The wonderful green vegetables called the peas are one of the most versatile vegetables in the world. They can be stir-fried and eaten with a spoon, pureed and cooked in soup, steamed in rice, served in salads and garnished on entrees.
They are also extremely delicious.
Furthermore, peas are an excellent source of fibers, potassium, folate, Vitamin A, C, and B6, magnesium, and iron. Strictly speaking, they are legumes and not vegetables. Legumes contain plants which produce pods with seeds inside them. Some other important legumes are chickpeas, French beans, and peanuts.
- Origin of Peas
- Types of Peas
- Garden Peas
- Snow Peas
- Sugar Snap Peas
- How to Grow Peas
- Best pea varieties
- Are peas a vegetable?
- Types of Garden Peas
- For me, Garden Peas are Sweet Enough to Eat Like Candy
- Growing Garden Peas – Tips and Tricks
- Do I need supports?
- It pays to know what types of peas you are growing.
- What Are the Different Types of Pea Plant?
- Pisum Sativum
- Fat or Skinny?
- Sunny but Cool
- Spring Sprinkles Should Do the Trick
- Here Come the Bugs
- You Can Eat the Whole Plant
- A Salad Bar of Your Own Making
- Plump or Lean, It’s All Good
- Peas from the Pod
- Simple, Perfect Peas with Butter and Salt
- Spring Pea slathered Crostini
- Hand-cut Chive Raviolis bursting with Sweet English Pea Puree
- My Well-behaved (now more nutritional) Pasta Dough
- A Tasty Green Tart that should’ve had a Different Crust
- Peas For Shelling: What Are Some Common Shelling Pea Varieties
- Shelling Pea Information – What are Shelling Peas?
- Planting Peas for Shelling
- Shelling Pea Varieties
Origin of Peas
When exactly peas were first discovered remains a mystery; however, there have been many speculations which suggest possible origins, including Middle Asia, specifically Burma and Thailand with expansion to Afghanistan, the eastern rim of the Mediterranean basin, and the mountainous and plateau ranges of Ethiopia.
Fossilized pea pods found in Switzerland dates as far back as 10,000 years. In the 3rd century BC, Theophrastus was recorded mentioning peas sown in later winter. Pea cultivation is believed to spread throughout the Indus Valley Civilization, China, and Europe in the 2nd millennium BC. The Roman legionaries were recorded to gather wild peas to supplement their rations in 1st century BC.
Peas were brought to North America by Christopher Columbus in 1942, where they were quickly adopted by the Native Americans. During the Middle Ages, peas were a stable diet that kept famine at bay and in the Early Modern European era, immature, fresh peas were prized as gourmet food.
Types of Peas
These days there are three major types of peas, with dozens of varieties between them:
- English Peas
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Snow Pea
Botanical name: Pisum sativum
Garden peas, also known as shell peas and English peas are the most common type of peas. Garden peas have smooth and fleshy, cylindrical green pods that are curved and plump. Since their pod is tough and fibrous, it cannot be digested and this variety of peas needs to be shelled. They contain plump, round, sweet-tasting seeds.
They are very nutritious and delicious; however, they require a lot of shelling, so many people prefer to get shelled and frozen garden peas from the market, which may not be as tasty as the freshly shelled ones.
The garden pea has many cultivars:
This variety of pea produces a lot of pods per plants. Each pod has an average of 7 peas inside. It has a mildly sweet flavor and is ready in 60 days.
This variety of peas is almost leafless and has very tough and stringy vines which cling together. The plant is about two feet tall producing pea pods with an average of 8 peas.
This variety is very popular among the masses as it is a very hardy cultivar. Wando peas can tolerate warm to cold weathers easily. They have dark green pods which produce 7-8 medium-sized peas, which are ready in 70 days. They have a moderately sweet taste and are good for freezing or drying.
As the name implies, this pea is very sweet with a 3 ½ inches pod containing 8-9 peas. It can be ready in 75 days and is considered one of the most delicious varieties of garden peas.
These peas are about 4 inches long. They have 8 to 9 dark green and very plump peas. They have a moderately sweet taste.
This cultivar comprises of crescent-shaped 3 ½ inches long pods, which produce 8 to 9 tender, medium-sized green peas. This variety is a very prolific producer, is resistant to dry and hot weathers and can be ready in 65 days.
The pods of the Lincoln peas contain 7-8 large and tender peas. These peas taste sweet, are tolerant to heat, freeze well, and can be ready in 70 days.
Mr. Big Peas
As the name implies, this cultivar produces extra-large peas with 9 to 10 seeds in each dark green pod. This variety is moderately sweet and is a prize-winning cultivar.
This cultivar produces a high yield and has 4 ½ inches long dark green pods with 10 to 11 mid-sized seeds. The pea is moderately sweet and is generally ready in 60 days. It is a good variety to harvest in the fall.
This cultivar produces 3-inch long pea pods with 7 to 8 seeds. These peas are medium sized, tender, and sweet and are ready in 65 days.
The Misty Shell is a prolific producer which bears 3-inch large pea pods with 7 to 8 peas each. These peas are plump and sweet and can be cultivated in 60 days.
