Grown for more than 5,000 years in Asia, according to Washington State University Extension, peas (Pisum sativum var.) are a cool weather-loving vegetable available in three basic types: English garden peas (also called “shelling peas”), which have inedible pods; snap peas, which are eaten--pod and all--when the peas inside are plump and succulent; and oriental snow peas, which have edible pods are are eaten when the peas inside are just beginning to swell. All types of peas have identical growth stages, including edible vines and flowers, but the oriental varieties are the ones most often grown for this purpose.
Sprouts of edible-podded peas have in recent years become increasingly available as an early-spring vegetable. The edible sprouts are picked when they are between 6 and 12 inches long and are sold in bundles in farmer's markets and oriental grocery stores. The sprouts are ready for picking just three to four weeks after the seeds emerge. They are most often added to soups or stir-fries at the last minute to just heat them through, yet remain crisp-tender.
When pea vines reach a height of 12 to 18 inches, they begin to produce light lavender-colored edible flowers. These flowers are also sold in farmer's markets and oriental groceries as additions to spring salads. The vines reach this height and begin producing flowers when they are about four to six weeks old and are then no longer cut to be sold as pea sprouts. The first few flowers on each vine are cut for salads with the remaining flowers left to form pea pods.
Once the vines reach about 20 inches high, the flowers are left on the vines to form pea pods. Most varieties of oriental edible pea pods are ready for harvest in about 70 days or about eight to nine weeks from sowing. They will continue to produce pods until hot summer weather sets in, then production will slow to a trickle and finally stop. Plant again in late summer for a fall crop.
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