Choosing Pea Varieties
Peas are fun and easy to raise because they take very little work and mature rapidly. It's possible to grow them in any part of the country, even though English and edible-podded peas prefer cool, moist weather.
No matter where you live, English peas should be planted as soon as the garden can be worked. In the North that means early spring, because peas can survive late frosts.
The two basic types of English peas are dwarf, which grow to a height of about 16 inches, and telephone or tall varieties, which grow more than three feet tall. Although dwarf peas can be grown without a trellis if you plant in wide rows, the taller varieties need a fence or some type of support, especially if grown in single or double rows.
If you're wondering how much seed to buy when selecting varieties, it helps to know that 1/4 pound will usually produce enough peas for one person to eat fresh. Multiply this figure by the number of people eating, and you'll know about how much to plant. If you plan to preserve some for winter use, double the amount.
Snow peas are usually harvested when they're young, crisp and flat, before the pods have filled out. These peas are eaten pods and all. However, if the pods develop too fast, the peas can be shelled, cooked and eaten as English peas. Most varieties will begin producing 63 to 72 days from planting. Their need for support depends on whether or not they're grown in wide rows and how tall they grow. Try 'Mammoth Melting Sugar', 'Oregon Sugar Pod II', or 'Dwarf Gray Sugar' varieties.
Snap peas (which gardeners often call sugar snaps after the original variety, Sugar Snap) are grown like English peas, picked when the pods have filled out and eaten pods and all. These sweet-flavored peas are delicious raw or cooked. They have the tenderness and fleshy pod qualities of young beans with the flavor of peas. The wilt-resistant vines grow to a height of two to six feet, depending on the variety. The delicious medium green pods grow to a length of 2-1/2 to four inches. Popular varieties include 'Cascadia', 'Sugar Bon', and 'Super Sugar Snap'.
Plant the seeds early and consider sowing again for a fall crop.
Confusing as it may sound, the vegetable most southerners call peas is, botanically speaking, neither a pea nor a bean.
Black-eyeds, crowders and creams are the best-known southern "peas." In the North, these "peas" are called shell beans. They can be grown successfully in the North as well as in the South. Unlike green peas, southern peas need warm soil to germinate. The cool, damp weather that English peas love is exactly what southern peas dislike. Because they're drought resistant, excess moisture may cause a reduced yield. Southern peas grow just as well in wide rows as English peas. Try 'Mississippi Silver' or 'Queen Anne Black Eye' anywhere in the country; 'Big Boy', 'Lady', and 'Pinkeye Purple Hull' are other popular varieties.
Photography by Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association