When to Plant
Peas thrive in cool, moist weather and produce best in cool, moderate climates. Early plantings normally produce larger yields than later plantings. Peas may be planted whenever the soil temperature is at least 45°F, and the soil is dry enough to till without its sticking to garden tools.
Plantings of heat-tolerant varieties can be made in midsummer to late summer, to mature during cool fall days. Allow more days to the first killing frost than the listed number of days to maturity because cool fall days do not speed development of the crop as do the long, bright days of late spring.
Spacing & Depth
Plant peas 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and one inch apart in single or double rows. Allow 18 to 24 inches between single or pairs of rows. Allow 8 to 10 inches between double rows in pairs.
The germinating seeds and small seedlings are easily injured by direct contact with fertilizer or improper cultivation. Cultivate and hoe shallowly during the early stages of growth. Most dwarf and intermediate varieties are self-supporting. The taller varieties (Green Arrow and Bolero) are most productive and more easily picked when trained to poles or to a fence for support; but they are no longer popular. Peas can be mulched to cool the soil, reduce moisture loss and keep down soil rots. Some of the snap and sugar peas are vining types with heights of 6 feet or more that require fencing or other supports.
When the pea pods are swollen (appear round) they are ready to be picked. Pick a few pods every day or two near harvest time to determine when the peas are at the proper stage for eating. Peas are of the best quality when they are fully expanded but immature, before they become hard and starchy. Peas should be picked immediately before cooking because their quality, especially sweetness (like that of sweet corn), deteriorates rapidly. The pods on the lower portion of the plant mature earliest. The last harvest (usually the third) is made about one week after the first. Pulling the entire plant for the last harvest makes picking easier.
Sugar Snap Peas
Snap peas should be harvested every 1 or 3 days, similarly to snow peas to get peak quality. Sugar snaps are at their best when the pods first start to fatten but before the seeds grow very large. At this point, the pods snap like green beans and the whole pod can be eaten. Some varieties have strings along the seams of the pod that must be removed before cooking. Sugar snaps left on the vine too long begin to develop tough fiber in the pod walls. These must then be shelled and used as other garden peas, with the fibrous pods discarded. Vining types of both sugar snap and snow peas continue to grow taller and produce peas as long as the plant stays in good health and the weather stays cool.
These varieties are generally harvested before the individual peas have grown to the size of BBS, when the pods have reached their full length but are still quite flat. This stage is usually reached 5 to 7 days after flowering. Snow peas must be picked regularly (at least every other day) to assure sweet, fiber-free pods. Pods can be stir-fried, steamed or mixed with oriental vegetables or meat dishes. As soon as overgrown pods missed in earlier pickings are discovered, remove them from the plants to keep the plants blooming and producing longer. Enlarging peas inside these pods may be shelled and used as garden peas. Fat snow pea pods (minus the pea enlarging inside) should be discarded. Fibers that develop along the edges of larger pods, along with the stem and blossom ends, are removed during preparation. Pea pods lose their crispness if overcooked. The pods have a high sugar content and brown or burn quickly. Do not stir-fry over heat that is too intense.
Pea pods can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for two weeks. Unlike fresh green peas, pea pods deteriorate only slightly in quality when stored.