Our Favorite Peas

If the only peas you’ve tasted were from a plastic freezer bag—or worse, a can—you have no idea what you’re missing. Fresh-from-the-garden peas are so delicious, so sweet and nutty, it seems they should be bad for you! I used to send our daughter out to harvest them before dinner, and she’d eat every one before bringing the empty pods back to the house. (Parents of picky eaters, take note!) Now my husband does the same thing—I send him out to harvest our sugar snaps and he brings back an empty bowl and a grin.

Peas prefer a long, cool and damp growing season, pretty much the opposite of what we have here in Colorado. Still, I plant a crop every year. Even if we only get one meal, it’s worth it. We love peas.

There are three basic varieties of peas: shell, or English peas (you eat the seeds and discard the pod), snow peas (the Chinese cooking peas with edible thin pods and tiny, undeveloped seeds), and the inspired cross between the two, snap peas. With snap peas, you eat a tender, fleshy pod and the mature seeds inside. These are the ones I usually grow, as you get the most food per plant.

I’ve trialed a variety of snap peas, or sugar snaps as they’re sometimes called. The breeders have been busy, and there are now short ones, tall ones, stringless pods (you have to “string”—remove the pod’s mid-leaf rib—the original varieties), and extra early ones. You’d think the early ones would do better in our blink-and-it’s-over spring, but that hasn’t been the case for me, at least so far.

In fact, all my successes have been the tall vined peas. I have a handy fence for them to climb, and it’s easier to pick peas that are the same height as I am. I do have to tie some garden twine to the fence at both ends of the row, running it around the vines to keep them from flopping out into the path, but that’s an easy, five-minute chore. Maybe I just plant them too close together.

Hoping for a shorter vined pea to plant in front of my tall peas, I trialed Sugar Ann and Sugar Daddy. Neither produced much of a crop. The peas we did get were small, bland and starchy, and the vines seemed stunted (or maybe they were supposed to look like that). Finally they just dried up. I’m not sure what happened—the taller vines behind them did fine.

I considered planting Super Sugar Sprint, a 26 inch vine, but it only matures two days earlier than my favorite Super Sugar Snap! Since the shorter plants don’t produce as big a crop, I didn’t see the point.

So, I’m still hunting for the perfect “front row” pea. It should resist powdery mildew, save significantly on the days to maturity, survive Colorado, and taste good. If you’ve grown a shorter pea that you liked, please let me know.

One final note—I plant my peas about the first week of May. That is much later than most advice suggests. However, one year I tried planting peas every two weeks, starting in mid-March, and they all matured at the same time. I figure, the less time they’re in the ground, the less likely they are to rot, be eaten, get hailed on, or otherwise fall victim to the great outdoors—hence, my early May sowing date. (Read more in my post, “Timing Peas.”

Here’s what I grow:

Super Sugar Snap
This is one of the earlier varieties, a direct improvement on the original cross. The vines grow to about five feet, and need support. (I suspect they would get much taller in a more benign climate.) It’s a little later than other varieties, which means I get a harvest around the end of June. I buy mine from Pinetree Seeds, but it’s widely available. I always plant this one.

Sugar Mel
I tried Sugar Mel because of its advertised heat tolerance. I was pretty happy—at least I got a crop!—and planned to order it again. However, it’s getting hard to find. Still, the pods were tender, the peas were sweet, and the harvest was pretty good for Colorado. This one also has tall vines.

Oregon Sugar Pod II
I haven’t grown these in years, but they were a garden staple when we lived in northern California. There are other varieties available, and I’ve tried a few, but I always came back to this one. If you want sugar peas for Chinese food, this is the one to get.

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