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Snow Peas are Ancient Spring Vegetable

One of my earliest memories is of picking fresh peas out in the garden, then removing them from the pod and eating them raw.

Those were the traditional English Garden peas that my mother grew. I’ve never grown English peas; I choose to use the space to grow Oriental Snow Peas or Sugar Snap Peas.

snow peas
snow peas

This past winter while organizing and purging my seed collection, I came across two packages of peas—one each of Snow and Sugar Snap. I had written on the package that they were collected from my garden in 2002, which was the last year I had a large vegetable garden, due to injury and illness.

Being a thrifty gardener, I didn’t want to throw them away. I put them in a sprouter designed to grow alfalfa or other small sprouts for the kitchen. As you can see by the above photo, within a couple days they had sprouted.

Only ten Snow pea seeds sprouted and all but one have broken ground in the garden. As for the Sugar Snap peas, only eight sprouted and so far one or two have broken ground.

Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon, or Snow peas, have been found in both Chinese and Egyptian archaeological sites dating to 12,000 years ago. It is thought that the name derives from the whitish tint reflected from the pods in sunlight or the fact that they often grow on through late season snowfalls.

Peas aren’t fussy about what type of soil they grow in, as long as it is well-drained; pea seeds will rot if planted in soil that doesn’t drain well.

Plant peas in very early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Plant about two inches apart and about an inch deep. When about two inches high, thin to stand three to four inches apart.

Provide a trelis for your Snow or Sugar Snap peas to climb. They’ll grow much taller than their English garden pea counterpart.

Peas are a legume and like all legumes, they fix nitrogen in the soil. What does this mean for your garden? The plants take nitrogen from the air (like magic) and exude it through their roots, thereby “fixing” it into the soil. This is most beneficial for crops that like a lot of nitrogen, such as greens or corn.

Peas stop producing when hot summer weather arrives so they are a perfect crop for succession planting. In my garden this year, corn will be planted right next to the fence where the peas will be climbing; they’ll stay out of the way of each other because the corn won’t have grown large enough to crowd the peas before the peas are finished producing.

One important thing to remember about peas: after they stop producing when hot weather arrives, cut the vines off at ground level and leave the roots in the ground. They’ll continue to decay and add nitrogen to the soil.

I’m sure I’ll only get a couple meals from my dozen or so pea vines this year, but they’ll also produce seeds for planting next year.

My research reveals that the new growth at the tips of pea vines is often cut and stir fried like a vegetable in Oriental dishes. I’ll definitely be trying this as a new spring vegetable this year.

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