter field peas fix nitrogen in the soil. What this means is that nitrogen in the air is actually captured by the plants and then in turn released in the soil when the plants die or are cut down.

Nitrogen is key to having great soil health.

While you may already have this bacteria established in your soil, adding extra bacteria will not do any harm.

Nature Aid 1.5 BEAN & PEA Inoculant,Improves growth of plant,increase yields

The most common way to add inoculant to the planting location is to adhere it to the seeds you are planting. The steps to do this are simple:

  1. Empty some winter field pea seeds into a container.
  2. Wet the seeds with a bit of water.
  3. Add pea inoculant to the seeds.
  4. Mix inoculant well so it sticks to all of the seeds.
Pea seeds in container
Pea seeds and inoculant

Preparing the bed

For winter field peas, bed preparation is fairly straightforward.

Just clean up any old plants, remove weeds and rake the bed level.  If you have the bed mulched, remove the mulch temporarily.

Making space in garden bed

I usually also make sure I have some soil set aside to rake on top of the seeds. Easier than making a hole for each seed, especially for a large area.

It gets a bit trickier if you still have some crops growing in your beds over winter. Make the best of it and plant winter field peas around your other plants you are keeping.

Sowing the seeds

Literally just toss the winter field peas on top of the prepared soil in what is called broadcast seeding. No need to place them in orderly rows. Just make sure they are somewhat spaced apart.

Pea seeds sown

If you have a really large area, consider using a broadcast seed spreader.

Once the seeds are sown, cover up with the extra soil you set aside to a depth of 1-2″ (3-5cm).

If the weather is dry, give them a soaking of water. And keep them well watered (either via rain or irrigation) until they sprout.

You can also watch a video where I do this:

In spring

winter field peas

In winter the crop will go dormant and not grow, unless your winters are very mild. You should get some decent growth in spring once the weather warms up.

A few weeks prior to planting in the bed, cut down the crop to the ground, leaving the roots in. The nitrogen that was captured by the plants will be in the roots. As the roots break down they will release the nitrogen into the soil.

Use the plants you cut down as a green mulch on the beds.

After several weeks (2-3 at least), clean up the greens and roots and put them on your compost where they will help feed the compost.

Now you can plant your vegetables!

So there you have it. A simple and inexpensive planting that will put nitrogen back in the soil, after a busy summer of growing vegetables.

Give planting a cover crop such as winter field peas a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

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    1. Hi Shannon. When planting a winter cover crop, you want it to have already grown a bit before it gets too cold and the days get too short. They’ll stop growing but then take off again when the weather warms up in spring. So for 7a it might be a bit late. Plan to have planted by end of September, earlier if you can. You can also plant in early spring but then you take up space you could use to grow regular crops.

  1. Hi Marc, I planted about 800 square feet in winter field peas about 3 weeks ago. They haven’t come up yet and I’m concerned that they wont germinate. I broadcast them and then harrowed them in lightly – do you think that I didn’t plant deep enough?

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      A few things could have happened:
      1) seeds were too old
      2) they might have rotted in the ground if you’ve had a lot of rain or conversely didn’t sprout as you haven’t gotten enough moisture yet
      3) weather might already be too cool
      4) pests such as birds or rodents might have made off with them, especially if they were not planted deep enough (usually 1-2″)

      Check maybe one small area and see if you can find the peas in the soil. They might have some indication of sprouting and you just need to give them a bit more time.