- Austrian Winter Pea
- Austrian Winter Peas Cover Crop Seeds
- Seeding Rate
- What Are Austrian Winter Peas: A Guide To Growing Austrian Winter Peas
- Austrian Winter Pea Information
- How to Grow Austrian Winter Peas
- Austrian Winter Peas – Farm Uses
- Winterize Your Garden with a Cover Crop of Austrian Winter Peas
- Dreaming of a beautiful, productive veggie garden?
- Salads All Winter? You Bet, With Austrian Winter Peas
- Growing and Harvesting Tips
- Become a Member of QDMA
- There Are Peas and There Are Peas
- Proof in the Pudding
- Staying Power Required
Austrian Winter Pea
Posted in All cover crops, Broadleaf, Legume
. Cool Season | Broadleaf | Legume .
The Austrian Winter Pea is a low growing vine annual legume. It is sometimes called a black pea or field pea. It has a hollow, slender, succulent stem that is 2-4 feet long. The Austrian winter pea pods have 3-5 round dark seeds that are commonly mottled with purple or brown spots. The foliage is pale green and the flowers are purple, pink or reddish. Austrian winter pea is generally a fall seeded cover crop that can be used for grazing, hay or as a green manure. The peas are seeded in September to October. However, if exposed to long periods of sub-zero weather without snow cover, there may be winterkill of the stand. It can also be grown as a spring seeded summer annual sown as early as possible in the spring. Austrian winter pea has good nitrogen fixing capabilities and fits into a rotation from wheat to sorghum.
Common Names : The common names of Austrian Winter Pea include black pea, field pea, rough pea, Austrian Winter Pea.
Fenn: The Fenn variety grows purple flowers. It contains an average vine length of nearly 2 meters. It has triple flowers per peduncle, yellow cotyledons, and speckled seedcoats. The yield potential of Fenn is slightly larger than common Austrian Winter.
Glacier: Glacier has shorter vines and improved seed yields when compared to Melrose. Glacier, with its shorter growth habit, is not as suitable for green manuring as are other Austrian Winter cultivars.
Granger: The winter survival of ‘Granger’ has been similar to that of Fenn, Melrose and Glacier. Granger, however, is more upright, competes well with weeds and is more easily harvested than the other varieties mentioned. In addition, its yields are improved over Melrose and Fenn.
Melrose: The Melrose is similar to Fenn in that it has purple flowers and an indeterminate flowering habit. Melrose has a vine length of about 2 meters and has a higher yield potential than ‘common Austrian Winter’ or Fenn. Selected from progeny of a cross between common Austrian winter pea and powdery mildew resistant ‘Perfection,’ which is a spring pea.
Austrian winter peas are top nitrogen (N) producers, yielding from 90 to 150 lb. N/A, and at times up to 300 lb. N/A. Austrian winter peas harvested as hay then applied as mulch mineralized N at more than double the rate of alfalfa hay. The nitrogen (N) contribution was measured the summer after a fall plow down of the residue. The estimated N recovery of Austrian winter pea material 10 months after incorporation was 77 percent broken down by 58 percent through spring wheat and 19 percent in the soil. Field peas can leave 80 lb. N/A if terminated at mid-season in lieu of summer fallow in dry land areas, or leave more than 30 lb. N/A after pea harvest at season’s end. In addition to the nitrogen benefit, the peas in a rotation may reduce the severity of soil-borne diseases that attack winter wheat and spring barley.
Bountiful biomass: Under a long, cool, moist season during their vegetative stages, Austrian winter peas produce more than 5,000 lb. dry matter/A, even when planted in spring in colder climates. Idaho farmers regularly produce 6,000 to 8,000 lb. DM/A from fall-planted Austrian winter peas. Because the residue breaks down quickly, only peas in the high-production areas build up much long-term organic matter. Peas do not make a good organic mulch for weed control.
