Varieties of Garden Peas

  • 01 of 04

    Which Pea Variety is Right for Your Garden?

    Harvesting peas in a garden
    Elva Etienne/ Moment/ Getty Images

    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 the 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 3 types of peas: English peas, snow peas, and sugar snap peas. Each...MORE goes by multiple names, making the choice all the more confusing. But once you get the differences clear, you’ll probably want to grow some of each. Let’s take a look at each.

    Continue to 2 of 4 below.
  • 02 of 04

    English Peas

    Marie Iannotti

    English Peas (Pisum sativum var. sativum)

    When most of us think of peas, we picture the small, round, green balls that are so hard to grab with your fork. These are traditionally known as English peas. They also go by 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 the other types of peas.

    First, they do not have edible pods. The pods are smooth in texture, but tough and fibrous, making them...MORE unpleasant to eat and to digest. That’s why we shell them.

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

    When to Harvest: 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 fell the individual peas, it’s 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 won’t be as sweet as you would expect.

    If you harvest too late, the peas will start to get tough, they will probably be changing to a paler color and they will be 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’ll be sure to know exactly when they are at their peak. English peas don’t store well. Their sugars quickly turn to starch, so eat them within 3-4 days of harvesting.

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

    Some Varieties to Try: 'Green Arrow', 'Maestro', 'Lincoln', and 'Tall Telephone'

    Continue to 3 of 4 below.
  • 03 of 04

    Snow Peas

    snow peas
    Ruth Hartnup/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Snow Peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum)

    Snows peas are often referred to as Chinese pea pods, because so many of us were introduced to them through Chinese cooking. I’ve always liked the French name, mangetout, which means eat it all. The pods of snow peas are almost flat. The seeds are not allowed to fill out before harvesting. It’s the pod itself that we 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...MORE 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 don’t 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 your direct sow them in the garden. However you get a massive yield and they continue setting more pods for 6 - 8 weeks, if you keep up on the harvest.

    Some Varieties to Try: 'Golden Sweet', 'Mammoth Melting Sugar', 'Oregon Giant', and 'Oregon Sugar Pod'

    Continue to 4 of 4 below.
  • 04 of 04

    Sugar Snap Peas

    sugar snap peas
    Forest and Kim Starr/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

    Sugar Snap Peas (Pisum sativum var. marcrocarpon)

    Sugar snap peas 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. Like English peas, the seeds are allowed to plump up a bit. But the pods are crisp and edible, so they do not need to be shelled and are recipes like snow peas.

    Sugar snap peas are grown the same way as English peas, but they tend to last a...MORE bit longer when the weather warms up. If you like eating pea shots 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 if you give them a gentle squeeze to make sure the peas are filling in most of the pod. They don't need to get as large as English peas, but you don't want an empty pod.

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

    Some Varieties to Try: 'Cascadia', 'Sugar Ann', 'Sugar Daddy', and 'Super Sugar Snap'