Growing pea shoots, step by step

Apr 24, 2015

One of the easiest plants to grow inside are pea shoots, which are really just the first stage of growth of the pea plant. You won't get the sweet peas as a result, but you'll have plenty of that summer taste, even in the middle of winter, because the edible stems and leaves are packed with flavor, tasting far more intense than any supermarket peas.

Also, pea shoots have plenty of nutritional clout as well: vitamin A, C, and folic acid, mainly. It has seven times more vitamin C than blueberries, and boasts beta-carotenoids and antioxidants.

Talk about instant gratification. Most microgreens, including these pea shoots, are ready to eat less than weeks after planting. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

Here's a quick rundown of how to nurture these nutritional, delicious standouts:

  • Choose a flat, wide, open-style tray with drainage slots. This can be obtained from a greenhouse supply store, or you can use a container left over from buying blueberries or raspberries. The slots keep the soil from collecting too much moisture, which can quickly lead to mold in a shoots tray, even with adequate ventilation. That's because the seeds are sown so close to each other that without drainage, root rot can become an issue within just 24 hours of planting. When choosing a pot or tray, keep soil usage in mind. Because of those roots, the shoots don't need the type of soil depth you'd see with plant starts or even indoor herb gardens. Save soil by choosing a smaller container, and make harvest easier with a tray or pot that's shallow rather than deeper.

Use a shallow to medium depth container for planting pea shoots. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

Even though you can repurpose about anything you can imagine as a planting container, there is something to be said for the utility of purchased items made for planting compared to an old rubber boot. Plastic plant trays with drainage are not expensive. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

  • For soil, use either an indoor growing mix, or do a compost blend that works well for indoor growing. The most important part of soil prep is to add some water to the mix before planting, which helps to hold in moisture during the germination phase.
  • Begin by combining soil or compost with some water. When blending water and your medium, go for a consistency that's like a crumbly brownie mix — then pick up a handful and squeeze. If a few drops of water come out, that's perfect. If there's a steady stream of water, it means you've made the mixture too wet, and you should add more dry mix. It's not mandatory to pre-moisten the soil this way, and I've planted plenty of trays that did fine without it, but I've found that it can speed germination time by a few days if you use this method.
  • For seed prep, there's a simple way to speed germination time: just soak the seeds for about 24 hours before planting. In some cases, especially when the house feels on the colder side, I soak them for a day or two longer so that they begin to sprout before I plant them. This can reduce germination by up to a week in some cases. But be very careful about soaking during hot weather and for too much longer than about 72 hours maximum, because once they pass the stage where they're sprouting, they'll start to deteriorate and can't be planted.
  • Put soil mix into your container, making sure to spread soil evenly to create a level surface, especially along the sides. Then seed generously. You'll be creating a seed bed where the seeds look far too close together, but aren't overlapping. No need to poke holes in the seed mix, they can sit on top of the soil and grow perfectly well. Don't cover with more soil, since it's not necessary and can actually hinder quick germination.

Plant shoot seeds densely. Often, a second crop will pop up from the original seed planting after you harvest the first batch. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

  • Water very lightly, and then place an empty black tray over the top of the micro tray. This will help to keep the soil warm, and blocking the light for a few days helps the seeds to become healthier in general. You can peek inside if you want to see the magic, but be sure to replace the cover if the seeds haven't sprouted yet.

Do not cover the shoot seeds with planting medium. Make sure they have moisture and warmth and they’ll begin shooting in a couple of days. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

  • Once they show any sign of growth (about three to four days), remove the cover and water daily. Place under lights for at least eight hours per day. You can give them a blend of artificial light and sunlight if you're in a season or a geographic area where the sun is strong enough, but keep in mind that the shoots will bend toward the light, so rotate the tray daily if necessary. Otherwise, place the tray directly under your growing lights, about six inches from the tops of the plants. 

Watering shoots from beneath is a good way to hydrate the roots without flattening the tender stalks. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

Shoots are sort of a cross between microgreens and sprouts. You plant them in growing medium, but you let them mature until they are roughly the same stage of growth as sprouts. Corn sprouts are seen here. (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

  • When plants are about eight inches tall, and seem like they'll begin to bend over soon, harvest and enjoy.

Pea shoots take around two weeks to mature for eating. A] Newly planted; B] 3 days; C] One week; D] Two weeks (Photo: Crystal Liepa)

Favorite recipe: Pea Shoot Pesto

When I have peas in full harvest, I make this all the time:

  • 3 cups pea shoots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all in a food processor until it resembles a paste. Salt to taste.