If you haven't grown peas, you're going to be very surprised when you see how easily you can have a plentiful crop of these wonderful pods. They are a cool-weather plant, so you can get two crops if you plant in the very early spring, and again in the late summer for a fall harvest. Provide them a rich well-draining soil, a stake, trellis or netting to vine on (depending on the growth habit of the varieties you choose), and you'll have some sweet green pearls in no time!
Standard pea pods including the Progress 9, or the All-America Winner Mr. Big Pea Plant, or an heirloom like the Green Arrow, produce 4-inch pods containing 7 to 10 peas each. Those peas should be picked when the pods are plump and rounded, meaning the mature peas growing inside can be felt by light squeezing of the pod. They should easily pluck off the stems right at their crowns. Most varieties will mature in 60 to 70 days. Peas should be shelled from their protective pods within several days of being picked from the vines, so they retain their moisture and sweet flavor. They are a crunchy and satisfying raw snack (eaten like peanuts), and are also suitable for cooking immediately, as well as for canning or freezing.
Snap peas are meant to be eaten in their entirety, pods and all. Stringless varieties like the Sugar Daddy and Sugar Sprint are the most tender and effortless to prepare. Snap peas are delicious raw as a snack, or as an addition to cold salads. They can be cooked immediately or stored for up to a week in the refrigerator. Their flavor lends itself well to pickling, canning or freezing, as well. They mature at around 60 days and should easily snap right off the vines. Remove any crown or stem before eating.
Chinese pea pods have tiny peas inside flat, edible pods. They reach maturity around 60-70 days and when they're 3 to 4 inches in length and a deep, rich emerald green color. Mammoth Melting and Oregon Sugar Pod II have their own unique traits. Most fans of snow pea pods prefer to remove the tough string that runs down the spine before consuming.
Peas can be planted from seeds or young plants. Determine your space limitations, including the plant height, the days to maturity, your climate, disease resistance needed, and how you intend to prepare the harvested vegetables. All of those factors should be considered before you choose which varieties to grow. You can study the unique qualities of each pea plant on Garden Harvest Supply's website so you can have the most successful harvest. And don't forget to have some pea plants or seeds ready for a fall harvest!
Most varieties of peas require spacing of 2 inches between seeds or plants, and they'll need to be thinned to around 30 inches. Taller-growing varieties will need a support system for their vining habit. Some grow squat and bushy, reaching only 2 feet in height; others require tall trellises or netting allowing them to soar to 5 to 7 feet tall.
Snap peas with edible pods are usually ripe at slightly shorter lengths than peas without edible pods. Chinese pea pods can be picked from 2 to 4 inches long. Either variety can be eaten raw or blanched, chilled and served on vegetable trays, or stir-fried in Asian dishes.