The wonderful green vegetables called the peas are one of the most versatile vegetables in the world. They can be stir-fried and eaten with a spoon, pureed and cooked in soup, steamed in rice, served in salads and garnished on entrees.
They are also extremely delicious.
Furthermore, peas are an excellent source of fibers, potassium, folate, Vitamin A, C, and B6, magnesium, and iron. Strictly speaking, they are legumes and not vegetables. Legumes contain plants which produce pods with seeds inside them. Some other important legumes are chickpeas, French beans, and peanuts.
Table of Contents
- Origin of Peas
- Types of Peas
- Garden Peas
- Snow Peas
- Sugar Snap Peas
- How to Grow Peas
Origin of Peas
When exactly peas were first discovered remains a mystery; however, there have been many speculations which suggest possible origins, including Middle Asia, specifically Burma and Thailand with expansion to Afghanistan, the eastern rim of the Mediterranean basin, and the mountainous and plateau ranges of Ethiopia.
Fossilized pea pods found in Switzerland dates as far back as 10,000 years. In the 3rd century BC, Theophrastus was recorded mentioning peas sown in later winter. Pea cultivation is believed to spread throughout the Indus Valley Civilization, China, and Europe in the 2nd millennium BC. The Roman legionaries were recorded to gather wild peas to supplement their rations in 1st century BC.
Peas were brought to North America by Christopher Columbus in 1942, where they were quickly adopted by the Native Americans. During the Middle Ages, peas were a stable diet that kept famine at bay and in the Early Modern European era, immature, fresh peas were prized as gourmet food.
Types of Peas
These days there are three major types of peas, with dozens of varieties between them:
- English Peas
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Snow Pea
Botanical name: Pisum sativum
Garden peas, also known as shell peas and English peas are the most common type of peas. Garden peas have smooth and fleshy, cylindrical green pods that are curved and plump. Since their pod is tough and fibrous, it cannot be digested and this variety of peas needs to be shelled. They contain plump, round, sweet-tasting seeds.
They are very nutritious and delicious; however, they require a lot of shelling, so many people prefer to get shelled and frozen garden peas from the market, which may not be as tasty as the freshly shelled ones.
The garden pea has many cultivars:
This variety of pea produces a lot of pods per plants. Each pod has an average of 7 peas inside. It has a mildly sweet flavor and is ready in 60 days.
This variety of peas is almost leafless and has very tough and stringy vines which cling together. The plant is about two feet tall producing pea pods with an average of 8 peas.
This variety is very popular among the masses as it is a very hardy cultivar. Wando peas can tolerate warm to cold weathers easily. They have dark green pods which produce 7-8 medium-sized peas, which are ready in 70 days. They have a moderately sweet taste and are good for freezing or drying.
As the name implies, this pea is very sweet with a 3 ½ inches pod containing 8-9 peas. It can be ready in 75 days and is considered one of the most delicious varieties of garden peas.
These peas are about 4 inches long. They have 8 to 9 dark green and very plump peas. They have a moderately sweet taste.
This cultivar comprises of crescent-shaped 3 ½ inches long pods, which produce 8 to 9 tender, medium-sized green peas. This variety is a very prolific producer, is resistant to dry and hot weathers and can be ready in 65 days.
The pods of the Lincoln peas contain 7-8 large and tender peas. These peas taste sweet, are tolerant to heat, freeze well, and can be ready in 70 days.
Mr. Big Peas
As the name implies, this cultivar produces extra-large peas with 9 to 10 seeds in each dark green pod. This variety is moderately sweet and is a prize-winning cultivar.
This cultivar produces a high yield and has 4 ½ inches long dark green pods with 10 to 11 mid-sized seeds. The pea is moderately sweet and is generally ready in 60 days. It is a good variety to harvest in the fall.
This cultivar produces 3-inch long pea pods with 7 to 8 seeds. These peas are medium sized, tender, and sweet and are ready in 65 days.
The Misty Shell is a prolific producer which bears 3-inch large pea pods with 7 to 8 peas each. These peas are plump and sweet and can be cultivated in 60 days.
Botanical name: Pisum sativum var. saccharatum
Snow peas are also known as Chinese peas because they are used in a lot of Chinese cuisines. They are also known by their French name “mangetout,” which means to eat it all. You can instantly recognize snow peas form garden peas as they have an almost flat shell with no distinct pea-shape inside. Unlike garden peas, these peas have edible pods and in fact, are grown for their pods rather than the seeds inside.
Snow peas come in several different varieties:
This is one of the shorter pea plants with an average height of just 18 inches. They produce a high yield with 3 inches long pods containing moderately sweet peas. It takes them about 60 days to get ready.
This eccentrically-named pea produces pods that are about 3 inches long. They contain sweet and tender peas, which are resistant to diseases. They grow up in 70 days.
This variety contains 3-inch long tender pods, which contain moderately sweet peas. This cultivar is generally ready in 65 days.
Mammoth Melting Sugar
This is a very tall variety of pea with plants reaching up to 4 to 5 feet in height. They produce 5 ½ inches thick pods, which are indeed relatively mammoth-sized. The peas have a sweet flavor and get ready in 70 days. They are one of the best types of peas for cooking as they can tolerate high temperature and longer cook times very well.
Oregon Sugar Pods
This variety of pea plant is also considerable long, with the plant standing at 2 ½ feet in height. The pods inside are very sweet and tender and the pea variety is resistant to disease. It can be ready in 70 days.
