There is a Saint Patrick's Day pea planting tradition in the Northeast, as long as the season allows the soil to be worked on March 17 (read: perhaps not this one). About 7 days after the first sowing, peas burst from plump seeds with large and hardy cotyledons, a grand announcement that the growing season has begun. From sowing to first harvest, peas take about 70 days, and need plenty of water, cool weather and trellising for a good crop. (Read all about growing, harvesting and eating peas here.)
So, for all that wanting, waiting, and work, once pea harvest comes, it better be good right? It's best to know what to expect with your pea varieties, so whether you are a newbie pea grower or an expert gardener, use these notes directly from our trial gardens to inform your pea planting schedule.
Petite Plants: Containers and small spaces
A pot of Tom Thumb Shelling peas in full bloom is just about the cutest thing you might ever see. Don't expect copious amount of peas, though. Since the plants are dwarf, the pods are smaller too, and each plant yields 1-4 pods, making is a great variety for kids or a fun edible ornamental for your patio.
If you are looking for a better performer in a tight space, try Laxton's Progess Shelling Pea. The vines reach about 24" high and are covered in plump pods with 7-10 peas per pod. Laxton's does well in raised beds and needs little or no trellising. At 60 days to maturity, it also makes a great late fall crop if planted in the late summer.
Shorter vines=shorter days to maturity
Sugar Daddy is a great snap pea that yields loads upon loads of pods. They are about 2" long, plump, stringless, and quite crisp. Trellising is still a good idea to keep the base of the plants off the ground. When planted at the same time as Sugar Snap, Sugar Daddy produces peas about 2 weeks ahead. Plant these two varieties together for a longer snap pea harvest window.
Green Arrow is one of the industry standards for open-pollinated shelling pea production. Plants are loaded with pods bearing 8-10 peas a piece. Green Arrow is a reliable producer in all types of spring conditions. Flavor of the peas is best when picked before they have reached their full size, as they can become starchy quickly. The draw back to Green Arrow is that since the plants are shorter, you have to pick them lower, which can be tough on the back! Knee pads recommended.
Best flavor, highest yields
Sugar Snap is hands down the cream of the snap pea crop! Large, plump, crisp pods are super sweet, like candy. The vines reach 72" high and require trellising. In a good season, the picking period for one planting is 4 weeks, with the heaviest yields beginning one week after the first peas appear and lasting about 2 weeks. Definitely the best choice for a market farm or serious snap-pea-loving-homestead.
Tall Telephone Pea, AKA Aldermann is a HVSL staff favorite. While the tall vines require the extra trellising, it also allows for upright picking. The pods are very long and filled with up to 12 peas per pod. The pods themselves are thick walled and crisp, making shelling a breeze. The pods pop open easily, whereas Green Arrow pods are thin and need to be fully stringed to open them. The best quality about Tall Telephone though is the flavor. These peas are sweet even when quite fat, and there is more time in between the sweet stage and the starchy bitter stage. Very high yields of high quality peas.
Swiss Giant is an excellent snow pea variety for home or market gardens. The beautiful 60" vines brighten the garden with loads of bi-colored pink and purple flowers, which then become crisp, large, 2-3" snow peas. Swiss Giant is great lightly sautéed, but bright enough to eat raw as a crudite. Snow peas are a great choice for the fall garden as well, and Swiss Giant is certainly no exception. Since we grew Swiss Giant as a seed crop, some seeds inadvertently self sowed, and we were pleasantly surprised by a hearty fall crop of unexpected snow peas. Sow purposefully in late summer for a fall crop.
Not for Eating...
Scented Sweet Pea Mix is a bright mix of fragrant varieties. Sweet peas can be tricky to grow if they aren't sowed asap though, they do not perform well in the heat. Plant them in a spot that gets partial shade to help cool them off when spring days start getting hot. Once you've got them established, the blooms are well worth the extra planning and early planting. Their scent is easily carried through the garden, and they make a great cut flower as well. A great addition to add color and height to the garden. Not recommend to grow along edible peas, sweet peas are toxic and should not be consumed.