Peas growing in columnist Tom Atwell’s garden in the summer of 2020. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

I want more peas in our garden this year. Peas have always been my favorite annually planted vegetable (asparagus, a perennial, is my overall favorite) even before we started growing our own. Growing up, I ate mostly commercial frozen peas and a Fourth of July treat of fresh peas.

Last year, the almost constant rain and cloudy weather deprived us of peas. We got a tasting on July 4 and were able to eat them with only a couple of meals the rest of the summer. Although peas are a cool-season crop – doing poorly when temperatures get much above 80 degrees Fahrenheit – they do prefer at least partial sunshine and some full-sun days.

As I mentioned in my column last week, our garden will be sunnier this year because the storm felled a nearby pine tree, and our neighbor took down several others. I plan to move the peas to the section of the garden that previously was almost full shade. I have kept one tall fence for Sugar Snap peas for at least five years – these grow 6 to 8 feet tall, and I didn’t want to put up a new fence each year. But the fence was destroyed by the falling pine, so I will find a new location. I expect the crop rotation to help production.

Peas come in three basic varieties. Shelling peas are the most popular, found frozen and canned in supermarkets, and, briefly, at local farms and farmers markets. As the name implies, you eat the peas only, not the pods.  If the peas are allowed to stay on the vines until they dry out, they’re can be planted as pea seeds.

Snow peas produce flat, tasty pods, popular in Asian cooking, and a crisp, appealing vegetable in their own right.

Sugar Snap peas are a recent variation, introduced in 1979. I know that’s almost half a century ago, but it’s only an eye blink in the history of gardening. Sugar Snaps are a cross between snow peas and shelling peas, and the pods, like the peas themselves, are plump and edible. The vegetable’s creation was a lucky accident: Idaho breeder Calvin Lamborn was given the task of straightening out the curved pods on a snow pea. He cross-bred snow pea and shelling pea varieties, and came up with Sugar Snaps, in which both the shells and peas are sweet, tender and tasty.


We have grown both the original Sugar Snap and the newer Super Sugar Snap, and we like the flavor of the original better.

Because I like double-duty plants, this year I ordered some Magnolia Blossom Sugar Snaps from Renee Garden Seeds, one of our favorite non-Maine garden catalogs. Instead of the usual white blossoms, it has bicolored purple blossoms that are supposed to show up well. I’ll let you know what I think.

We don’t grow snow peas, but do grow several varieties of Sugar Snaps and shelling peas. We plant Knight and Green Arrow shelling peas each year – Knight ripening earlier, Green Arrow later. To extend the season, we plant Green Arrow, which takes longer to produce a harvest, a couple of weeks later than Knight.

I don’t mind putting up trellis-fencing for the pea vines to climb, but some gardeners do. Fortunately, you can plant dwarf varieties, which produce tasty crops while growing on vines that are only 24 to 30 inches tall and support themselves. Shelling peas in that category include Little Marvel, Penelope and Lincoln Garden. Shorter snap peas are Sugar Anne, Sugar Daddy and Cascadia.

Freshly shucked peas. A big bowl could be on your table in early summer if you plant peas in your garden soon. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Peas were traditionally planted around Patriots Day – although with the climate warming, I usually plant them earlier now – and the harvest ends before August arrives. This year, I was outside planting peas just as the partial eclipse was starting. Because we have pea-loving relatives who visit every August, we usually plant one row of peas late, in mid-June, to supply us for their visit. It works, but the yield is not as heavy as the first planting and I don’t think they taste as good.

But by that time, it could be just that I am in the mood for corn.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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