Oregon Sugar Pod #2
Interestingly, there are two types of Oregon Sugar Pods. This plant gives a high yield with typically two pods per group. The seeds are very sweet and tender and are encased in 4-inch long pods. This cultivar can be ready in 70 days.
This is a prolific variety and produces 6 inch long dark green snow pea pods. The cultivar is quite resistant to diseases and contains sweet and tender seeds.
Sugar Snap Peas
Botanical name: Pisum sativum var. marcrocarpon
At first glance, sugar snap peas look almost identical to the garden peas. However, the sugar snap can be differentiated by the shape of its pea pod, which is slightly more cylindrical than the garden pea variety. Sugar snap peas are a hybrid of snow peas and a mutant garden pea. Therefore, these peas contain properties of both of its parent pea varieties.
Like garden peas, the seeds are allowed to become round and plump before they are shelled. However, the pods of sugar snap peas are thick, crisp, and crunchy and can be eaten. These peas do not need to be shelled and are cooked with their pods, like snow peas.
Sugar snap peas are also more tolerant of hot weather than garden peas. Some famous varieties of sugar snap peas are listed below.
The Sugar Bon cultivar produces 3 inches long pods, which are very sweet. This plant is also quite resistant to diseases and can be ready in 55 days.
This is a prize-winning variety with vines that can reach as high as 6 feet. The sugar snap produces a high yield, with pods that are 3 inches long and very sweet.
Super Snappy peas are a special pea variety featuring very large pods, which contain up to 10 seeds. These peas are extra sweet and very crisp and are resistant to diseases. It is ready in 65 days.
Super Sugar Snap VP
This plant is a very prolific producer and can grow to be 5 to 6 feet long. The pod is about 3 inches long and sweeter than the original variety of sugar snap peas. It takes about 65 days to be ready and is very resistant to disease.
This variety of pea produces pods which contain about 7 peas each. The pea pods are very sweet and crisp. The plant is very disease-resistant and can be ready in 55 days.
How to Grow Peas
Harvesting Garden Peas
Garden peas mature very quickly and bush varieties get ready in 50 days. When the pods look full, plump, and bright green, it’s time to harvest them. Make sure you don’t let the peas get too fat inside the shell or they will take on a yellowish color and bitter taste and turn starchy. However, don’t harvest too early either or the peas will be very small and not as sweet. The best way to determine when they are ripe enough is to gently squeeze them between your fingers to test their plumpness and tenderness.
English peas do not store well and their natural sugars can quickly turn into starch. Therefore, it is best to consume them all 3 to 4 days after picking.
Harvesting Snow Peas
The snow pea pods are translucent under the sunshine and you can make out the peas inside, once they start to form. Snow peas typically take the longest to mature, especially the taller cultivars, even though you do not have to wait for the peas inside to grow plump. They can be harvested when the pod has grown to its full length but still remains flat. These peas must be picked regularly so that the pods remain sweet and non-fibrous. If you missed some mature pods in the first picking, you must remove them from the plant and use the still-growing peas inside like garden peas. However, the large, plump seeds inside may need to be thrown out as they are bitter.
Harvesting Sugar Snap Peas
Like snow peas, sugar snap peas also need to be harvested after every 1 t 3 days. These peas are at their crunchiest and sweetest when the pod first begins to get plump but the seeds inside are still growing. At this stage, the pod snaps like green beans and can be eaten. Some varieties also come with strings along their seams that must be removed before cooking. If left too long on the vine, their pods become tough with fiber and become inedible. You can then shell these peas and eat them like garden peas.
Sugar snap peas can grow and produce more peas as long as the weather stays pleasant and the plant remains in good health.
Temperature & Sunlight
Peas are cool-weather crops. They will not grow when warmer weather hits so make sure you plant them by early spring. If not, they will not flower and hence, you won’t get any pea pods.
Peas can also survive in a light frost. Areas with mild temperatures may get a second crop of fall peas, but first, you will need to manage the peas during the unpredictable temperatures of the last few weeks of the summer.
It is also important to know that peas prefer 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight every day, though they can also survive in shadier spots.
Peas do not have deep roots so it is important to keep the soil around the roots moist and cool. You can start mulching when the roots of the plant are two inches long.
Peas prefer mulches made of chopped leaves, compost, leaf mulch, and clean straw. Keep in mind that you may have to add more mulch to the plant as it grows.
The days to maturity of peas can vary according to their cultivar. Most peas mature within 55 to 70 days, so check your see packaging for instructions. How long it takes for seeds to germinate depends on the soil temperature.
It is important to note that water is very important when peas are flowering and producing pods. Therefore, you need to water the plants deeply every week. If they don’t get the moisture they need, the plants will produce only a light harvest.
Peas are quite low maintenance when it comes to their feeding and doesn’t need to be fertilized. If you do feed them fertilizers, which contain nitrogen, they will produce a lot of lush foliage, instead of the pea pods. So it is best to keep fertilizers to the minimum.
Pest and Diseases
Fortunately, a lot of varieties of peas are resistant to pests and diseases. However, sometimes they may be infected with Fusarium wilt and root rot disease.
The symptoms of these diseases are wilting and yellowed lower leaves and stunted growth. Older plants that become infected produce pods with missing seeds. If left untreated, the stems will become thick and black and the plant will eventually die. You can prevent this by keeping the soil well-drained.
We hope you were able to learn a good deal about the different varieties of peas. Though the shelled and frozen varieties are easily available in supermarkets, nothing tastes as good as peas that are grown organically in your own garden!