Days to germination: between 10 to 12 days
Days to harvest: 60 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun, or partial shade
Water requirements: Occasional watering
Soil: Added inoculant can help (see below)
Container: yes, for bush varieties
Of the two basic kinds of peas, snow peas are the ones with edible pods often seen in Asian cuisine. You don’t need to shell these peas, which can make them appealing because it saves you a bit of work at harvest time.
Peas are popular in the garden because they are one of the earliest plants to start producing. They are quite easy to grow, and you can choose from bush plants or peas that grow in long vines.
Typical snow peas are picked when they are still quite flat, before the peas themselves have plumped out. But a new kind of snow pea is called a sugar snap pea, and they offer the best of both worlds. They fill out with full-size peas, and you can also eat the pods. You get a bigger production with sugar snap peas, and they are becoming extremely popular.
You can eat snow peas raw, and fresh out of the garden. They’re delicious cooked as well. Peas are nutritious and have lots of folic acid as well as vitamins C, B1 and K.
Starting from Seed
Peas are not good candidates for transplants, so don’t plan on starting your seedlings early. The seedlings are too delicate for successful transplanting. Since they can be planted as soon as the soil has thawed enough to dig, there really isn’t much need to get a head-start on growing. Plan to get your pea seed out there between 4 and 6 weeks before you’re due to get your last frost.
Though its nice to plant early, the cold ground is not a very hospitable environment for seeds. Seeds are prone to rot, and can be susceptible to fungus attack. For this reason, you can usually buy your pea seed treated with a fungicide to protect your seeds and new seedlings. The fungicide is a bright pink powder, so you can immediately tell that it’s been treated. Wear gloves when handling treated seeds.
If you choose to use untreated pea seed, you should plant out extras to make up for any losses. That’s not to say untreated seed is likely to fail, just that you will see fewer seeds actually sprout.
When you are preparing your garden space to plant peas, you can help your plants out by adding an “inoculant” to the soil. It’s a powdered additive you can buy to help the plants take up more nitrogen from the soil. Peas can grow fine without it, but it can give them a boost and improve harvest production.
Peas thrive in cooler temperatures, so don’t plan on doing any planting once the summer heat arrives. But you can do a fall planting if you put more seed out as long as it will mature before or just after the first frost date.
By mixing your varieties of peas, you can start harvesting in 2 months and still have fresh peas coming for more months after that.
Spacing for your seeds will depend on the kind of snow peas you are growing. It’s typical to plant vining peas quite close together and training the vines to grow up strings or a trellis. For bush plants, place your seeds about 12 inches apart. Either way, the seeds should only be about an inch deep in the soil.
Bush peas are fairly self-supporting, but you can grow them cages (like tomato cages) to help keep the plant from spreading too much. You will need more support for vining peas, though some are fairly short. Some varieties can grow up to 6 feet, so plan your trellis accordingly.
Water your peas regularly, but you don’t need to fret too much about it. They aren’t as sensitive to being dry as much as many other plants. A good drink once a week is fine.
Snow peas are great for container gardening, as long as you choose the lower growing varieties. Bush peas work best, but even shorter vining types can work as long as you provide support. Sugar Daddy snap peas are good for containers and so are Oregon Sugar Pods.
Because the soil in a container will warm up much faster than your garden, you probably won’t have as much problem with fungus right at planting time. It also means that your cool-loving plants are more like to get too warm as the spring progresses. Water a bit more often, and consider keeping your container in a part of the yard with some shade.
Pests and Diseases
Like many other garden plants, powdery mildew is a common problem with snow peas. The best defense against the dusty fungus is to be careful when you water your plants. Powdery mildew grows in humidity, so only apply water to the soil and not to the leaves. If you find mildew on your plants, remove the effects leaves if you can and apply a fungicide. It will only kill the plant if it gets out of control.
The pea moth is an insect that can be a problem with snow peas. The moth lays eggs while the plant is in flower, and the larvae then go on to eat the peas. Though snow peas are usually picked before the pea inside develops, the insects can still infest your plants.
Harvest and Storage
It’s during harvest time that snow peas and snap peas mainly differ from their regular green pea cousins. Traditional “flat” snow peas are picked just as the peas are starting to form inside the pod. If you let them grow until the peas are filled, the pod will be too tough to eat. At that point, the peas inside may be used but it depends on the variety of pea.
On the other hand, if you are growing snap peas, you can pick and eat them pretty much time. The pods remain sweet and edible until after the peas inside have developed.
Sugar snap peas provide a larger harvest than snow peas because you usually eat them when they are fat with peas rather than just the thin pod. Exact yields will vary greatly between the small bush plants and the tall vining ones.
You can store peas in the fridge until you cook them, and they freeze well too. Just give them a blanche in boiling water beforehand, to help them keep their color and flavor.