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Leafy greens, asparagus shoots and radish ripen earlier. But, peas mark the beginning of the seasonal crops formed from fertilized flowers.Edible peas come in many forms. English peas form inedible pods that are filled with tiny, tasty orbs that are removed from the outer shell. Sugar Snaps and Snow Peas require no shelling and are entirely edible. Even the tip shoots from edible peas make for a tasty treat. Just snip out the tip of a pea plant shoot, cutting just above a leaf while the plants are still young, and toss them into a salad or briefly sauté them as a fresh green side dish.
Snow Peas and Sugar Snap peas are relatively easy to grow in any cooler climate garden. They are an ideal spring crop, and in locations with cool, mild autumns, they can make for a brief fall crop. Cooler weather is key to growing peas successfully. In higher heat locations, they simply will not thrive for long.
Trying to choose which to grow? Snow peas form large, flat pods with very small seeds. Snap peas form fatter, smaller pods with large, tender seeds. Both are sweet and crunchy. Both can be eaten whole, either raw or cooked. So, perhaps grow a row of each!
Both Sugar Snaps and Snow Peas form twining tendrils, which they use to climb. Wire fences, string towers, bamboo tee-pees, or even sticks pruned from your late winter garden clean up can give peas the lift they need. If peas aren’t given something to climb, they will trail across the soil making your harvest a little more difficult. Plus, it makes it easier for pests on the ground to munch on young pea shoots and pods. Unfortunately, songbirds also like the taste of young peas. Given the chance, they will perch on your pea trellis and peck at the tips of shoots. If birds find your peas, consider draping bird netting over your crop to discourage them.
Snow Peas and Sugar Snaps can be planted very early in spring. In warmer locations, late winter plantings are also an option. Ideally, peas are planted directly into the garden soil where they will grow. But, because soils at this time of year are often very wet and cold, germination can be challenging. To give your peas a head start at germinating, soak them overnight in a jar of water to soften the outer casing and plant them the next day. During this soak, you may choose to use a pea inoculant to further strengthen the plant’s growth or, instead, place a moist towel on a plate and place the seeds inside. Be sure the towel and seeds remain damp for several days as the seed begins to germinate. Once the seeds have sent out their root, plant them into the garden where they should continue to grow. Seeding in succession (aka a few times in the spring) is also a good way to be sure you get a crop growing.
Peas may seem to do very little growth in the early days of spring, but once the days begin to lengthen and warm, the plants will begin to grow rapidly. Flowers will form and within a few days of opening, small pods will replace them. Harvesting pods often and early is the best way to keep your plants productive. Young pea pods are the most tender, too! Just snip them out at the point where the pod connects to the rest of the plant using your fingernails or a pair of Soft-Touch Micro-Tip Pruning Snips, which will help ensure you don’t tear the plant as you remove the pods.
Remember: Older pods may become tough and stringy as plants are preparing them to form seed for the next generation of plants. Not only are older pods less palatable, but also by remaining on the plant they will trigger the plant to slow the production of new flowers and young pods, ending your pea harvest prematurely.Both Sugar Snaps and Snow Peas are particularly delicious served raw as crudités with a tasty, creamy dip like this:
Blue Cheese Thyme Dip
_ cup non-fat yogurt
_ cup sour cream
4 oz crumbled blue cheese (Roquefort is ideal)
1 T. chopped fresh thyme (or 1 t. dried)
1 garlic clove crushed
Pinch of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1-2 t. balsamic vinegar (or to taste)