Nitrogen source: Austrian winter peas are top N producers, yielding from 90 to 150 lb. N/A, and at times up to 300 lb. N/A. Plowed down as green manure, fall-planted legume crops of Austrian winter pea, alfalfa and hairy vetch each produced enough N for the production of high-quality muskmelons under plastic mulch and drip irrigation in a Kansas study. Melon yields produced with the legumes were similar to those receiving synthetic fertilizer at 63 and 90 lb. N/A. The winter peas in the experiment produced 96 lb. N/A the first year and 207 lb. N/A the second.
Austrian winter peas harvested as hay then applied as mulch mineralized N at more than double the rate of alfalfa hay. The N contribution was measured the summer after a fall plow down of the residue. The estimated N recovery of Austrian winter pea material 10 months after incorporation was 77 percent—58 percent through spring wheat and 19 percent in the soil .
Austrian winter pea green manure provided the highest spring wheat yield the following year in a Montana trial comparing 10 types of medics, seven clovers, yellow biennial sweet clover and three grains. Crops that produced higher tonnage of green manure usually had a negative effect on the subsequent wheat crop due to moisture deficiency that continued over the winter between the crops. Field peas can leave 80 lb. N/A if terminated at mid-season in lieu of summer fallow in dryland areas, or leave more than 30 lb. N/A after pea harvest at season’s end. A winter pea green manure consistently resulted in higher malting barley protein content than that following other legumes or fallow in a Montana trial. Annual legumes harvested for seed left less soil N than did plots in fallow. Also tested were fava bean, lentil, chickpea, spring pea, winter pea hay and dry bean.
Rotational effects: Pulse crops (grain legumes such as field peas, fava beans and lentils) improved sustainability of dryland crop rotations by pro viding disease suppression, better tilth and other enhancements to soil quality in a Saskatchewan study. Even at rates of 180 lb. N/A, fertilizer alone was unable to bring yields of barley planted into barley residue to the maximum achieved from these pulse residues.
Water thrifty: In a comparison of water use alongside INDIANHEAD lentils and GEORGE black medic, Austrian winter pea was the most moisture-efficient crop in producing biomass. Each crop had used 4 inches of water when Austrian winter pea vines were 16 inches long, the lentils were 6 to 8 inches tall and the black medic central tillers were 4 inches tall. Austrian winter peas grown in a controlled setting at 50° F recorded more than 75 percent of its N2 fixed per unit of water used by the 63rd day of growth. White clover, crimson clover and hairy vetch reached the same level of water efficiency, but it took 105 days.
Quick growing: Rapid spring growth helps peas out compete weeds and make an N contribution in time for summer cash crops in some areas.
Forage booster: Field peas grown with barley, oat, triticale or wheat provide excellent livestock forage. Peas slightly improve forage yield, but significantly boost protein and relative feed value of small grain hay.
Seed crop: Seed production in Montana is about 2,000 lb./A and about 1,500 lb./A in the Pacific Northwest. Demand is growing for field peas as food and livestock feed.
Long-term bloomer: The purple and white blossoms of field peas are an early and extended source of nectar for honeybees.
Chill tolerant: Austrian winter pea plants may lose some of their top growth during freezes, but can continue growing after temperatures fall as low as 10° F. Their shallow roots and succulent stems limit their overwintering ability, however. Sustained cold below 18° F without snow cover usually kills Austrian winter pea. To maximize winter survival:
- Select the most winter-hardy cultivars available—GRANGER, MELROSE and COMMONWINTER.
- Seed early enough so that plants are 6 to 8 inches tall before soil freezes, because peas are shallow rooted and susceptible to heaving. Try to plant from mid-August to mid-September in Zone 5.
- Plant into grain stubble or a rough seedbed, or interseed into a winter grain. These environments protect young pea roots by suppressing soil heaving during freezing and thawing. Trapped snow insulates plants, as well.
To maximize winter survival, select the most winter-hardy cultivars available— Granger, Melrose and Commonwinter. Seed early enough so that plants are 6 to 8 inches tall before soil freezes, because peas are shallow rooted and susceptible to heaving. Try to plant from mid-August to mid- September in Zone 5. Plant into grain stubble or a rough seedbed, or interseed into a winter grain. These environments protect young pea roots by suppressing soil heaving during freezing and thawing. Trapped snow insulates plants, as well.
