Watch a time-lapse video of peas growing!
Watch a time-lapse video of peas growing!
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 - 11
The most common pea is a small, spherical seed or seed pod of the pod fruit, pisum sativum, an annual with a life cycle of one year. Pisum sativum comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from compact to long-vined varieties, and with varying pod and seed characteristics. Most peas are green, although some varieties come in golden yellow or purple. Both compact and long-vined varieties come in four basic types, which vary in seed and pod characteristics. The four types are: snap peas, snow peas, shell peas and soup peas.
-Snap peas are eaten whole, and both the outer pod and inner seed are sweet in taste.
-Snow peas are also eaten whole, producing flat pods that are more tender than snap peas, with tender, edible vine tips.
-Shell peas have tough, inedible pods with sweet, tender peas inside.
-Soup peas are hard, starch-filled seeds that are dried and used in soups. They grow in inedible pods, and vary in shape, color and size.
Peas are easy to grow from seed because the peas themselves are seeds. It is a cool season crop that is planted any time between winter and early summer, depending on the growing zone.
In warmer climates, peas are planted in winter to yield a harvest before the intense heat of summer arrives - a second crop can be planted in late summer to be harvested in the fall.
In cooler climates, peas are planted in early spring.
The best time to harvest peas depends on the variety.
-Snap peas when they have matured from flat to plump pods with fully-ripe seeds.
-Snow peas when the pods have reached full size, and the seeds inside are just beginning to swell, while they are still young and underdeveloped.
-Shell peas when the pods begin to develop a waxy sheen, but before their color fades.
-Soup pea pods remain on the vine until they begin to dry and turn a tan color and the pods harden.
Commercial growers use mechanized harvesters to pick and shell the peas.
Once peas are picked, the in them sugar begins to turn to starch, and they start to lose their sweetness and harden. In the case of soup peas, they are intentionally dried for later use. For this reason, it is important that fresh peas are refrigerated and eaten as soon as possible.
Peas should be kept un-washed and un-shelled in a perforated plastic bag or an unsealed container that allows for some air circulation. Peas stored in the refrigerator keep for several days.
To freeze peas, they are put in boiling water for one to two minutes and dried, then put in an airtight bag or container for up to six months.
The modern day garden pea is thought to have originated from the field pea, native to Central Asia and the Middle East, and widely recognized as one of the first crops cultivated by humans, starting at the dawn of Neolithic agriculture.
The earliest evidence of wild peas was discovered in the Spirit Cave in northwestern Thailand, a prehistoric archaeological site dating back to 9000 BCE, and in cave sites in present-day northwestern Iraq dating back to 7000 BCE.
Throughout their early history, peas were not eaten fresh, but in their dried form. The ancient Greeks and Romans, from whom the modern pea derives its name (pisos in ancient Greek, and pisum in Latin) cultivated peas in this form; in classical Athens, “hot pea soup” was sold on the streets. During the Middle Ages, peas were a staple food of the peasant class throughout Europe because they were inexpensive and plentiful, and could be stored dry throughout the winter months.
There is no record of peas being eaten fresh until the early 17th century when English literature begins to distinguish between dried “field peas” and fresh “garden peas.” Different varieties of peas such as sugar peas appeared in France during the time of Henry IV, and were introduced to Genoa by French king, Louis XIV in 1660. Throughout the 17th century in particular, fresh peas were hailed as a luxurious delicacy.
Peas made their way to North America during the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson, is said to have grown more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate.
Canada leads the world in pea production, followed by France, China, and Russia.
Peas are consumed around the world in a variety of ways: Canned, dried, frozen or fresh.
They are often served as a side dish. Shelled garden peas are used in pot pies, salads, and casseroles. Unshelled sugar and snow peas are used in many Asian-American stir fry recipes. A number of traditional Indian dishes also use fresh peas, such as aloo matar (curried potatoes with peas) or matar paneer (paneer cheese with peas). Various regional varieties of pea soup are popular worldwide.
A Mexico City-based study recently showed that a daily intake of 2 milligrams or more of coumestrol, a phytonutrient found in peas and other legumes, decreases the risk of stomach cancer. One cup of peas contains 10 milligrams of coumestrol.
Two kinds of phytonutrients (pisusaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B) are found almost exclusively in peas. When combined with other phytonutrients that occur naturally in peas, recent studies have shown that the unusual combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits of pisusaponins and pisomosides may help to decrease the risk of type II diabetes.
The strong fiber and protein content of green peas is attributed to the legume’s association with lowered risk of type II diabetes. By breaking down the starches that enter the digestive tract into sugars and regulating the passage of carbohydrates through the digestive tract, fiber and protein help the body maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Green peas are a low fat food, however, they contain a surprisingly high level of fat-soluble nutrients. They are a good source of omega 3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and the omega 6 fatty acid, linoleic acid. ALA helps prevent certain kinds of cell damage in the body and helps the body to break down carbohydrates. It protects against memory loss, nerve-related symptoms of diabetes, chronic fatigue, cancer, eye-related disorders, and heart disease.
Peas are a good source of carotenoids alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, which have been shown to promote eye health and reduce the risk of cancer. Carotenoids protect the eyes by absorbing damaging blue light that enters the eye and working as antioxidants, protecting cells in the eye from oxidative damage from free radicals.
Additional antioxidant vitamins found in peas include vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as the antioxidant mineral, zinc.
Green peas also contain good levels of vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6 and folate, which combine with the omega 3 fatty acids and other blood vessel health-promoting anti-inflammatory and antioxidant vitamins, to provide a powerhouse role in protecting cardiovascular health.
How to grow peas in your garden
-Peas are planted approximately one month before the last frost, when the soil temperature averages 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Peas grow best around or below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
-If using your own pea pods as a source for seeds, shell the pods and put the peas in a warm space to dry for 3 days, then store in an envelope in a cool, dark and dry place. You can use the seeds immediately or they can be stored and planted for up to three years.
-To start pea seeds, work nitrogen-rich organic matter such as compost or well-decomposed manure into the soil. For a pea-planting head start, add organic matter, turn soil, and mulch well during the fall to prepare beds for early spring planting.
-Using the corner of a gardening hoe, create shallow furrows in the bed spaced 12 to 24 inches apart. Plant seeds in the furrows, spaced approximately 1 to 2 inches apart, and cover with 1 inch of soil.
-Water immediately after planting, and regularly afterward to keep evenly moist but not soggy at all times. Weeds will compete with pea seedlings for nutrients, so be vigilant in weeding beds, especially for the first six weeks.
-For tall and vining varieties, establish a trellis at the time of planting. Most varieties of peas are ready to harvest 18 to 21 days after blooms appear, approximately 60 days after planting.
If allowed to remain on their parent plants for the duration of the growing season, peas will dry out and begin to rattle inside their brown and shriveled pods. This is when they are ready to be removed from the plant and harvested for their seeds.