Botanical name: Pisum sativum var. saccharatum
Snow peas are also known as Chinese peas because they are used in a lot of Chinese cuisines. They are also known by their French name “mangetout,” which means to eat it all. You can instantly recognize snow peas form garden peas as they have an almost flat shell with no distinct pea-shape inside. Unlike garden peas, these peas have edible pods and in fact, are grown for their pods rather than the seeds inside.
Snow peas come in several different varieties:
This is one of the shorter pea plants with an average height of just 18 inches. They produce a high yield with 3 inches long pods containing moderately sweet peas. It takes them about 60 days to get ready.
This eccentrically-named pea produces pods that are about 3 inches long. They contain sweet and tender peas, which are resistant to diseases. They grow up in 70 days.
This variety contains 3-inch long tender pods, which contain moderately sweet peas. This cultivar is generally ready in 65 days.
Mammoth Melting Sugar
This is a very tall variety of pea with plants reaching up to 4 to 5 feet in height. They produce 5 ½ inches thick pods, which are indeed relatively mammoth-sized. The peas have a sweet flavor and get ready in 70 days. They are one of the best types of peas for cooking as they can tolerate high temperature and longer cook times very well.
Oregon Sugar Pods
This variety of pea plant is also considerable long, with the plant standing at 2 ½ feet in height. The pods inside are very sweet and tender and the pea variety is resistant to disease. It can be ready in 70 days.
Oregon Sugar Pod #2
Interestingly, there are two types of Oregon Sugar Pods. This plant gives a high yield with typically two pods per group. The seeds are very sweet and tender and are encased in 4-inch long pods. This cultivar can be ready in 70 days.
This is a prolific variety and produces 6 inch long dark green snow pea pods. The cultivar is quite resistant to diseases and contains sweet and tender seeds.
Sugar Snap Peas
Botanical name: Pisum sativum var. marcrocarpon
At first glance, sugar snap peas look almost identical to the garden peas. However, the sugar snap can be differentiated by the shape of its pea pod, which is slightly more cylindrical than the garden pea variety. Sugar snap peas are a hybrid of snow peas and a mutant garden pea. Therefore, these peas contain properties of both of its parent pea varieties.
Like garden peas, the seeds are allowed to become round and plump before they are shelled. However, the pods of sugar snap peas are thick, crisp, and crunchy and can be eaten. These peas do not need to be shelled and are cooked with their pods, like snow peas.
Sugar snap peas are also more tolerant of hot weather than garden peas. Some famous varieties of sugar snap peas are listed below.
The Sugar Bon cultivar produces 3 inches long pods, which are very sweet. This plant is also quite resistant to diseases and can be ready in 55 days.
This is a prize-winning variety with vines that can reach as high as 6 feet. The sugar snap produces a high yield, with pods that are 3 inches long and very sweet.
Super Snappy peas are a special pea variety featuring very large pods, which contain up to 10 seeds. These peas are extra sweet and very crisp and are resistant to diseases. It is ready in 65 days.
Super Sugar Snap VP
This plant is a very prolific producer and can grow to be 5 to 6 feet long. The pod is about 3 inches long and sweeter than the original variety of sugar snap peas. It takes about 65 days to be ready and is very resistant to disease.
This variety of pea produces pods which contain about 7 peas each. The pea pods are very sweet and crisp. The plant is very disease-resistant and can be ready in 55 days.
How to Grow Peas
Harvesting Garden Peas
Garden peas mature very quickly and bush varieties get ready in 50 days. When the pods look full, plump, and bright green, it’s time to harvest them. Make sure you don’t let the peas get too fat inside the shell or they will take on a yellowish color and bitter taste and turn starchy. However, don’t harvest too early either or the peas will be very small and not as sweet. The best way to determine when they are ripe enough is to gently squeeze them between your fingers to test their plumpness and tenderness.
English peas do not store well and their natural sugars can quickly turn into starch. Therefore, it is best to consume them all 3 to 4 days after picking.
Harvesting Snow Peas
The snow pea pods are translucent under the sunshine and you can make out the peas inside, once they start to form. Snow peas typically take the longest to mature, especially the taller cultivars, even though you do not have to wait for the peas inside to grow plump. They can be harvested when the pod has grown to its full length but still remains flat. These peas must be picked regularly so that the pods remain sweet and non-fibrous. If you missed some mature pods in the first picking, you must remove them from the plant and use the still-growing peas inside like garden peas. However, the large, plump seeds inside may need to be thrown out as they are bitter.
Harvesting Sugar Snap Peas
Like snow peas, sugar snap peas also need to be harvested after every 1 t 3 days. These peas are at their crunchiest and sweetest when the pod first begins to get plump but the seeds inside are still growing. At this stage, the pod snaps like green beans and can be eaten. Some varieties also come with strings along their seams that must be removed before cooking. If left too long on the vine, their pods become tough with fiber and become inedible. You can then shell these peas and eat them like garden peas.
Sugar snap peas can grow and produce more peas as long as the weather stays pleasant and the plant remains in good health.
Temperature & Sunlight
Peas are cool-weather crops. They will not grow when warmer weather hits so make sure you plant them by early spring. If not, they will not flower and hence, you won’t get any pea pods.
Peas can also survive in a light frost. Areas with mild temperatures may get a second crop of fall peas, but first, you will need to manage the peas during the unpredictable temperatures of the last few weeks of the summer.