Innoculant: The pea seed should be inoculated with the Rhizobium bacteria prior to planting. This helps produce nodules for nitrogen fixation.
Dates: Planting dates are generally from September through October but can also be seeded as a summer annual if planted as early as possible in the spring.
Inter-seeding with Cash Crops: Needs to be inter-seeded with cash crops at physiological maturity.
- Cereal Nurse Crop
- 15-20 lbs/Acre
- Cover Crop Drilled 3
- 5-40 lbs/Acre
- Forage or Hay Crop
- 40-50 lbs/Acre
- Green Manure
- 70-80 lbs/Acre alone
- 50 lbs/Acre alone or
- 15-20 lbs/Acre in mixed planting,
Depth: 1/2 to 1″ depth.
Seeds per lb (PLS): 1,800
- Grows well in soils that are loamy, clay loam, well-drained with high clay content.
- Somewhat poorly drained to well drained soils.
- Low tolerance of low soil fertility.
- pH Level:
- Austrian Winter Peas perform best in a pH range of 6.3-7.0.
- Minimum germination temperatures of 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Austrian Winter Peas require adequate phosphorous and potassium.
- Austrian Winter Peas perform poorly under low light levels, hence it doesn’t interseed into corn very well.
Fluctuations between warm and cold temperatures will inhibit growth and may kill Austrian Winter Pea plants, whereas harsh sub-zero temps of winter only burned plants back. Rapid spring growth helps peas out compete weeds and make an N contribution in time for summer cash crops in some areas.
Biomass: In a comparison of water use alongside INDIANHEAD lentils and GEORGE black medic, Austrian winter pea was the most moisture- efficient crop in producing biomass. Each crop had used 4 inches of water when Austrian winter pea vines were 16 inches long, the lentils were 6 to 8 inches tall and the black medic central tillers were 4 inches tall.
Under a long, cool, moist season during their vegetative stages, Austrian winter peas produce more than 5,000 lb. dry matter/Acre (DM/A), even when planted in spring in colder climates. Idaho farmers regularly produce 6,000 to 8,000 lb. DM/A from fall-planted Austrian winter peas. Because the residue breaks down quickly, only peas in the high-production areas build up much long-term organic matter. Peas do not make a good organic mulch for weed control.
Drought Tolerance: Has low drought tolerance.
Emergence Time: 9 days.
Flooding or Ponding Tolerance: Does not tolerate flooding or ponding.
Flower: Can be either pink, purple or red.
Foliage: Pale green with multiple leaflets.
Frost of Freeze Tolerance: May not winter over in northern winters without adequate snow covers.
Height: Grows to a height of 2-4 feet.
Sunlight or Shade Tolerance: Performs poorly under low light levels, hence it doesn’t interseed into corn very well.
Rotation: Fits well into a rotation from wheat to grain sorghum. To be effective, a green manure crop such as Austrian winter peas should be included in a crop rotation every 3-5 years.
Forage and Grazing: Field peas grown with barley, oat, triticale or wheat provide excellent livestock forage. Austrian Winter Peas are very palatable and offer high nutritive value. Peas slightly improve forage yield, but significantly boost protein and relative feed value of small grain hay. The high forage quality of the peas stimulates cow lactation, reduces winter hay feeding, and provides a nice transition into the native grass season.
Termination: Austrian winter peas will not winter in the Northern states (they will die off in low 20 degree temps), but can be planted in the North in late spring for a summer silage crop or in the late summer/early fall for late fall harvest, nitrogen building or winter cover crop. Austrian winter pea plants may lose some of their top growth during freezes, but can continue growing after temperatures fall as low as 10° F. Their shallow roots and succulent stems limit their overwintering ability, however. Sustained cold below 18° F without snow cover usually kills Austrian winter pea
Management and Concerns: Delaying planting by one month in the fall reduced an organic matter yield by almost 2 tons per acre.
