Are sweet peas worth growing on your flower farm or in your garden?
As a farmer-florist, I’m always seeking to grow that special ingredient for a bouquet. Scent is a big factor for me! That’s why I love to grow foliage like cinnamon basil or scented geraniums.
But color and flower form are two other factors I look for as well. Obviously if a flower is big and bold, it makes a statement in and of itself. But if you add a powerful scent? Well, now you’re talkin’.
When I’ve read about sweet peas in the past, the image that comes to mind is that of an old English garden. Maybe an old lady with gray hair, deep wrinkles, and skin like leather.
That image may have been rooted in truth, but it isn’t accurate anymore. Most of us don’t live in England and didn’t have a granny with a green thumb and a cute British accent, to boot. If we’ve grown up in a family that gardens, it’s typically centered around vegetables.
We’re not talkin’ sweet peas, we’re talkin’ sugar snap peas.
Alright, I’ll confess. I fell in love with “the idea” of sweet peas because of Bath and Body Works’ sweet pea-scented lotion. There. I’m just gonna say it.
I didn’t have a grandma that grew sweet peas in her garden or that filled her house up with luscious, sweet-smelling bouquets. All I knew was that sweet peas were supposed to smell good because that lotion smelled good.
When I got into flower farming, I started to hear other flower farmers exclaim over this flower. I felt like I had to grow them, too. I’m a romantic, and I liked the image they spun in my head when they talked about sweet peas.
My Experience Growing Sweet Peas Thus Far
I think that every year I have flower-farmed I have tried to grow sweet peas. The first year I started them in cell trays, but it was so late in the season by the time I planted them out that they didn’t make it. Sweet peas like cool temperatures, not Midwest mid-May mayhem.
After the first year, I decided to be more serious.
I sowed the seeds in peat pots and placed the pots in my tiny cold frame that sat on the south side of my house. The seeds germinated, but then I received an email from my seed supplier that they had mistakenly packaged the wrong seed into the wrong package. Instead of this beautiful blue-toned sweet pea, I was actually growing some type of morningglory. The seeds germinated and I promptly threw them out!
Morningglory is a weed for me–not a flower.
In 2022, I was going to be serious about it. I finally had my 30’ by 96’ high tunnel up. I installed 7-ft t-posts down a row and set up 6-ft tall netting. I had taken The Farmhouse Flower Farm’s Sweet Pea School. I was ready to go.
In the past, I had never had a problem with germination of my sweet peas. It was just the growing part that was the problem.
The advice I got from the sweet pea school was to NOT soak sweet pea seeds. Instead, she said to plant the seeds and then soak the trays really well after planting. The reason she said not to soak the seeds was to prevent possible disease.
That didn’t work for me. By the time my seeds germinated, it was too hot in the tunnel. I had maybe 3 plants out of a 60-ft row actually bloom. The rest fizzled out from the heat.
So, in 2023, I decided I would try again. But this time I was going to soak the seeds like normal.
They germinated in their plug trays within 2 to 3 weeks. I set the trays out in the tunnel to continue growing in the cool temperatures.
In late April, I transplanted them into their bed. Every few weeks I fertilized them with a mixture of fish and seaweed emulsion.
FINALLY. I had the sweet pea crop of my dreams. Or so I thought…
Here’s a video where I talk more about my sweet pea season:
Insects were detrimental to my sweet pea crop.
The sweet peas were so lovely to use in bouquets. Even before the blooms were ready, the vines provided beautiful texture to bouquets with their quirky tendrils.
But then the bugs hit.
I had a massive thrip and aphid infestation. Thrips and aphids are bad because they’re small, they reproduce quickly, and they can transmit disease. They also can produce unsightly bloom damage.
The aphids weren’t that bad in the beginning (but they were later). It was the thrips that made me apprehensive to use the sweet peas in bouquets early on.
I was able to use some stems, particularly a purple Spencer variety. That one seemed the healthiest, and so it was almost like the bugs didn’t bother it as much.
But the Old Spice Cupani sweet peas were hardly harvestable.
Because I had been releasing beneficial insects, like lacewings, and I had a pretty healthy population of ladybug larvae, I didn’t want to spray anything.