It is also important to know that peas prefer 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight every day, though they can also survive in shadier spots.
Peas do not have deep roots so it is important to keep the soil around the roots moist and cool. You can start mulching when the roots of the plant are two inches long.
Peas prefer mulches made of chopped leaves, compost, leaf mulch, and clean straw. Keep in mind that you may have to add more mulch to the plant as it grows.
The days to maturity of peas can vary according to their cultivar. Most peas mature within 55 to 70 days, so check your see packaging for instructions. How long it takes for seeds to germinate depends on the soil temperature.
It is important to note that water is very important when peas are flowering and producing pods. Therefore, you need to water the plants deeply every week. If they don’t get the moisture they need, the plants will produce only a light harvest.
Peas are quite low maintenance when it comes to their feeding and doesn’t need to be fertilized. If you do feed them fertilizers, which contain nitrogen, they will produce a lot of lush foliage, instead of the pea pods. So it is best to keep fertilizers to the minimum.
Pest and Diseases
Fortunately, a lot of varieties of peas are resistant to pests and diseases. However, sometimes they may be infected with Fusarium wilt and root rot disease.
The symptoms of these diseases are wilting and yellowed lower leaves and stunted growth. Older plants that become infected produce pods with missing seeds. If left untreated, the stems will become thick and black and the plant will eventually die. You can prevent this by keeping the soil well-drained.
We hope you were able to learn a good deal about the different varieties of peas. Though the shelled and frozen varieties are easily available in supermarkets, nothing tastes as good as peas that are grown organically in your own garden!
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Best pea varieties
PEAS FOR SHELLING
They’re ready to pick when their pods fill with sweet, plump peas.
‘Dual’ is a new variety that produces 10 to 14 peas per pod, compared to 8 to 10 peas of most other varieties. A bush type, it bears many pods in pairs, instead of singly.
‘Garden Sweet’, another new variety, contains 25 percent more sugar than most peas and stays sweet longer after picking (up to 48 hours) than other peas. A vining type, it reaches 3 to 4 feet.
‘Maestro’ also produces many double pods on a bush-type plant over a relatively long season. Excellent disease resistance.
‘Novella II’ is a semi-leafless bush type. Excellent disease resistance.
PEAS WITH EDIBLE PODS
You eat them pod and all.
Snow peas. Bred to be harvested young, their flat pods are perfect for stir-fries. The two most widely sold varieties, ‘Oregon Giant’ and ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’, are bush types. If you wait too long to harvest most snow peas, they develop a string that you have to remove before eating, but ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ is virtually stringless.
Snap peas. These are ready to pick as soon as the peas swell the pods. If you leave them on the vine too long, most snaps develop a string. ‘Sugar Snap’ and ‘Super Sugar Snap’ are extra-sweet vining types (to 6 feet). ‘Sugar Ann’ and the stringless ‘Sugar Sprint’ are bush types. ‘Mega’, also a bush type, handles both colder and hotter weather better than many others.
Burpee Seeds: (800) 888-1447 or www.burpee.com.
Nichols Garden Nursery: (800) 422-3985 or www.nicholsgardennursery.com.
Territorial Seed Company: (541) 942-9547 or www.territorialseed.com.
Vermont Bean Seed Company: (803) 663-0217 or www.vermontbean.com.
West Coast Seeds: (604) 952-8820 or www.westcoastseeds.com.
Sweet green peas are a very versatile vegetable. They are one of the first vegetables to mature in the spring and can be used in all sorts of recipes. There are several types of peas to choose from.
For me, vegetable gardening means growing lots of peas. Anyone who knows me well, is aware that my all time favorite treat as a snack is fresh garden peas straight from the vines.
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My birthday is late in April, and each year, here in North Carolina, just about the time of my birthday, I start going to the Farmer’s market each week. The main reason is because that is when the fresh peas become available in our hardiness zone.
Garden peas are the small round seed or the seed-pod of the plant Pisum sativum. Each pod contains several peas, sometimes large and in the case of snow peas, sometimes very small.
Are peas a vegetable?
The answer to this is a bit complicated. They look like a vegetable and are served as an accompaniment to protein sources.
Many people do count peas as a vegetable since they are an excellent sources of dietary fiber and nutrients such as folate and potassium. Some count them as a protein food and many vegetarians use them as a substitute for meat. Others consider them a starchy vegetable.
Strictly speaking, garden peas are a part of the legume family, not the vegetable family. Legumes are plants that produce pods with the seeds inside. Other legumes are beans, chick peas and peanuts.
Types of Garden Peas
For someone who loves garden peas as much as I do, it’s a good thing that there are several garden pea varieties to choose from. What are the differences in the sweet pea varieties? They may look alike but have different uses.
When we think of growing sweet peas, the thought of those round sweet orbs come to mind. This is probably the most popular type, but there are other varieties of peas as well.
There are basically three types of peas that the home gardener can grow.
- English Peas
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Snow Peas.
Each variety has similarities but the shape, taste and use can be quite different.
This is the type of pea that most people think of when they talk about growing peas. They are round and plump, very sweet tasting and often used as a side dish and in recipes.
English peas are also known as garden peas, common peas and shelling peas. They do not have edible pods. You will often find them in spring and fall at your local Farmer’s market. Mine sells them in pods and also shelled.
