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published: 22 Jul 2009 last updated: 07 Jan 2015
The wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the neolithic era of current Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800–4400 BC in the Nile delta area, and from ca. 3800–3600 BC in Upper Egypt. The pea was also present in Georgia in the 5th millennium BC. Farther east, the finds are younger. Peas were present in Afghanistan ca. 2000 BC, in Harappa, Pakistan, and in northwest India in 2250–1750 BC. In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, this pulse crop appears in the Gangetic basin and southern India.
The seeds may be planted as soon as the soil temperature reaches 10 °C (50 °F), with the plants growing best at temperatures of 13 to 18 °C (55 to 64 °F). They do not thrive in the summer heat of warmer temperate and lowland tropical climates, but do grow well in cooler, high altitude, tropical areas. Many cultivars reach maturity about 60 days after planting.
In the recent past the field pea was mainly used as a leguminous constituent in cereal/legume mixtures grown for arable silage (and this is still the main purpose for which it is used). Following breeding efforts in Europe, forage pea cultivars were developed which gave high yields of forage, 6-8 t/ha DM, circa 100 days after sowing when pure-sown (Flengmark, 1973). These forage cultivars have been increasingly used in Europe and other temperate areas e.g. north-central USA, though their use as short-term ‘catch’ crops is still secondary to their use in arable silage mixtures. Forage peas can also be grown in the tropics at high altitudes and as a cool-season (winter) crop in some regions with hot dry summers. Forage peas, and other legumes such as red clover, are being increasingly used in organic farming to supply a bulky, protein-rich crop.