Gardening : Growing Peas in Southland a Snap

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Sidnam has written garden columns and features for The Times since 1975</i>

Peas, fresh from the garden, sweet and succulent, are a winter delight for Southland gardeners. While gardeners in most other areas of the country plant peas in the early spring, autumn is the best time to plant peas here.

While often taken for granted by gardeners in this country, peas are superstars in many European gardens--especially in England where gardeners often compete to see who can produce the earliest crop.

There are three classes of peas available to home gardeners: the garden or English pea, the Oriental or snow pea and the Sugar Snap pea.


Sugar Snap Peas

Let’s start with the newest and probably the most popular pea among home gardeners, the Sugar Snap pea. Developed by Calvin Lamborn, Sugar Snap peas were first introduced to the gardening public in 1979.

If you are not familiar with them, Sugar Snap peas can be eaten pod and all, either raw or cooked. They are different from edible-podded snow peas, which have to be picked when young and flat-podded, then cooked. Sugar Snap peas are harvested when they are mature, with round pods filled with peas like the common garden pea. They have a very distinctive, sweet flavor and are usually eaten raw. The sweetness has been bred into the pod as well as the peas.

When introduced, the Sugar Snap pea immediately won an All-America Selections Gold Medal Vegetable Award and was subsequently named by All-America Selections as the best vegetable introduction in the first 50 years of the organization’s history.

Since introduction, Sugar Snap peas have become immensely popular with home gardeners. And with good reason. According to Lamborn, when asked if they are as delicious cooked as when eaten raw, he replied that they are (especially stir-fried), but most gardeners wouldn’t know because they are so delectable raw that very few get from the garden to the house to be cooked.

Lamborn, who is now a research director at Rogers NK Co. in Twin Falls, Ida., says that Sugar Snap peas are the ideal vegetable for gardeners to nibble on while working in the garden. Unlike carrots or radishes that have to have the soil washed off them, Sugar Snap peas can be eaten directly from the vine.

The original Sugar Snap pea grew on tall 6-foot vines that required trellis support and the pods had strings that had to be removed. Over the years, dwarf versions of snap peas have been developed that don’t require high trellising, and Lamborn has developed two types that are stringless. However, of the many types of snap peas now available, Lamborn says that the original Sugar Snap version remains the most popular with home gardeners.


Oriental or Snow Peas

Edible-podded snow peas are an expensive vegetable when purchased at $3 a pound. Yet these Oriental delicacies are easy to grow in the home garden and they are quite productive.

Snow peas are grown for their crisp tender pods, which contain tiny immature peas. There are two types of snow peas: the tall climbing varieties, which require support in the form of a trellis or similar structure, and the bush varieties, which don’t need to be supported.

If you have the space, you might grow both types, because the bush form will mature before the climbing variety, thus assuring a continuous supply of snow peas over an extended period.

Two bush snow pea varieties will produce large harvests from a fairly small area. Oregon Sugar Pod II produces long, tender pods of excellent quality on disease-resistant plants. Oregon Giant Sugar Pod is a recent introduction. It produces pods that are sweet and tender, though larger than other varieties. This is my favorite snow pea.

Of the climbing snow-pea types, Mammoth Melting Sugar is a very productive variety that has good eating qualities. The harvesting process is extremely important with snow peas. Harvest them when the pods are bright green and still flattened but slightly bumpy with the immature peas in the formation stage.

Garden or English Peas

Garden peas are the typical round peas that are shelled and cooked. However, there is simply no comparison between home-grown garden peas and market peas. Like sweet corn, the sugar content of fresh peas changes rapidly to starch soon after picking. The fresh peas you purchase in the market have a bland, starchy taste, but the ones you pick from the vine will be sweet and tender and will literally melt in your mouth.


There are three classes of garden peas available to home gardeners: early, midseason and late-maturing. To assure a continuous supply of fresh peas and to save labor, you may want to plant all three types at the same time rather than make successive plantings of one variety.

Early varieties usually grow on dwarf vines about 18 inches tall. Four varieties that produce well in this area are Little Marvel, Blue Bantam, Novella and Maestro.

Midseason varieties grow on vines about 30 inches tall. Two excellent midseason varieties are Green Arrow and Lincoln.

Then there is Alderman, a late-maturing variety that grows on vines 5 feet tall. It requires support in the form of trellises or garden netting.

Growing Peas

Peas are strictly a cool-season vegetable that may be planted from fall throughout winter in our area. They should be planted in an area of the garden that receives full sun. The soil should be thoroughly spaded and enriched with organic materials such as compost or peat moss.

Before planting, add a light application of a vegetable fertilizer to the soil. High-nitrogen fertilizers should be avoided because they encourage foliage growth at the expense of pod development. Always water thoroughly after fertilizing and allow the soil to settle for two days before planting.


Seeds for the bush types of peas should be sown 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart in rows spaced 15 inches apart. The climbing types will grow 5 to 7 feet tall and should be trellised. Plant the seeds in rows spaced 6 inches on either side of the trellis. Sow the seeds 2 inches apart.

If there is no rain, irrigate peas on a weekly basis. Avoid overhead watering--this promotes mildew.

Seeds for most varieties mentioned here should be available at local nurseries, except for Oregon Giant Sugar Pod, which is fairly new. Seeds for it are available from Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Highway, Ore. 97321; they offer a free catalogue.