The pods of English peas are smooth but have a tough and fibrous texture. This makes them difficult and unpleasant to eat in the shell, and is the reason that they are used as a shelled vegetable.
Unlike snow peas, English peas are harvested when the shells are plump and full. I find that there is an optimum time to harvest, though. If you allow the peas to get too plump in the shell, they take on a more bitter taste, instead of the sweet taste we are looking for.
English peas mature very quickly. Bush varieties will be ready to harvests in about 50 days. When the pods are full and you can start to feel the peas inside to test them. The peas should be full in the pod and a colorful green color that is sweet.
The pods of English peas have a very slight curve to them. They are more nutritious than sugar snap or snow peas, but their labor intensive steps of shelling means that you’ll usually only find them frozen, not fresh.
Note: You can find shelled English peas at both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market as well as some grocery stores, but I don’t find them as sweet as those grown in the garden. If you want that fresh sweet taste, your best plan of action is to grow them yourself (or make a trip to the Farmer’s Market when they are in season.)
Garden peas are great cooked as a side dish and can also be incorporated into many recipes. I love to incorporate them into pasta dishes like this creamy garlic chicken tetrazzini and spaghetti with peas.
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake sugar snap peas for garden peas. They look quite similar. One difference is that the green pods of sugar snap peas have more of a cylindrical shape.
Sugar snap peas can be thought of as a cross between English peas and snow peas. They have slightly plump peas inside the shells.
The overall look of sugar snap peas is similar to English peas but they are not as plump because the pea inside is normally smaller. Both the pod and the pea inside are sweet tasting. They can be eaten raw.
The main difference between sugar snap peas and garden peas is that sugar snaps have a edible pea pods so they don’t need to be shelled.
Sugar snap peas are used in recipes in the same way that snow peas are and are also great as a snack or raw vegetable.
I enjoy growing sugar snap peas to harvest them to use in a stir fried side dish. See my recipe for sugar snap peas, baby tomatoes and roast potatoes.
It is easy to tell the snow pea plant from the other two types of garden peas. They have a flat shell with no pronounced pea shape inside.
Snow peas are also known as Chinese peas, since they are often used in Chinese cooking. The French name for snow peas is mangetout, which means “eat it all.”
The pods of snow peas are almost flat. In fact, they are grown for the pod and not for the pea inside.
For me, Garden Peas are Sweet Enough to Eat Like Candy
English peas hardly ever make it to my dinner table. My daughter and I scoop up a basket of them, shell them and eat them while we watch TV. Everyone around us thinks we are nuts, but we treat them almost like candy!
Growing Garden Peas – Tips and Tricks
All types of peas are a cool weather crop. If you don’t get them into the ground early in the spring, they will stop flowering when the warm weather hits and the flowers are what make the pods.
Pea plants can even tolerate light frosts. Get the seeds into the ground as early as possible. There is a saying: “Plant peas by St. Patrick’s Day” and this applies to may of us in the USA. Check your temperatures and plant peas about a month prior to your last frost-free date.
Raised beds will allow you to get seeds in the ground earlier than if you sow directly into soil.
Some mild zones can also get a second crop in the fall, but you will have to deal with end of summer warm temps and these can be unpredictable.
The roots of peas are very shallow so mulching is necessary to keep the soil around the roots cool and to preserve moisture. Start mulching when the roots are about two inches tall.
Good mulches for peas are clean straw, leaf mulch, chopped leaves or compost. As the plants mature, add more mulch to make watering easier.
Peas are considered a legume, so they can make do in a shadier spot than some other vegetables but they do best with 6-8 hours or direct sunlight a day.
Days to maturity
Check your seed packages. Most peas are ready for harvest in 60-70 days. The date to maturity is based on the date of seeding, but soil temperatures can vary so this can affect how long it takes the seeds to germinate.
Use the information as a guide to determine whether your plants are early, mid-season, and late varieties rather than how many days it will take to get peas.
It is often suggested to space vegetable seeds out when sowing, but placing pea seeds close together will crowd out weeds and keep the soil cool. Don’t thin peas when the germinate, especially climbing varieties.
Peas are very light feeders so they generally don’t need to be fertilized. Also keep in mind that some fertilizers have too much nitrogen which will make plants produce lush foliage. You want those flowers to get the pods!
Peas need to be watered deeply once a week. In the spring when rain is plentiful, Mother Nature can take care of this, but if you don’t get rain weekly add some to make sure the plants get the moisture they need. If you allow the soil to dry out, you will have a light harvest of peas.
Water is especially important when the plants are flowering and producing pods.
Do I need supports?
Pea plants come in bush and vine variety. The bush plants will grow to about 3 feet tall and can manage without supports but even this type will benefit from some form of support.
For climbing peas, supports are necessary. Adding support for pea plants not only directs the growth of the vine but also keeps it off the ground (so you have less disease) and makes harvesting the peas easier.
The vines of the peas will sent out little shoots that will attach to poles, wires and even other plants. You can see from the shape of the shoots that they really want to attach themselves to something!
Types of support for peas
You can purchase special pea trellis or get creative. These all work well:
- Stakes in the ground
- Poles with string connecting them in rows
- Chicken wire
- Plant Teepees
- Old fencing
I like to use wire of some sort, since this supports the entire area of the plant and makes one wall of them which also looks nice.