Austrian Winter Peas Cover Crop Seeds
Austrian winter peas are a cool-season annual legume which can make a very attractive food plot on their own or as an addition to a seed mixture planted in the fall to attract deer. Easy to grow and quick to germinate, winter peas are very similar to garden peas and have the same nitrogen-fixing abilities which reduces the amount of fertilizer needed in your garden.
Austrian Winter Peas are also very good for cover crops and green manure crops, building tilth and adding organic matter and thus humus to the soil. Peas like well drained and fertile loam soils. Field peas are used as a winter annual in the South and as a spring annual in the North for soil improvement and for forage. Austrian winter peas are generally grown with a small grain for pasture, hay or silage. They can be used as a cover crop or green manure crop. This cover crop seed does not tolerate high water table or any substantial flooding.
These peas have a vine-like growth that can reach lengths of 3 to 5 feet when planted in fertile soil. Winter peas are highly nutritious and extremely digestible to deer. They carry a protein level between 20 and 30 percent. Both the seed, stem and leaves are browsed by deer. Foliage color is a pale green, and the plant produces pink blooms. Austrian winter peas have moderate drought tolerance but have good winter hardiness.
Inoculated Seed – We now offer Austrian winter pea seed which has been coated with an inoculant for better establishment. Nitrogen fixation is a one of the key values found in legumes and can only occur with the proper inoculation. Although many strains or Rhizobium may be present in the soil, all are not equally beneficial. With Nitro-Coat® each seed is inoculated with the correct Rhizobium strains and coated through a proven process that ensures a very high level of successful inoculation. A key to any successful establishment and early seed development is moisture. Nitro-Coat® is naturally water absorbent and helps attract soil moisture to the seed, getting your stand established quickly. This coating process which Outsidepride utilizes, assures that only the top-performing and crop-specific rhizobia will be applied to ensure your clovers reach maximum nodulation, stand establishment, and yield potential. With Nitro-Coat® each seed is inoculated with the correct Rhizobium strains and coated through a proven process that ensures a very high level of successful inoculation. The weight of the Austrian winter peas will contain approximately 34% coating material that contains the inoculant and water holding material for better establishment and viability of the seed. There is no difference in the seeding rates between the coated and raw seed due to the increased germination and viability of the bulk Austrian winter peas that are coated and inoculated. This coating material is not OMRI certified.
75 to 100 lbs per acre. 5 lbs per 1,000 square feet.
What Are Austrian Winter Peas: A Guide To Growing Austrian Winter Peas
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.
Austrian Winter Peas – Farm Uses
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Pisum sativum subsp. arvense
AUSTRIAN WINTER PEA SEED produces a cool season, annual legume that is often used on farms, especially organic farms, as a rotational cover crop to re-build the soil, naturally. As fuel prices and consumer awareness rise, farmers are more inclined to let nature do it’s job by planning and planting crops that work together to replenish depleted soils or to avoid depleting perfectly good soil. Austrian winter peas can provide from 90 to 150 lbs of natural nitrogen per acre of land. Austrian winter peas are a staple crop in sustainable agriculture and livestock operations. Read more about sustainable agriculture & live stock operations in our resource section below.
These winter peas accomplish their nitrogen fixing as other legumes, by pulling the nitrogen from the air around them converting this nitrogen into a plant form of nitrogen, and depositing this plant formed nitrogen into the soil with the help of rhizobium bacteria that occur naturally in healthy soils.
Austrian winter peas can produce a moderate amount of dry matter that is used for grazing, hay, or as a green manure crop for other agricultural crops. Cattle, sheep, and white-tail deer love austrian winter peas and they are full of essential nutrients. Forage from winter pea is also used to make silage.
