Pea pods begin swelling on the vines in mid to late spring. These crisp, cool weather morsels produce a crop for just a few weeks while the nights are still cool. Once the warm summer nights arrive, pea pods fade away and stop producing.
When they fade, cut their vines off at soil level and leave the roots in the ground; their roots “fix” nitrogen in the soil, enriching it. To help this along, sprinkle a pea “innoculent” (actually a bacteria) on the seeds when you plant them, and the magic happens. (This is a complicated scientific process, the explanation of which is beyond the scope of this article. OK, I’m not sure how it works, only that it does work.)
The important thing is that peas, like all legumes, enrich the soil. It is also beneficial to plant them in rotation with heavier feeding crops like tomatoes or corn.
I grow only the type with edible pods: snap peas or oriental snow peas. The former should be picked when the peas inside are plump, but not overly large. The latter should be picked when the peas are just starting to swell in the pod.
Most recipes specify one or the other but I tend to use them interchangeably, with satisfactory results.
Plant peas as soon as the soil can be worked in early spring, about 6 to 8 weeks before your last spring frost. They’re not overly fussy about the soil they grow in, only that it be well drained. Space seeds of snap peas or snow peas two inches apart and about an inch deep. Thin to stand 3 to 4 inches apart when they are two inches high.
The vines of edible pod varieties of peas grow about three feet high, which is much taller than English garden peas. Provide some type of support for them to grow on. Their tendrils will quickly attach themselves to the support without any help from you.
The remains of snow peas have been found in archaeological sites in Egypt and China dating to 12,000 ago.They may be so-named because of the whitish tint that reflects off the pod in sunlight. Or maybe because they are so hardy they often grow right through the snow.
Snap peas are a cross between snow peas and an English garden pea, rumored to be a mutant. They were developed in the seventeenth century, but didn’t become widely available in the United States until the 1970’s. The French call them mange tout, which means to “eat everything.”
And for a lazy gardener like me, eating the pods means they’re a lot less work to harvest and prepare.
Mange tout indeed.
Copyright Sharon Sweeny, 2009. All rights reserved.