It pays to know what types of peas you are growing.
I am such a dunce at times. I planted peas last year and didn’t look at the package. Just popped them in the ground and they started growing.
We had a great harvest of green peas right into November but I kept thinking “these are the hardest peas to shell that I have ever had.” They were sweet and I persevered, but it finally hit me that I had planted sugar snap peas and not garden peas.
Next year, I will check the packet of pea seeds much more carefully!
Admin note: This post for growing garden peas first appeared on the blog in January of 2013. I have updated the post to add information on the various types of peas, and have added a printable project card and video for you to enjoy.
Active Time 60 days Total Time 60 days Difficulty easy
- Seeds for English peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas
- Print out this project card and staple it to your package of peas to remind you of growing tips.
- Sunlight: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
- Watering: Need to be watered deeply once a week.
- Fertilizing: Peas do not need extra fertilizer. (this can result in lush foliage and low harvest)
- Mulching: Add a layer of mulch when the peas are about 2 inches tall
- Supports: All types of peas benefit from staking or growing on trellises or other supports
- Days to Harvest: Depends on type, normally 60-70 days.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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What Are the Different Types of Pea Plant?
Sugar snap peas are known as Pisum sativum v. macrocarpon. Some pea varieties present as a bush; sugar snap cultivars grow as a pea vine. Sugar snap peas require support in the form of a trellis or other climbing system in order to thrive. Sugar snap peas are more adaptable than other pea plant types because they are able to grow in warmer temperatures than other pea types.
Some edible crops bear the name pea but are not directly related to garden peas. Vigna unguiculata, or the cow pea, is a drought-tolerant food crop that, unlike garden peas, is grown in warm, dry, sub-tropical regions of the world. Like garden peas, the cow pea is a legume and produces seeds in a pod. The seed pods of the cow pea are dissimilar in shape and color to garden peas; cow pea pods are longer and have a paler color.
Pigeon peas, Cajanus cajan, are a legume grown in wet, tropical areas of the world. Used as a food crop, pigeon peas bear little resemblance to their garden pea cousins. This pea type is a perennial that grows into neither the bush or vine type seen in most peas; pigeon peas grow into small trees at maturity.
Not all garden plants called peas are actual peas. The sweet pea plant, Lathyrus odoratus, is an annual flowering vine. Sweet pea vines are typically grown for their flowers, rather than their value as a crop. Like their edible namesakes, sweet pea flowers produce seed pods. Sweet peas, unlike their true pea counterparts, are potentially harmful if ingested.
Opinions may differ, of course, but many gardeners will tell you that freshly picked peas (Pisum sativum) deliver a nearly unmatched pleasure.
Fresh-off-the-vine peas deliver a crisp crunch, an unmistakably bright and complex flavor, and because they are often the first spring crop to be harvested, the first promise of summer’s bounty yet to come.
In this growing guide, we’ll learn about the types of peas available to home gardeners, when and where to plant them, and most importantly, when to harvest and eat them.
Let’s get started!
Fat or Skinny?
Broadly, there are two categories of this vegetable: edible pod, and non-edible pod.
And within these two categories, there are dwarf – or bush – types, which get to a height of 16 to 30 inches at maturity, and the tall – or telephone – types, which can grow three feet or taller.
The dwarf cultivars tend to produce their crop all at once, much like a determinate tomato, whereas the tall varieties bear fruit over a longer period. Some gardeners prefer the easier harvestability of the taller varieties.
You can often get away without trellising bush varieties, whereas with the tall ones, you’ll almost certainly need to provide support.
Garden peas, also known as English peas, are non-edible pod types, and must be shelled before the green orbs within are eaten, either raw or cooked.
Heirloom Green Arrow Pea Seeds
‘Green Arrow’ is a popular heirloom open pollinated dwarf garden type, and is available from Eden Brothers in sizes ranging from 1 ounce to 10 lbs.
If you’d like to try a tall variety, consider ‘Alderman,’ such as these from Stonysoil Seed Company, available via Amazon.
Heirloom ‘Alderman’ Seeds
This heirloom variety will grow up to 7 feet tall, and you’ll get approximately 50 seeds per packet.
Snow peas (P. sativum var. saccharatum), sometimes called Chinese pea pods, are of the edible-pod type. They’re nearly as flat as a flash drive, with tiny peas inside the pod. They’re often used in stir fries.
If you’re looking to grow a snow variety, consider ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ from Burpee.
‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ Seeds
You can order packets of 300 or 900 seees that will develop into 28-inch-tall plants. Seed packets that have been grown and harvested using purely organic methods are also available.
Sugar snaps are a blend of garden and snow. They’re plump like garden peas, but have a tender, edible pod like the snow variety.
If you’d like to grow sugar snaps, consider Burpee’s ‘Super Sugar Snap.’
‘Super Sugar Snap’ Pea Seeds
This variety gets about 60 inches tall, and is available from Burpee.com in packages of 300 or 900.
Sunny but Cool
P. sativum is a frost-hardy, cool-weather crop. Plant seeds in full sun as soon as the soil can be worked, when the soil temperature is at least 45°F.