Planting Austrian Winter Pea Seed
Austrian Winter Pea seed should be inoculated with the Rhizobium bacteria (inoculant) prior to planting. This helps produce nodules for nitrogen fixation. Austrian winter pea is generally a fall seeded cover crop that can be used for grazing, hay or as a green manure. The peas are seeded in September to October. However, if exposed to long periods of sub-zero weather without snow cover, there may be winterkill of the stand. It can also be grown as a spring seeded summer annual sown as early as possible in the spring. Austrian winter pea has good nitrogen fixing capabilities and fits into a rotation from wheat to sorghum.
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Austrian Winter Pea Quick Facts
- Austrian Winter Peas are used as a cover crop, green manure crop, hay crop, silage, grazing, etc.
- Need well-drained soil
- Does not tolerate acid soils
- Can be mixed with other annuals — cereals or ryegrass
- Large seed and easy to establish in tilled soil
- Primarily as a cover crop, provides high quality forage for livestock & deer.
- Adds Nitrogen to soil and provides winter erosion control.
- High quality nutrition similar to White Clover.
- Not suited to heavy grazing because of livestock damage from trampling. Excellent for wild game food plots and as a plow down green manure crop.
- Austrian Winter Peas are not tolerant of soils with low pH.
- Long periods of sub-zero weather without snow cover will cause winterkill of Austrian Winter Peas.
- Areas of Adaptation: Originally established in the southeastern USA as far north & west as Oklahoma and into the coastal regions of Washington and Oregon. Austrian Winter peas are also grown in the Palouse (parts of southeastern Washington, north central Idaho extending south into northeast Oregon) areas of Idaho, Washington and Oregon
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WINTER PEA SEED
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Planting Austrian Winter Peas
- Seeding Rate: 30 to 40 lb./acre
- Planting Dates: September – October
- Planting Method: Well prepared, firm seed bed, alone or with a small grain or ryegrass.
- Planting Depth: 1/2 inch deep.
Other Winter Forages: Brown Top Millet, Hybrid Pearl Millet, Sorghum, Sudangrass.
Resources About Austrian Winter Peas
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Stocker Steve wrote: Sat Mar 16, 2019 7:50 am Goal is a high stocking rate and an extended grazing season w/o spending a lot of $$$. We have a very pronounced spring flush in the north, so this does take some effort:
Don’t need more pasture forage in the spring, so I let it grow. It usually trampled or swath grazed in late spring. Cattle will slick up fresh mineral rich thistle if it is pre bloom, crimped, and mixed in the swath with some sweet stuff. I think this is more effective than clipping after grazing. If you swath too much at once they will start to graze around the swaths after a couple days.
We do need more pasture forage in the fall. I have some hay ground 1.5 miles away – – where I wet bale every couple days in early fall and haul back to supplement my pasture. I think this is more effective than buying an inline wrapper. Wet bales will start to spoil in two to three days.
– Swath graze weedy paddocks in June.
– Graze wet legume/grass mix bales in late August and September.
– Go hunting while they graze standing stockpile in October and November.
Winterize Your Garden with a Cover Crop of Austrian Winter Peas
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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.
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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:
1. Minimizing soil erosion.
2. Building soil organic matter.
3. Increasing the soil’s nitrogen content.
4. Reducing soil compaction.
5. Encouraging earthworms.
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.
Salads All Winter? You Bet, With Austrian Winter Peas
They’re easy to plant and quick to harvest. Sow the peas in early fall, and you can begin harvesting as soon as the shoots are 6 to 8 inches high. In spring, the plants are easy to remove.
They provide flowers for nectar and beauty. Winter peas flower in spring, producing masses of small pink blossoms that are a good nectar source for bees. When planted next to a trellis (I use a stock panel), winter peas will climb and make a lovely flower display. Mine grow more than 5 feet high.
They’re easy to manage. The peas kick into high gear as soon as temperatures move into the 40s and 50s in early spring. After becoming established, the vines twine together as they grow, providing excellent weed suppression and lots of biomass. The vines are succulent and easier to pull out or cut with a hand sickle than those of many other cover crops. You can use the spent vines as a mat-like mulch, or just toss them into your compost pile.
