Peas are legumes--plants which produce seed pods--and are very easy to grow. They are a staple for many home gardeners. Peas are a versatile vegetable, and can be eaten raw in salads or as a snack, cooked in many dishes, and they freeze well. To achieve the best crop, growers should be aware of the choices available when deciding on which varieties to grow, including climate and soil types.
Dwarf pea varieties grow to a height of three feet. Because of their reduced height, usually need no support. Dwarf varieties generally have a lower yield than traditional climbing peas. Dwarf peas are advantageous if your pea plants are prone to maggots in your area. Being so short, dwarf peas are much more easily netted to prevent pea moths attacking. Traditional climbing pea varieties, such as Champion of England, can exceed heights of 10 feet. Climbing peas give a high yield in return for a small amount of growing space, and are an excellent choice for growers with limited space.
Snow peas varieties, also known as mange-tout or Chinese peas, produce flat, pale pods, through which the flat peas are visible. These pea varieties are most commonly used in salads and stir-fry. Snow peas do not need to be shelled, as the pods are sweet, soft and edible. Snow pea varieties have a lower calorific value than regular garden pea varieties, and also have a higher vitamin C content, but overall contain fewer nutrients.
Sugar Snap Peas
Sugar snap pea varieties are a cross between the snow pea and the common garden pea. Sugar snap varieties produce plump, crisp pods, and are, in appearance very similar to garden pea varieties. Like their snow pea relations, sugar snap varieties have sweet, edible pods, and do not need to be shelled. Sugar snap peas have a lower calorific and nutritional value.
There are two types of seed: wrinkled and smooth. Smooth pea seed varieties, such as Hatif d'Annonay or Serpette Guilloteau are more tolerant to damp conditions, so can be planted much earlier in the season or over-wintered for an early harvest the following season. Smooth seeded varieties generally become starchy and tough quicker than the wrinkled variety, therefore the fruit must be picked sooner to achieve soft sweet peas. Wrinkled pea seed does not tolerate damp conditions. Wrinkled seed varieties are best suited to use as a main crop or late-season crop and remain sweeter for a longer period than the traditional smooth varieties.
As peas do not cross-pollinate, it is possible to save seed from several varieties at one time without the risk of cultivating an unstable hybrid. Simply leave the pods on the vines until they are completely dry, or if it rains heavily, hang the pods inside to dry. Once the shells are completely dry, shell the peas and leave for a further week to air dry. These peas can then be replanted the following season. Store the seeds in a cool dry environment. Any seeds with cracked or split skin should be removed, as they will not germinate.