If you live in an areas with warm summers, you’ll want to get your seeds in the ground as early as you can, because once temps hit 85°F, it’s adios P. sativum.
These legumes prefer well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. They’re happiest in soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5.
Plant the seeds 1 to 1 ½ inches deep and one inch apart. Space rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin seedlings to two or three inches between each after they’ve emerged, keeping the strongest specimens.
Add mulch to your planting area, to help retain moisture at the drip line.
Spring Sprinkles Should Do the Trick
These plants need a good amount of water, especially when pods are forming. If you get an inch of spring rains weekly, you’re in good shape. Anything less than that and you’ll have to supplement.
If soil tests warrant it, you can feed with phosphorus. But these plants gather their own nitrogen, so they don’t need supplements of that nutrient.
You’ll want to keep the garden area free of weeds by pulling the interlopers by hand.
Here Come the Bugs
P. sativum can be afflicted by aphids, which can be treated with neem oil such as this one from Bonide, available via Amazon.
Bonide Ready-to-Use Neem Oil, 32 Oz.
This 32-ounce spray bottle is ready to use, and can also be used to treat powdery mildew, another problem from which this plant can suffer.
Monterey Bt Biological Insecticide, 32 Oz.
Cutworms are another potential pest of this plant. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth around your plants to discourage these moth larvae, or use a Bt product, such as this one from Monterey, available through Amazon.
You Can Eat the Whole Plant
Harvest English types before the peas have completely filled the pod. These veggies should be shelled and eaten as soon as possible – they will last only two to three days in the refrigerator.
You can also allow the English types to fully mature and dry on the vine, and then harvest the dried peas for use in soups, or to plant next year.
Snow peas should be picked as soon as they reach edible size. Consult the seed packet for optimal size at maturity, depending on your cultivar.
Pick sugar snaps while tender, as soon as the pods swell.
Snow and snap peas will remain tasty for as long as a week in the refrigerator. Just wait to wash them until you’re ready to eat.
Keep in mind: some varieties will need to have the strings removed before cooking.
The vines of these plants are also edible, and because they are the most tender and delicious when the plant is very young, some gardeners plant extra seeds just to harvest the tendrils and shoots, before the pods even form. They’re delicious added to fresh early-season salads.
A Salad Bar of Your Own Making
These green bits of goodness are wonderful sources of protein, fiber, and iron, and we’ve collected some recipes that are as tasty as they are healthful:
Let’s start with a fresh pesto pasta salad . English peas combine with other garden delights – basil and spinach – to create a refreshing summer salad.
Another salad from Foodal, made with black rice and a red wine vinaigrette, combines a hearty grain with greens, radishes, carrots, and our tasty emerald orbs.
Mushroom mattar masala is a delicious vegetarian side dish, especially when it’s made with fresh vegetables from the garden. The Magic Saucepan shares the recipe for this one.
Or for a delectable casserole entree, try this lasagna bianca from Sugar Love Spices, with white sauce, asparagus, peas, and mushrooms.
For a change of pace, how about a creamy pesto zucchini pasta with peas? This quick dinner from The Fitchen makes use of coconut milk and white wine vinegar, with spiralized summer squash “noodles.”
Plump or Lean, It’s All Good
Nothing sings the promise of summer veggies to come like the springy flavor of peas, whether they’re chubby BBs thumbed from the shell, or flat as a stick of Wrigley’s and waiting to be sliced into a salad.
Among the few veggies that can take a frost with no ill effect, peas are easy to grow, provided you give them rich soil and plenty of water.
Do you grow this legume? Which variety grows best in your neck of the woods? Share your experience in the comments section below. And if you’d like to learn about another spring vegetable, check out our rhubarb growing guide.
Product photos via David’s Garden Seeds, Stonysoil Seed Company, Burpee, Bonide, and Monterey. Uncredited photos: .
About Gretchen Heber
A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.
Peas from the Pod
Pea, Butter Lettuce & Herb Salad
When I was growing up in England, I knew spring had finally arrived when my grandmother started tossing young, freshly shelled peas just barely blanched in boiling water with chopped fresh mint and a generous knob of butter. I loved the pure, sweet flavor of those peas and their amazing tenderness, with just a hint of crunch. They were available for only a few short weeks, so we ate them almost every day until we could no longer find them at the store.
Fast-forward a couple of decades. Not much has changed now that I’m a chef in New York. In May, when mounds of green pea pods begin to appear in local markets, I buy pounds of them several times a week so I don’t miss out on this rare spring treat. And while I admit that shelling all those peas isn’t my favorite activity, having lots of fresh, sweet, bright-green peas at hand to make tasty side dishes or to toss in salads or pastas is the ultimate indulgence of the season—and more than enough reward for a little time spent shelling.
What you need to know about buying & storing fresh peas
Choose small, very fresh peas. For best flavor, choose small peas, which are younger, sweeter, and more tender than large ones, and make sure they’re as fresh as possible. Once picked, peas’ high sugar content changes, causing them to lose much of their sweetness and become starchy and dull. You know peas are fresh when their pods are firm and green, so avoid any that are yellowing or wilting. Go for medium pods rather than large, thick-skinned ones, which are more mature and contain larger, tougher peas. Break open a pod and check the peas inside. They should be small, bright green, and firm; if you taste one, it should be tender and sweet.
