Peas provide a no-wait thrill for gardeners itching to plant; they can be planted as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. They also improve the soil whenever they grow, and they taste good—really good.
Until about twenty years ago there were two types of peas for fresh use: the traditional shelling pea, and the flat, edible-podded kind called, variously, snow peas, Chinese peas, or by the French, “pois mangetout,” or “eat-all” peas. Now we have a third kind, a best-of-both edible-podded shelling pea, called the snap pea.
Plant your first peas as soon as early in the spring as the ground can be worked. If the ground is reasonably fertile, no fertilizer is necessary, but a soil test will tell you if you need some minor treatment such as 50/50 mix of wood ash and colloidal phosphate for acidic soil.
- There are two traditional ways to lengthen the pea harvest: either plant a range of cultivars that mature at different rates, or plant the same cultivar more than once, say every two weeks, so the plantings mature over a long period come summer.
- All peas—except for the so-called leafless bush types—do better if given something to climb on. Trellising helps peas grow more quickly and vigorously, by exposing the pods to sunlight.
- Snow peas can be harvested anytime after the pod begins to emerge from the flower. Snow peas are actually sweeter once the peas have swollen and the pods have begun to curl around, but the texture of the pod becomes tough and stringy.
- Shelling peas, whether bush or climbing, should be harvested after the pods have completely filled out, but before they have lost the sheen of youth—the peas really do have a luster that they lose once the peas have matured and are beginning to ripen as seed.
- Our final plantings of peas every season comes in midsummer, during the first cool spell after the Fourth of July.