I prefer to leave the peas in place to continue growing as long as possible in spring. I use the vines as a mulch by pulling out enough plants to open up a row down the middle of the bed, and then pushing the vines down and away from each side of the open row, letting them sprawl over the paths on either side of the bed. That way, the peas can continue growing while they provide a living mulch for the tomato or pepper transplants I set into the open row in the middle of the bed.
Winter peas are great fodder for livestock and poultry. Small ruminants, such as goats and sheep, relish pea shoots. Chickens adore them, too. In the dead of winter, when fresh green fodder is hard to find, an armful of winter pea shoots will be a special treat for your animals.
Deer also love Austrian winter peas, so many hunters plant them in food plots to attract the animals. If your garden isn’t fenced and deer are a problem for you, protect your peas with row cover.
Growing and Harvesting Tips
Sow Austrian peas in fall, up until six to eight weeks before your average first fall frost date. In northernmost Zones with severe winters, sow winter peas in very early spring. I loosen the soil with a broadfork or cultivator, then broadcast the seeds thickly (about 2 to 3 inches apart), work them into the soil with a rake, and then water. To assure good soil contact, especially if the soil is dry and you don’t plan to water, it may be a better strategy to use a hoe to open rows, sow the seeds an inch deep, and then tamp the soil over them. One source suggests using a half-pound of seed per 1,000 square feet, while others recommend 2 to 5 pounds for the same area.
Austrian winter peas have shallow roots, which is good because it means they don’t deplete deep soil moisture as much as some cover crops. But the shallow roots are also bad, because frost heaving, which thrusts soil upward when ice forms toward the surface, can damage the plant roots if winter temperatures fluctuate too much. Some cover crop manuals suggest interseeding winter peas with longer-rooted winter grains (such as wheat, oats or rye). Adding the grain will help reduce damage by minimizing frost heaving during freeze/thaw cycles, but it will mean the cover crop may not be as easy to kill in spring as a peas-only planting.
If you garden in Zone 6 or colder, a heavyweight row cover, also known as a frost blanket, will help the peas overwinter. I place a tunnel made from 2-by-4-inch welded-wire fencing over the young peas first, to hold the frost blanket above the peas so they can continue to grow on warm days. You could also grow the peas in a low tunnel or cold frame if you have one.
Now comes the best part: All winter long, anytime you need a fresh, sweet, crisp green salad, just sweep off any snow, pull back the blanket and cut handfuls of pea shoots. Head to the kitchen, chop the shoots coarsely and — voila! — you have a salad. Use similar methods to grow cold-hardy kale and spinach, and you can enjoy months of super-easy, super-nutritious salads — just what the doctor ordered. These greens are also welcome in stir-fries and other cooked dishes.
For additional information on this versatile crop, see the section on field peas from SARE’s Managing Cover Crops Profitably, Third Edition (also available as a ).
If you order seeds now, you’ll still have time to grow this easy, multipurpose winter salad cover crop. See “Sources” below. If you try Austrian winter peas, let us know what you think by emailing us.
Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Sow True Seed
Territorial Seed Co.
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Austrian winter pea (Pisum sativum) is a cool-season annual legume that has long been considered a high-preference forage for whitetails. Due to its nitrogen-fixing ability, winter pea has numerous agricultural uses, and it is very easy to establish in fall food plots.
Widely Adapted Deer Forage
Winter pea is considered a cool-season annual legume, although it can be successfully grown in the spring/summer in cooler regions. It is a low-growing, viney plant that can reach 2- to 4-feet tall, depending on soil fertility and management. The stems are hollow and slender, and the fleshy leaves are pale green with toothed margins. It also contains branched, slender tendrils on the top of the plant. Winter pea produces flowers in the spring, which are pinkish-purple in color. If plants are not overgrazed, seed production can occur through pods that are 2- to 3-inches long that contain several round seeds.
Winter pea grows well virtually anywhere within the continental United States and parts of Canada. As the name implies, it has good winter hardiness and can withstand very cold conditions. It grows well in a variety of soil types, but best production occurs in light-textured loamy soils. Winter pea is somewhat sensitive to soil pH, thus, the pH needs to be maintained above 6.0, which already needs to be the goal for any food plot to maximize nutritional quality and attraction.