If all you can find are large, mature peas, opt for frozen peas instead. Mature peas are not as tender and sweet as young ones, and they’re less versatile. They need to be cooked longer and more slowly, and I find that their firmer texture works well only in stews and braises.
Use them quickly or freeze them. Peas don’t have much of a shelf life, so I don’t recommend storing them —in their pods or shelled—for very long. Store pods in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and use them within a couple of days. Once they’re shelled, the best way to store peas is to freeze them. First blanch them for a minute or two in boiling salted water and then shock them in an ice-water bath until cool, to help maintain their bright color. Drain and freeze them in zip-top bags. They will keep for five to six months.
What I also like about peas—aside from their sweet flavor—is that they take only a few minutes to cook, particularly when they’re very fresh and young, so they’re a perfect ingredient for fast weeknight dishes. In fact, the secret to maintaining their sweetness and bright-green color is to cook them as little as possible, just enough to make them tender. What’s more, peas lend themselves to almost any cooking method, from boiling and steaming to sautéing, stir-frying, and quick-braising. You can make them the star of a side dish, as in my quick-braised peas, purée them into a soup, add them to a stew, or briefly blanch them and toss them in risottos or pastas. And when they’re small and tender, they’re also great raw in salads.
Peas’ mild sweetness pairs well with many different flavors. Cured meats like bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, smoked ham, and chorizo work wonderfully with peas, as their pronounced saltiness complements peas’ gentle flavor. Fresh mint is also a classic flavor partner, bringing peas to life in an instant. But I also like pairing peas with other fresh spring herbs such as basil, chervil, chives, dill, and tarragon. Peas are a natural with onions, scallions, and other alliums, and they pair well with other spring vegetables like asparagus, new potatoes, carrots, and fava beans. When I cook peas as a side dish, I serve them with chicken, lamb, or duck and with any kind of fish, especially cod, salmon, and scallops.
Pea & Shrimp Penne with Basil
Great tips for working with peas:
- In a pinch, use frozen peas. If you can’t find good fresh peas or you crave peas when the season’s over, frozen peas are a terrific alternative. They’re usually picked when they’re young and tender and immediately frozen, so they will often taste sweeter than fresh peas that have been hanging around for too long. You can use frozen peas in all these recipes if sweet fresh ones aren’t available.
- When buying fresh peas, remember that 1 pound of peas in their pods yields about 6 ounces (1 cup) shelled peas.
- Don’t throw those pods away—make broth. After you’ve shelled all those peas, save the empty pods for making a simple pea broth, which you can use to enhance the flavor of soups, stews, and braises, including the ones here. To make the broth, put the pods in a large pot and cover with water by at least 1 inch. Add a pinch of salt and a roughly chopped onion. Simmer for about 25 minutes, strain, and discard the pods. The broth will keep for two days in the refrigerator and for about a month in the freezer.
Shelling peas is easy
OK, I admit it: Shelling peas is a bit tedious, but it’s easy and worth every second. To do it, remove the stem end of the pod, peel the stringy fiber from the seam, pry the pod open, and run your thumb along the interior to detach the peas.
Simple, Perfect Peas with Butter and Salt
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. While the water is heating, remove the peas from their pods and place in a bowl. When the water reaches a boil, add some salt and the peas. You are just going to cook them for a very short time. Don’t leave the stove. Somewhere between ten and thirty seconds. You want them just barely tender, so they still pop in your – mouth, no mushy overcooked peas please. Quickly drain. Return the peas to a bowl with a dollop of butter and a sprinkling of salt.
Spring Pea slathered Crostini
This recipe is essentially just the beginning of my ravioli filling minus the egg. I found myself slathering it on whatever crackers, toasted bread, or baguette was in the kitchen at the time, before I added the raw egg. Really beautiful and delicious.
1 standard brown paper lunch bag full of fresh English peas (still in their pods) – I’m guessing a pound or two
Squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup FRESHLY shredded parmesan
tiny pinch of cayenne
salt to taste
Quickly blanch/cook the peas per the previous recipe. After draining, puree the peas – I use a hand/immersion blender to make quick work of it. Add a generous squeeze of lemon. Add the toasted pine nuts, and puree one more time. Stir in the Parmesan, cayenne, a few pinches of lemon zest, and a few pinches of salt. Taste, and adjust for seasoning – add more salt if needed. Spread it on whatever you’ve got around.
Makes about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of puree.
Hand-cut Chive Raviolis bursting with Sweet English Pea Puree
Ok, so you’ve got your puree ready from the above recipe – now you just need to stir in an egg, and you have your ravioli filling. Next step is making the fresh pasta (and I know this is where I’m going to lose some of you). I only make pasta at home when I have absolutely nothing else at all going on that day. This way I can really take my time and not feel rushed or stressed out about it. So make a day of it, maybe invite a friend over to do it with you – it really isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. You kitchen ends up looking like a flour bomb went off, but it really is fun and satisfying to eat a pasta that you put a lot of care and work into. I got a hand-crank pasta machine a few years back for Christmas, and use it all the time.
After creating the raviolis and cooking them for just a minute in boiling, salted water (until they all float) – I serve them tossed lightly with a splash of cream that has been on the stove over low heat infused with the zest of a lemon or two. Top with freshly grated Parmesan and more chopped chives.
