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GardenSMART :: Snow Peas

Snow Peas

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

You have probably enjoyed snow peas in Asian cuisine, but have you ever considered growing them in your own vegetable garden? Snow peas are easy to grow – as easy as any other pea – and are at their most fresh, tender and nutritious when eaten the day they're picked.

There are three types of garden peas: regular peas (Pisum sativum), the kind with tough, inedible pods that must be shelled to get at the edible peas inside; snow peas (Pisum sativum var. Saccharatum), with tender pods that are edible but have tiny, almost non-existent peas, and snap peas (Pisum macrocarpon), where both the pods and the peas are edible. All are legumes, which means snow peas fix nitrogen in the soil, benefiting your garden.

You can find seeds for snow peas at your garden center or big box store. Varieties to look for include 'Avalanche', 'Snowbird', and the heirloom 'Mammoth Melting Sugar'.

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How to Grow

There's a saying that you should plant peas on St. Patrick's Day, but in many areas of the country, that's too early. Even though snow peas are a cool-weather vegetable and can handle cold temperatures and even some frost, temperatures that remain below freezing for days will kill them.

Snow peas will grow in full sun or in bright or light shade. Afternoon shade is best in hotter regions. To avoid soil-borne diseases, don't plant them where you've grown any kind of peas in the past two years.

Once soil temperatures are at least 45 degrees, sow seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart, four to six weeks before the last frost in your area. There should be 12 to 24 inches between rows to allow for light and air circulation. The soil should not be soaking wet, or the seeds will rot.

The vines will send out tendrils to climb, so provide a trellis that's two or three feet high. Don't let the soil dry out or the vines will stop producing. Keep the area around the vines weeded.

Peas are ready to be harvested after about 60 days, when they are between 2 ½ inches to 4 inches long. Smaller pods are the most tender. Keep picking every couple of days to keep the vines producing. Snow peas will give up the ghost when the weather gets consistently above 80 degrees. Sow seeds again 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost for a fall crop.

Full of nutrients, one cup of snow peas has about 70 calories and is a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, potassium, folic acid, and magnesium. One serving contains four grams of fiber.

Snow peas are delicious raw or cooked. They add a bright crunch to Asian dishes, of course, but also other types of stir-fries and sautés as well as in salads and as crudité. They are easy to overcook and will become tough, so don't cook them longer than two or three minutes. Store in the fridge and use within a couple of days, because their flavor decreases over time.

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