I also have my own personal reasons for not spraying certain insecticides (when you see a family member have a reaction to one, you have a reason).
Many of the organic spray options are non-selective, meaning that they will kill the beneficial insects, too.
And since my sales had slowed down considerably after Mother’s Day, I found it wasn’t worth it to do a broad spectrum spray to kill the beneficial insects I had both cultivated and paid for.
What I Should Have Done Differently
In retrospect, I wish I would have sown some sweet peas outside, too. I think that the insect pressure would have been lower outside.
Sometimes the tunnel or greenhouse environments are just too perfect for Spring pests. Pests like aphids and thrips (and certain worms) have honestly been my biggest struggle when growing in a tunnel environment.
If I would have grown some sweet peas outside, they could have picked up the slack of my tunnel sweet pea crop.
But again, my sales had declined, so it wasn’t a big deal for me. But what if my sales hadn’t declined?
I kept track of my earlier harvests, so let’s dive into the data now to explore the impact these insects had on my farm income.
Sweet Pea Harvest Data
Here’s the data on my sweet pea harvests, including when they started and when I stopped keeping track because the insects took over:
- Soaked sweet pea seeds on February 3rd
- Planted trays a day later (4th and 5th, likely)
- Transplanted to tunnel in late March/early April (by April 14th for sure)
- First harvest of usable stems in mid-May
- Stopped harvesting after early June because of the pest pressure
|May 16th||5 stems|
|May 24th||100 stems|
|May 29th||140 stems|
|June 1st||200 stems|
Now, if I would have sold every stem, here’s how much income I would have made off of my sweet pea crop this year:
At certain wholesale prices, typically you could see $9 to 10 per bunch of 15 sweet pea stems. If you are cutting sweet peas with some vine attached, you could see prices of about $15 for 10 stems. Every market is different.
I cut mine just as flower stems, not with vine attached. So over the 3 weeks my sweet peas were producing well, that’s about 29 bunches total.
29 bunches x $9.00 per bunch = $261
Or, According to the University of Utah’s pricing:
$2.50 per bunch of 10 stems that are about 8 to 10 inches in length
445 stems / 10 stems per bunch = 45 bunches
45 bunches x $2.50 per bunch of 10 = $112.50
My sweet pea bed was set up like this: 2 rows that were approximately 60-ft long. The plants were planted 4 inches apart in the row, so that means I had about 350 to 360 plants total.
According to Cornell University, one sweet pea plant could produce on average 20 stems (and even up to 34 stems) per plant. I didn’t plant the same variety as Cornell’s research study, but let’s just say my 350 plants were to produce 20 stems per plant like the Cuthbertson’s mix that Cornell planted.
20 stems per plant x 350 plants = 7,000 stems
7,000 stems / 15 stems per bunch = 466.67 bunches (round to 466)
466 bunches x $9.00 per bunch = $4,194
Yes, my yields and potential revenue were pathetic when you look at these numbers.
What my harvest data says to me is that I did not reap the benefit I should have from the bed space that the sweet peas took up. Thankfully I did an interplanting experiment this year, where I planted ranunculus on the outside of the sweet pea bed. The ranunculus thrived.
Ending Thoughts on Growing Sweet Peas
If you’re a home gardener, I definitely think you should try growing sweet peas in your yard. Dedicate space along a forgotten fence-line or make yourself a rustic-looking bamboo trellis. Sow them in the early to mid-Spring directly into the soil and water well. Think of them like a garden pea (although sweet peas are toxic, so don’t eat them!). They smell so good and are easy to germinate.
From a production standpoint, the pests really hurt my sweet pea yield and overall bottom line.
If you want to sell sweet peas wholesale, you really need to dedicate some space to them. Is it worth it to grow indoors when you can grow ranunculus or anemones? Probably not.
If you’re growing for weddings, I think they are worth it to grow sweet peas outside as a supplement to other Spring flowers because they can be productive, unique, and fairly easy to get started.
My overall recommendation when growing a sizable quantity of sweet peas (organically or naturally) would be to grow them outside if you can, so that you’re not taking up valuable tunnel space and attracting pests to your other crops. Tunnel growing is a different beast altogether when it comes to pest pressure.
Obviously my production numbers could have looked way different had I been able to harvest all the way into June like I was hoping to!