Germination of winter peas would be considered moderate relative to other cool-season forages, and grazing resistance would be considered moderate as well. Once established, they are capable of producing lots of quality forage for a period of seven to eight months, ranging from 1.5 to 2 tons/acre dry weight. Crude protein in the leaves and stems typically exceeds 25 percent, which is excellent. It is also highly digestible (acid detergent fiber values have been reported below 20 percent), which is an important consideration when selecting forages to plant.
With regard to deer selectivity or preference, results can vary. In Georgia, wildlife biologist Kent Kammermeyer found that deer selected for winter peas in one of his plots that contained wheat, crimson clover, hairy vetch, and winter pea, despite being in an area with a low deer density. Conversely, in Tennessee Dr. Craig Harper found that deer used winter peas sparingly when other cool-season forages were available in areas with a low deer density. However, in high deer density areas, nearly 100 percent of winter peas were consumed.
In Alabama last season, we also observed heavy use of winter peas on a property with a high deer density. Deer observation rates in the 10-acre winter pea field were consistently high. Below, wildlife biologist Seth Basinger is seen standing in the field.
Soil Preparation & Planting
Prior to planting winter peas, a soil test should be conducted to determine lime and fertilizer needs to get nutrient levels in the high range (remember, winter peas do best with a neutral pH). Adding nitrogen (N) fertilizer isn’t necessary since winter pea is a legume and produces its own, however phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) should be applied at the recommended rates. Also, remember to inoculate winter pea with strain C unless using pre-inoculated seed. Doing so will help ensure healthy, vigorous plots that can endure adverse weather conditions and heavy browsing pressure.
Winter peas are very easy to establish and should be broadcast at a rate of 50 lbs./acre into a well-prepared seedbed, or they can be drilled at a rate of 30 lbs./acre with a no-till drill. If broadcasting peas, be sure to follow up with a light disking to cover the seed approximately 1 to 2 inches. If no-till planting, be sure to kill the existing vegetation with glyphosate a couple weeks prior to planting to eliminate weed competition and create a clean field prior to drilling seed.
With regard to planting dates, winter peas should be planted in September through October in the South. In northern states it should be planted in August, or in April for a spring/summer planting.
Avoid planting winter pea in pure stands. Instead, plant them in a mixture with other preferred species to extend the life of the food plot and minimize the risk of crop failure, overgrazing, and other problems. Winter pea is a great companion to various clover and cereal grain mixtures. Just remember to reduce the planting rates of each species according to the number of species used in the mixture. You’ll find specific recommended blends in QDMA’s book, Quality Food Plots, available in the online store.
In the full profile in Quality Whitetails magazine, I covered weed control options for Austrian winter peas. To start receiving more information about food plot management, become a member of QDMA today.
That significance of that relationship between peas and deer is not lost on a growing number of savvy hunters who are now using the succulent annual as the primary buck attractant in their food plots. Mark Turner of Turner Seed Co, Winchester, Kentucky has watched the popularity of peas, as food plot fodder; grow, as the word on its effectiveness has spread across his state. “Even though we increase our orders every year we have trouble keeping everyone supplied,” he says. “We’ve got customers who put in food plots every year who are crazy about these peas.”
It doesn’t take long for the word to spread says Turner. “These hunters talk to each other,” he says. “If something works for one pretty soon they are all trying it.”
Turner attributes much of the legume’s new found popularity in Kentucky to the fact that the high demand seed he carries is not a conventional public variety like the purple flowered Austrian winter pea. Instead, his pea, a white flowered plant, is a proprietary variety with specific characteristics that make it particularly effective in food plots. “My customers say that the number one thing that puts these white flower peas ahead of the others is palatability,” says Turner. “I have been told that the deer will walk straight through a stand of Austrians to get to these white flowered peas.”
Mark Turner of Turner Seed Co, Winchester, Kentucky has watched the popularity of peas, as food plot fodder; grow, as the word on its effectiveness has spread across his state.
