Peas are part of the legume family. Grown in pods, peas are packed with nutrition. There are basically three types: garden peas, snow peas, and snap peas.
The first variety are green (garden) peas or Pisum sativum, whose pods are more fibrous and often not eaten. Their pods are round and plump in shape as are the peas inside them.
The second variety is the snow pea, whose pod is flattish, thin and tender when steamed or boiled. One can observe the shape and size of the pea through the opaque pod. Generally speaking, the smaller the snow pea the sweeter and juicer it is.
The third are snap peas, a cross between garden and snow peas. Their pods are very edible. Both snap and the snow peas are sweeter tasting than garden peas.
Peas are an ancient vegetable. They were popular in Egyptian and Greco-Romans times and are mentioned in the Bible. But they were eaten dried. During the 16th century, Europeans began boiling peas. The Chinese are credited with first stir frying and eating the snow pea in its pod.
To grow peas in your garden, you need cool soil. They are frost resistant and hardy, but do not like long periods of hot weather. Depending on the type you plant, the maturation is anywhere from 54 to 80 days.
Garden or Green Peas come in four popular varieties:
- Day Break and Spring peas are mature in 54 days and grow around 22-24 inches tall.
- Sparkle peas mature in 60 days and grow up to 18 inches in height. They are good for freezing.
- Little Marvel grow in 63 days and up to 18 inches tall.
- Green Arrow is ready to pick in 68 days and grows up to 28 inches tall. Their pods grow in pairs and they have been bred to be resistant to fusarium and powdery mildew.
- Wando takes up to 70 days to mature and grows 24-30 inches tall. It is a good choice for more Southern gardens because it better withstands heat. They are planted in late spring.
Sugar Peas come in three main varieties:
- Snowbird grow in double or triple pods in clusters. They mature in 58 days and grow 18 inches tall.
- Dwarf Gray Sugar like it name indicates is not as green. It takes 65 days, growing 24 to 30 inches.
- Snowflake are the slow pokes. They take up to72 days to mature and grow to 22 inches . But they are high yield producers.
Plant peas in soil at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit and that is dry enough to till without sticking to the tools. More heat resistant varieties may be planted in late summer in colder climates. However, you risk them not maturing before the first good freeze because they grow slower than if planted in the early spring.
Peas are planted in rows about 1/2 inch deep and 18 to 24 inches apart. Be sure to hoe lightly and on the surface only around the plants and if the summer is particularly warm, mulch around the plants to help retain coolness and moisture.
Nutritional Content and Health Benefits of Peas
Peas are packed with 8 vitamins, 7 minerals , protein and fiber. They are an excellent source of Vitamin K, which activates the osteocalcin in our bodies, thus anchoring the calcium we digest to our bones. They are also a good source of folic acid and Vitamin B6, important for combating osteoporosis and atherosclerosis by reducing the buildup of homocysteine molecules.
Peas are a good source of other B Vitamins as well, such as thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and niacin (vitamin B3). These help regulate lipid, carbohydrate and protein levels.
Peas contain a fair amount of Vitamin C, which is our body’s main antioxidant protection against viruses and diseases, and perhaps even some cancers.
The smoother the skin of the pod, the more starch it has.
How to Prepare Peas
Garden peas may be harvested and removed from the pod, then boiled or dried. Snap peas can be eaten in the pod after boiling. Snow peas are eaten in their entirety, pod and seed, by either stir frying them, or steaming them. Some, if picked slightly immature, are tender enough to be eaten raw in salads.
To store peas, refrigerate them as soon as possible after picking to prevent their sugars from turning into starch. Unwashed, unhulled peas can store in the fridge for several days. To freeze, blanch the pods first, then let cool.
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