My Well-behaved (now more nutritional) Pasta Dough
This dough is great because it is flexible, or maybe I should say adaptable. It is delicate enough to use to make fresh raviolis, and sturdy enough for dried linguine or fettucini. I often like to make lots of different kinds of pasta from one batch of dough, this recipe is great for that. It keeps fine in the refrigerator for a couple days, but double wrap it in plastic wrap and put in the freezer if you need to keep it longer.
1 cup durum wheat flour (semolina also works great, but not as nutritious)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. salt
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Handful of chives (optional – this is where you can add any herbs, spices, or other flavorings)
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about twenty times, until the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto the counter, gather and gently pack it into a ball shape, and knead a four or five times – until dough is smooth and all one texture. The dough should not stick to your hands, if it does – knead in a bit more flour. Cut in half, and flatten each piece of dough into a pancake shape roughly 1-inch high. I place each piece of dough in a plastic bag to keep moist until I am ready to use it.
Follow the directions that come with your pasta machine for rolling out your dough. I cut off pieces of dough roughly two thumb-widths wide as needed to run through the machine. I keep a thick dusting of flour on the counter in front of me to make sure the pasta doesn’t get too sticky as I am putting it though the rollers, I dredge the sheets through the flour when needed. Also, I keep a baking dish with about a 1/2-cup of semolina flour in it at the end of my assembly line where I drop the cut pasta in for quick toss before hanging. I’ve found this keeps things from sticking. There are a lot of little things you will learn as you go – a bit of practice will help you find your own tricks. The main thing is keeping your dough at the right level of moistness. Too dry – it won’t run through the machine. Too wet…it gets all wrinkly and bumpy, and is hard to get through the rollers.
I roll the raviolis out to the 2nd thinnest setting, on my machine – #8.
I roll the fettucini out to the 3rd thinnest setting, on my machine – #7.
Cut the pasta into whatever shape you want. For these raviolis I used a 3-inch cookie cutter. In a small bowl mix an egg with a splash of water. Take one pasta circle, dip your finger (or a brush) in the egg mixture and lightly moisten the edge. Fill with a bit of pea mixture. Seal with another pasta circle. Try to gently press out any air bubbles and get a good seal.
To dry (unstuffed) pasta. I hang the pasta on a pasta rack (you can use a broom handle, wood hangers, whatever) until they are no longer moist. I then slowly and gingerly slide the noodles onto a baking sheet where I wrap them ever so loosely in plastic wrap (primarily to keep the noodles from sliding off). You want some air to get in there so that moisture doesn’t collect around the noodles and facilitate mold. I’ve kept them like this for a month or two before using. Cook in boiling water.
A Tasty Green Tart that should’ve had a Different Crust
When you’ve run out of steam, and you’ve made your share of homemade raviolis, but you just can’t stand to let the rest of that beautiful pea filling go to waste….it is time to make a tart. I had two par-baked individual-sized basic tart shells in the freezer from the last time I made tarts, so I decided to try the pea filling in them. I filled the shells generously, sprinkled them with some gruyere that I had in the refrigerator and popped them in a 400 degree oven until the crusts were golden and the filling firmed up a bit. Pulled them out – sprinkled them with a bit more cheese, a generous dose of snipped chives, and some toasted pine nuts. Delicious. I actually can’t wait to try this one again, next time with some sort of nut or oat tart crust to compliment the sweetness of the peas.
Print Recipe If you make this recipe, I’d love to see it – tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
Peas For Shelling: What Are Some Common Shelling Pea Varieties
Gardeners love growing peas for a variety of reasons. Often among one of the first crops to be planted out into the garden in the spring, peas come with a wide range of uses. To the beginner grower, the terminology may be somewhat confusing. Luckily, learning about the different types of peas is as easy as planting them into the garden.
Shelling Pea Information – What are Shelling Peas?
The term ‘shelling peas’ refers to varieties of pea that require the pea to be removed from the pod or shell prior to use. Though shelling peas are one of the most popular types of pea plant in which to grow, they are often referred to by many other names.
These common names include English peas, garden peas, and even sweet peas. The name sweet peas is especially problematic as true sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are a toxic ornamental flower and are not edible.
Planting Peas for Shelling
Like snap peas or snow peas, various kinds of shelling peas are extremely easy to grow. In many places, peas for shelling can be direct sowed into the garden as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. In general, this is likely about 4-6 weeks before the average last predicted frost date. Planting early is especially important in locations that have a short spring season before the summer turns hot, as pea plants prefer cool weather to grow.
Choose a well-draining location that receives full sun. Since germination occurs best when soil temperatures are relatively cool (45 F./7 C.), planting early will ensure the best chance of success. Once germination has occurred, the plants generally require little care. Due to their cold tolerance, growers usually will not need to worry if late season frost or snow is predicted.
As the days continue to lengthen and warmer spring weather arrives, peas will assume more vigorous growth and begin to flower. Since most shelling pea varieties are vining plants, these peas will need the support or plant stakes or a small trellis system.
Shelling Pea Varieties
- ‘Green Arrow’
- ‘Champion of England’
- ‘Emerald Archer’
- ‘Progress No. 9’
- ‘Little Marvel’