He notes that his sales reflect that sentiment. Since Turner began carrying the white flower pea the demand, for the Austrian winter pea that he also carries, has plummeted. “That is primarily due to the popularity of the white flower peas,” he says. “Like the deer the hunters definitely have a preference for these new peas.”
Two of the most commonly available white flower winter peas are Nutrigreen by Frost Master and Whistler. Turner distributes Nutrigreen.
There Are Peas and There Are Peas
So what makes white flowered peas more palatable than purple flowered peas? For plant breeders, who are involved in developing strains of peas specifically for livestock forage, the question is more than rhetorical. It is common knowledge, in that research community, that the reddish purple coloration in the flowers, stems and leaves of specific pea plants is due to the presence of anthocyanin, a pigment producing flavanoid that also contributes to that plant’s bitterness. “The less anthocyanin a plant has the sweeter it is,” explains pea breeder Kurt Braunwart, Progene Plant Research of Othello, Washington. “While the color itself doesn’t affect the flavor the chemical that creates the color does.”
With this knowledge Braunwart has spent the last two decades selecting for light colored plants with little or no anthocyanin. Initially his work focused on producing high quality forage for the beef industry. “With cattle sweeter feed means higher intake, higher weight gain and more profits,” he recalls.
But when his licensees and distributors, several of whom sold product to hunters and outfitters, began receiving glowing reports on the white flower’s ability to attract the big bucks Braunwart began enhancing other plant qualities favorable to wildlife food plot establishment. Among these; now incorporated into his most recent pea releases are rapid establishment, vigorous regrowth and enhanced winter hardiness for stand longevity.
Proof in the Pudding
One of the first to recognize the potential of white flowered peas in game plots is Luther Wannamaker of L.B Wannamaker Seed and Wildlife Center located in St. Mathews, South Carolina. With a customer base that extends from the Carolinas through Florida Wannamacker has gained a well deserved reputation as one of the country’s leading authorities on growing wildlife food plots. “Our Wildlife Center is located in the center of South Carolina where the deer density is very high,” he says adding that his locale offers an ideal venue for evaluating new products. “We test everything to see what deer like the most.”
For Wannamaker white flower peas were long overdue when he first starting carrying them in 2006. “For years I have been hearing complaints that the Austrian Winter Pea wasn’t as attractive to deer as we had always hoped it would be,” he says. “With this new pea we have no problems getting the deer to eat them.”
In addition Wannamaker sees the frost hardiness of the white flower winter pea he carries as another important attribute. “The spring peas we’ve tried are too easily killed by the cold,” he says. “We need something that is tough enough to get us through the hunting seasons and into the late winter and early spring.”
Charlie Smith of River City Seed, Little Rock, Arkansas is also impressed by the palatability and frost hardiness of the white flower winter pea. As both a vendor of wildlife seed and an avid deer hunter Smith is well acquainted with establishing viable food plots in his state. “I put out some significant food plots on my personal land and my lease,” he says. “The number runs anywhere from 16 to 18 over the season.”
Staying Power Required
Food plots are normally planted in August and September in Arkansas after the real hot weather has subsided. “Bow season begins in October, muzzle loader in November and the modern gun season runs through December with late bow season going on into the middle of February,” says Smith. “Not only do we need peas that the deer like to eat but they also have to have some real staying power.”
He notes that this winter was a real test of the white flower pea’s ability to tolerate particularly harsh weather. “It was an exceptional winter with a lot of snow and ice and a whole lot of cold weather,” he says. “And those peas are not only survived but are still growing and were about knee high as of April.”
This is good news for Smith and others interested in maintaining a healthy deer population. He points out that while the primary goal is to keep food plots viable during hunting season there are some definite advantages to having plants survive through the winter and produce new growth in the spring. “These food plots can go a long way to helping the deer make it through the lean times before everything else greens up and the browse gets started,” says Smith noting that deer are still probably munching on his white flower pea vines as we speak.
Photos by Agscribe Media