Other than the salad plants such as lettuce, radish, onions and spinach, the first “main crop” vegetables that we harvest from our vegetable patch are the edible pod peas. What a treat to be able to pick these delectable treats from the vine and simply pop them into our mouths – they could certainly be called the “gardener’s candy!” Sweet beyond compare, tender, and oh so flavourful; edible pod peas are indeed a midsummer treat that every gardener on the Prairies can enjoy.
Like the traditional English peas, edible pod peas are cool-weather plants and so should be planted early in the spring – I plant mine around the first of May in our Zone 2 region. I like to plant the seeds fairly thickly– about three centimetres apart. Edible pod peas do not become particularly bushy but instead tend to send up one central stem, so they can be planted quite close together. They like a rich soil that has been well worked and may not perform as well if the soil is compacted. The soil should have good drainage.
Edible pod peas, like other types of peas, are quite tolerant of early-spring frosts, so they can be planted before the danger of late frost has passed. I cover the seeds with about four cm of soil and make sure that the soil is kept moist during the germination period to ensure successful germination. About the time the pea plants are emerging from the ground, cutworms also emerge, so keep a watchful eye and if you see small plants cut off at ground level dig around in the soil, catch the culprits and kill them.
Growing peas is also great for your garden soil as the plants fixate nitrogen into the soil so that future crops can take advantage of it. Although there are bush-type edible pod peas, most of the more popular varieties are vines which require some kind of trellis or fence on which to grow. I used 2x2s and stucco wire to create a fence for my edible pod peas and it has served me well. I find that the variety Super Sugar Snap performs best in my garden but there are several good varieties of edible pod peas available. Most have “sugar” in their names, whether it is Sugar Snap, Dwarf Sugar Snap, Sugar Lace, or Sugar Sprint. Some require no support and are bush types, while others, such as the last two are almost leafless. Besides the “snap” varieties, some edible pod peas are called Chinese peas or snow peas. These varieties produce flat pods that are harvested before the peas inside the pods develop at all. The peas in the pods of snap peas can be allowed to develop somewhat before harvest and the developing peas will create small bulges in the pods.
Edible pod peas are harvested starting from the bottom of the plants since the bottom pods are the first to form. Be sure to only harvest the pods right before you are going to use them as they are best used when fresh – they begin to lose their vitamin content when stored. Take each pod and snap off the stem and pull it down the length of the pod to remove the string (unless you have grown a stringless variety). Remove the remains of the blossom from the blossom end of each pod as well. Edible pod peas are packed with nutrients: vitamins A, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, manganese, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and folic acid among them. They are also a good source of dietary fibre.
Edible pod peas can, of course, be eaten raw – that’s the way we eat most of ours, but they can be steamed to use as a side dish, used in soups and stir-fries, served with dip or tossed into a salad. During the winter, edible pod peas are often available in grocery stores but they are expensive and if they have been picked for a long time they will have lost some of their nutrients. You can freeze your own edible pod peas and use those in the winter instead, although not in salads or for fresh eating. Pick the pods and remove the stem, string and blossom, then blanch them in boiling water for about 90 seconds before plunging them into ice water to cool. Allow the blanched pods to cool and dry before placing them into airtight freezer bags. As you use the frozen pods during the winter you will be reminded of your wonderful crop of edible pod peas that you enjoyed eating fresh during the summer!
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba