Simplifying Pea Production

Shelling PeasA look at any seed catalog will reveal at least three kinds of peas: shelling peas, snap peas, and snow peas. Shelling peas are the ones that show up in the canned and frozen vegetable sections at the supermarket. When you grow them at home, though, there’s quite a bit of work involved in getting all those little green gems out of their pods. That, I assume, is why the snap pea–with its edible pods–was introduced. There’s no shelling involved. Just cook and enjoy the whole thing! And then there are the snow peas, which are also eaten pod-and-all, but while the peas inside are still tiny and the pod is still flat. They’re most often seen in Asian dishes or on salads.

In my first few years of gardening I was so excited by all the possibilities that I just had to grow every kind of pea. Even as recently as last year, I planted Amish Snaps, Mammoth Melting Sugar snow peas, and some Burpeeana Early shelling peas that I found long-forgotten in a kitchen drawer. All grew well. The Amish Snaps and Mammoth snow peas surged to the top of the seven-foot poles I’d erected for them, and they produced abundantly. The Burpeeana Earlies were a bush variety, not getting taller than 18″, but I was astounded at how abundantly they produced on such squat little plants.

The only thing was that most of the family, being culinary conservatives (i.e. picky eaters), had no interest in either of my edible-podded varieties. My mother and I raved about the Snap Peas in Milk with Mint, but that was not enough to convince the rest of them. They wanted those good old-fashioned green marbles. So I ended up shelling most of the snap peas for them. I even shelled the snow peas when they got plump enough.

Which leads me to this year’s planting choices. I knew that this year was going to be very busy, what with buying a house and getting married and all. So I resolved to simplify my planting. As far as peas went, I would only plant shelling peas, since they were the only kind that actually got eaten in any quantity. I planted two varieties–Green Arrow and Little Marvel–both with short vines that would require little to no support.

I got a late start planting, and we had a particularly cool spring, so the first substantial harvest was a while coming. But as I was waiting for the pods to fill out, I realized that what were currently hanging on the vine were actually snow peas. Snow peas, I realized, were just immature peas. It seems so obvious when you think about it, and yet, because they were listed separately in the seed catalog, I’d always just assumed that if you wanted snow peas, you had to plant something labeled “snow peas.” Now maybe the varieties with that label are a little tastier than the immature shelling peas I picked and ate this spring, but I couldn’t detect a difference. Early in the spring, when the palate is eager for any fresh vegetable, I don’t think it’s going to complain about the disparity. And really, it makes so much more sense to harvest “snow peas” and “shelling peas” from the same set of plants. You take just as many snow peas as you want, and those you don’t harvest become shelling peas! It’s a great example of both simplicity and flexibility, two things every gardener craves.

On June 5, we finally had our first substantial harvest of mature peas: 6 lbs. of pods from 20 feet of double row. It took me about an hour to shell them all, but I didn’t have any regrets about not growing snap peas instead. On a pleasant spring day, it’s nice to have an excuse to sit outside on the porch and listen to the birds. There are some kinds of “work” that actually make us slow down and savor the moment, and shelling peas is one of them.

So I guess the culinary conservatives were right. The good old-fashioned shelling pea is where it’s at. For our family, at least.

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2 thoughts on “Simplifying Pea Production

  1. I can’t believe the size of your harvest. I planted a bunch of peas, with a lot of pomp and hope, and got maybe half a cup of shelled peas. Thanks for the pea primer!

    • Oh, I’ve had my off-years. A couple of years ago, I had extremely low germination, and a harvest of just a handful of pods. I never figured that one out. I just hope it doesn’t happen again too soon!

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