Different Types of Peas for Your Garden

Harvesting peas in a garden
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Peas are such a rewarding vegetable to grow. They are one of the earliest crops to mature in the spring and you can use them in all kinds of dishes. In fact, you can eat them right off the vine as a snack in the garden. And since they are legumes, they are as good for the soil as they are for people.

Peas are easy enough to grow. The most difficult part of growing peas is choosing what kind you want to grow. There are basically three types of peas: English peas, snow peas, and sugar snap peas. Each goes by multiple names, making the choice all the more confusing. But once you get the differences clear, you will probably want to grow some of each. Take a look at your choices.

  • 01 of 03

    English Peas

    English Shelling Peas
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    When you think of peas, you likely picture the small, round, green balls that are so hard to grab with your fork. These are traditionally known as English peas (Pisum sativum, var. sativum). They are also called shelling peas, common peas, standard peas, and garden peas. The two features of this type of pea are also the two things that differentiate them from other types of peas.

    First, they do not have edible pods. The pods are smooth in texture, but tough and fibrous, making them unpleasant to eat and to digest. That is why they need to be shelled.

    Secondly, you wait until the seeds—the peas—are fully plumped up, before shelling and eating them.

    When to Harvest

    All types of peas are usually direct sown in the garden and you will rarely find transplants. Shelling peas are one of the fastest maturing types of peas, with the smaller, bush varieties ready in about 50 days. Test them by gently squeezing the pod. If they feel full and you can feel the individual peas, it is time to crack one open and check. The peas should fill the pod but still be green and tender.

    If you harvest too early, there may be peas missing or peas of different sizes. They may also not have had enough time to develop their sugars, so they will not be as sweet as you would expect.

    If you harvest too late, the peas will start to get tough, they might start changing to a paler color, and those peas are usually starchy and bitter.

    Honestly, shelling peas are so good straight out of the pod, with no cooking, that you will be doing yourself a great favor by sampling them in the garden periodically. That way, you will be sure to know exactly when they are at their peak. English peas do not store well. Their sugars quickly turn to starch, so eat them within three to four days of harvesting.

    English peas are more nutritious than sugar snap or snow peas, but since they require the extra step of shelling, they have fallen out of favor and are rarely seen fresh in grocery stores. If you want them, your best bet is to grow your own.

    Try growing the following varieties: "Green Arrow," "Maestro," "Lincoln," and "Tall Telephone."

  • 02 of 03

    Snow Peas

    Snow pea plant
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    Snows peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum) are often referred to as Chinese pea pods because many people were introduced to them through Chinese cooking. You may also see them referred to by their French name, mangetout, which means eat it all. Snow peas have edible pods, so you do indeed eat the whole thing.

    The pods of snow peas are almost flat. The seeds are not allowed to fill out before harvesting. It is the pod itself that you are growing them for.

    When to Harvest

    Snow peas are translucent when the sun shines through them. You can see the small dots of pea seeds just starting to form. However if you let them mature, the pods will get tough. They are ready to pick at pretty much any size but should peak when they just about reach the length listed for the variety you are growing. Of course, if you want to save seeds, you will have to sacrifice some pods and leave them on the vine to fill out.

    Even though you do not have to wait for the peas inside to plump, snow peas tend to have the longest days to maturity of all the peas, especially the tall varieties. Expect to wait at least 60 days from when you direct sow them in the garden. However, you get a massive yield and they continue setting more pods for six to eight weeks if you keep up on the harvest.

    Try growing the following varieties: "Golden Sweet," "Mammoth Melting Sugar," "Oregon Giant," and "Oregon Sugar Pod."

  • 03 of 03

    Sugar Snap Peas

    Sugar snap peas
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    Sugar snap peas (Pisum sativum var. marcrocarpon) look a lot like English peas, at first glance. However, the pods of sugar snaps are more cylindrical than the slightly curved English pea pod. They are a cross between English peas and snow peas. As with English peas, the seeds are allowed to plump up a bit. However, the pods are crisp and edible, so they do not need to be shelled and are used in recipes in the same way as snow peas.

    Sugar snap peas are grown the same way as English peas, but they tend to last a bit longer when the weather warms up. If you like eating pea shoots and tendrils, sugar snap varieties have some of the best.

    When to Harvest

    You can enjoy your sugar pod peas at any stage, but they will be their sweetest and crunchiest when the peas fill out most of the pod. Give them a gentle squeeze to test. They do not need to get as large as English peas, but you do not want an empty pod.

    Although not as nutritious as English peas, that edible pod adds some fiber to the mix.

    Try growing the following varieties: "Cascadia," "Sugar Ann," "Sugar Daddy," and "Super Sugar Snap."