Go Green With Spring Peas

Dig into spring with one of the season’s earliest crops — sweet, crunchy, good-for-you peas.

Photo By: Johnny’s Selected Seeds at JohnnySeeds.com

Photo By: Johnny’s Selected Seeds at JohnnySeeds.com

Photo By: Renee’s Garden Seeds at ReneesGarden.com

Photo By: Gardener’s Supply Company/gardeners.com

Photo By: Johnny’s Selected Seeds at JohnnySeeds.com

Photo By: Renee’s Garden Seeds at ReneesGarden.com

Photo By: Johnny’s Selected Seeds at JohnnySeeds.com

Photo By: Gardener’s Supply Company/gardeners.com

Photo By: Johnny’s Selected Seeds at JohnnySeeds.com

Photo By: Julie Martens Forney

Planting Time for Peas

Spring peas are one of nature’s delicacies — a true tonic after winter. St. Patrick’s Day is a traditional pea planting day in warmer regions, but you really want to wait until soil temperatures are in the 45-degree range. A clue for the right pea planting time in your region is dandelions, daffodils and forsythia. When these spring favorites start to flower, it’s time to plant peas. Plant too early, and pea seeds will likely rot in cold soil before they germinate. Plant too late, and vines will only have a short bearing window. For garden planting, soil should be moist but crumbly (think chocolate cake). If it’s too wet, seeds may rot before sprouting.

Types of Spring Peas

Choose from three types of peas to plant (left to right): snow peas, garden peas and snap peas. Sometimes called Chinese pea pods, snow peas (left) are the one used in stir-fries and can be eaten raw or cooked. Garden peas (middle) are also known as sweet peas, English peas or shelling peas. These peas have to be removed from the pod before cooking. When you buy a bag of frozen peas, this is what you’re getting. Snap peas (right, aka sugar snap peas) are a cross between snow peas and garden peas. With snap peas, you eat the whole plump pod with the peas inside — it’s a crunchy, sweet bite.

Peas for Pots

You can still grow a tasty crop of spring peas even if you don’t have a big yard. Look for container pea varieties, like this yummy sugar snap type, Little Crunch. With container peas, you may or may not need a trellis; it depends on how tall plants become. Little Crunch grows 24 to 30 inches tall, which makes it a perfect fit for a typical tomato cage. When growing peas in pots, don’t forget to water. Consistent soil moisture — especially once flowers start appearing — helps ensure a sweet harvest. If you battle rabbits in your yard, growing pots of peas can make it easier to beat the bunnies without having to fence a pea patch. Just know that rabbits (and deer) love peas, so you may need to protect pots on an open patio.

Peas Like to Climb

Pea plants climb using tendrils that wrap around supports and hoist stems upward. While you don’t have to give peas a trellis, it is easier to find and pick pods when plants are supported and upright. As with most edible crops, for the best bite, you want to harvest peas when they’re young. Old shelling peas become mealy and starchy (less sweet) if they enlarge too much on the plant. For mature snow peas and sugar snap peas, pods become woody and tough to chew if they’re left on the vine too long. For sugar snap peas, if pods are tough, you can often shell the peas and just eat those. With all peas, eat as soon as possible after harvest. Leave caps on pods to extend freshness.

Garden or Shelling Peas

Garden or shelling peas are super easy to grow and bring a lot of nutrition to the dinner table. Peas contain nearly every vitamin and mineral you need and are a low glycemic index veggie, helping to stabilize blood glucose. Packed with fiber, they also make you feel full longer. The trickiest part of growing garden peas is knowing when to harvest. Pods should be full and firm to the touch, which is a clue the peas are fully formed. If the pod is soft and the sides press in easily, the peas haven’t yet filled out. This variety is 'Feisty,’ which is a tendril or afila type of pea. The vines produce more tendrils than leaves. With fewer leaves, pods are easy to spot and pick. The tendrils are edible and make a beautiful garnish or salad green.

Snow Peas

Snow peas form flat pods with a small seed inside that’s visible through the pod (you can see a small bump). With snow peas, you eat the entire pod, raw or cooked. On some snow pea varieties, the pods have a tough string along the edge that you need to remove before eating. If you want pods that you don’t have to de-string, look for the word "stringless" in the plant description. With snow peas, the trick to the most tender bite is to pick pods when they’re flat and young. This variety is 'Oregon Sugar Pod II,’ which boasts a long harvest season from disease-resistant plants.

Purple Snow Pea

Snow peas offer variety in flower and pod color. Purple snow peas bring a stronger flavor (it has a bitter nuance) and cheery color to the salad bowl. For strongest color, pick the youngest pods and use them raw or lightly sauteed. Longer cooking fades the hue to muddy tones. Purple snow peas make beautiful coleslaw, pasta salad or sandwich toppers. This variety is 'Royal’ and is popular among chefs for its color and flavor.

Expandable Pea Trellis

An expandable, powder-coated steel trellis drops into your pea patch in a matter of seconds and adds a splash of color to boot. It’s best to add pea supports just before planting, so you can place seeds precisely. Once peas break through soil, withhold water slightly (don’t let plants wilt) during the early growing time. This causes the peas to root deeper into soil. Peas tend to be shallow-rooted plants, which makes them more susceptible to drought and heat. Deeper roots help prolong the harvest season, as does a 2- to 4-inch mulch layer over the soil around vines. Use a trellis like this to give peas a lift in spring, and when summer comes, draft it for supporting tomatoes, cucumbers.

Pea Shoots and Flowers are Edible

All parts of a pea plant are edible, including blossoms, shoots, tendrils and pods. Young shoots taste the best, while older ones tend to be tough and stringy. Pea shoots and blooms make a beautiful addition to spring salads and stir-fries. Many chefs use young pea plants to make pea stock or even ice cream. If you’re growing peas for shoots, harvest micro-greens when plants are 2-4 inches tall (roughly 2 weeks) and snap greens when plants are 4-8 inches tall (roughly 2-4 weeks). This pink-flowered variety is a snow pea known as 'Dwarf Grey Sugar.’ Vines aren’t dwarf, though, growing 4-5 feet tall.

Snow Pea Plants

Be creative as you design a trellis for your pea plants. Traditionally gardeners use fruit tree and shrub trimmings to craft a twig trellis. You can do the same thing with twigs that winter has tossed onto your lawn. Simply stick pencil-thick twigs into soil beside peas as you plant them. Another option is to string netting between stakes. This easy trellis (above) supports pea plants with a double row of twine that runs alongside plants. Insert stakes at either end of your pea plant (or every 4 to 5 feet for long rows), and wrap the twine around stakes to create a tight support. The plants will grab one another and the twine for support.

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