Peas (Pisum sativum) are a cool-season crop grown for their flavorful seeds and, sometimes, seedpods. Easy to grow, Peas are a valuable food source in the world and are used in a wide range of dishes. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients and provide health benefits.
- Peas belong to the plant family, Fabaceae, also known as the bean family, which includes lentils, chickpeas, beans, and peanuts.
- Although often considered a vegetable, Peas are botanically classified as a fruit, as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds.
- Peas are native to the Mediterranean Basin and the Near East and have been cultivated for thousands of years.
- Peas grow in pods on a vine, and once the pod is plump, they are ripe for picking.
- There are 2 main types of Peas: shelling Peas and edible-pod Peas. The latter includes Sugar Peas and Snow Peas, which produce edible pods that are eaten raw or cooked like green beans.
- Peas can be bought fresh, canned, or frozen.
- Peas fix nitrogen and grow readily in cooler weather. They are most commonly planted in early spring and tilled into the soil to make way for warm-weather crops.
- In most climates, gardeners can grow both a spring and fall crop.
Main Types of Peas
While there are many varieties of peas, they are sorted into three main categories: English Peas, Snow Peas, and Sugar Snap Peas.
English Peas (Pisum sativum var. sativum)
- Also known as Garden Peas or Shelling Peas, English Peas feature large bright green pods containing 5-8 plump, round, emerald-green peas. The pods are too fibrous to be edible and need to be shelled. The peas are sweet and starchy.
- For best flavor, prepare or freeze peas soon after they are harvested because the high sugar content of the peas begins to convert to starch as soon as the peas are picked from the vine.
- Available year-round, the peak season for English Peas is from spring through early summer.
- Fresh English Peas are rich in vitamin A and vitamin B (mainly folic acid), calcium, iron, zinc, and potassium. They contain protein, fiber, and lutein, which has been shown to promote healthy vision. They also contain phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties and can aid in the prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. To best preserve nutrients, use peas raw or prepare them steamed or stir-fried.
- Fresh English Peas are sweet and tender enough to be eaten raw but may also be cooked.
- Superior varieties include ‘Caseload,’ ‘Mr. Big’, ‘Maestro,’ and ‘Tall Telephone.’
Snow Peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpum)
- Snow Peas feature wide and flat, pale green pods containing small, flat Peas. Peas and pods are edible and have a sweet flavor and tender yet crisp texture.
- The white or purple flowers and young leaves can be eaten as well.
- Available year-round, the peak season for Snow Peas is spring through the early summer months.
- Snow Peas contain protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins C and K, potassium, magnesium, and iron. They are higher in vitamin C than other types of Peas.
- In oriental cuisine, Snow Peas are used in stir-fries, fried rice, and noodle dishes. Snow Peas can also be used raw in salads.
- Popular varieties include ‘Golden Sweet,’ ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar,’ ‘Oregon Giant,’ and ‘Oregon Sugar Pod.’
Sugar Snap Peas (Pisum sativum)
- Sugar Snap Peas are a cross between English Peas and Snow Peas. They feature rounded pods and thick pod walls, unlike Snow Pea pods, which are flat with thin walls. They have a sweet taste and crisp texture.
- Sugar Snap Peas are available year-round.
- Sugar snap Peas provide an excellent source of protein.
- Sugar snap Peas are welcome in many dishes and are often served in salads or eaten whole. They may also be stir-fried or steamed.
- Popular varieties include ‘Cascadia,’ ‘Sugar Ann,’ ‘Sugar Daddy,’ and ‘Super Sugar Snap.’
Peas Health Benefits
- While Peas make a flavorful addition to various dishes, they can also provide some health benefits.
- Peas are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
- Peas contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that help protect your eyes from chronic diseases, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
- Peas are rich in coumestrol, a nutrient that protects against stomach cancer.
- Peas are packed with antioxidants (Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, Catechin, Epicatechin) which help build your immune system.
- Anti-inflammatory nutrients (Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Coumestrol) have been associated with reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
- Peas are loaded with fiber and protein, which help regulate how you digest starches and help to control your blood sugar.
- Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in peas help to reduce oxidation and inflammation and prevent plaques from forming along blood vessel walls.
- Peas grow up to 1-6 ft. tall (30-180 cm) and 6-12 in. wide (15-30 cm), depending on the variety.
- Peas perform best in organically rich, acidic to neutral (pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.8), moist, well-drained soils in full sun (at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day) in a sheltered location.
- Peas will grow in light shade but will not yield as large a crop as they would in full sun.
- Before planting, add well-rotted organic matter or compost and work it into the soil. This will provide sufficient nutrients for a good crop.
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy.
- Depending on the variety, Peas take 60-70 days to harvest after planting.
- Peas are a cool-season, moisture-loving crop. They grow best between 60-75°F (15-24°C).
- Peas will tolerate temperatures as low as 45°F (7°C) but perform poorly when temperatures rise above 75°F (24°C). Pea foliage can withstand a light frost, but pods and flowers will be damaged unless they are covered.
- Sow seeds 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost date.
- The last crop can be planted in the late summer or early fall, approximately 6-8 weeks before the first fall frost date.
- Peas are sensitive to root disturbance, so plant them in a weed-free area and mulch to prevent weeds from germinating.
- Sow seeds 1 in. deep (2.5 cm) and approximately 3 in. apart (7 cm) in rows and keep 3 ft. (90 cm) between rows.
- Pay attention to the final height of your Pea plants when planting the seeds. Bush Pea varieties will need only a small 2-3 ft. trellis (60-90 cm), while Pole Pea varieties require a trellis of at least 6 ft. (180 cm).
- Rapid germination is essential to avoid root rot problems. To speed germination, soak seeds in water overnight before planting.
- Seedlings should shoot straight up from the earth within two weeks, and you will need to start the vines twining up the support very quickly.
- Peas are soil builders. They rarely need any fertilizer during the growing season.
- Mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
- Harvest Snow Peas when the pods begin to show immature seeds inside.
- Harvest Snap Peas when the pods become plump yet are still glossy and filled with sweetly flavorful peas.
- Harvest English Peas before the pods become waxy.
- Harvest your Peas regularly to stimulate further production on the vines.
- Store Peas in the refrigerator for 5-7 days: Place them in a perforated plastic bag. Peas that cannot be used in a week should be frozen.
- Rotate crops: Do not plant Peas where Peas or beans have been grown in the past 4 years.
- Dispose of vines after harvest. Cut them at the root. The nutrient-rich roots can be tilled back into the soil.
- Peas are susceptible to a few pests. Keep an eye out for aphids, leaf miners, Mexican bean beetles, root-knot nematodes, slugs, snails, pea moths, pea and bean weevils, thrips, and wireworms.
- Peas are susceptible to diseases, including fusarium wilt, downy mildew, powdery mildew, bean white mold, cucumber mosaic virus, lettuce mosaic virus, pea enation virus, foot and root rot, gray mold or botrytis, pea leaf, and pod spot and pea wilt.
Best Companion Plants for Peas
Peas can fix atmospheric nitrogen for their own use and any neighboring plants. They add nutrients and improve the soil, benefitting the plants that are growing beside them. Peas, for instance, benefit potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, cauliflower, cabbage, summer savory, turnips, radishes, corn, and most other herbs and vegetables.
- Excellent companion plants for Peas are alyssum, amaranth, apricot, artichoke, beans, broccoli, calendula, carrots, celery, chamomile, corn, cucumber, eggplant, ginger, grapes, kale, lemon, lettuce, lovage, marjoram, melon, mint, mustard, nectarine, parsley, parsnip, peach, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, spinach, summer squash, tansy, tomato, turnip, wheat, and winter squash.
- Carrot roots contain an exudate beneficial to the growth of peas.
- Peas help corn by restoring to the soil the nitrogen used up by the corn.
- Lovage improves the flavor and vigor of most plants and offers a good habitat for ground beetles.
- Similarly, marjoram is a friend to all plants and helps improve growth and flavor.
- The placement of Peas in the garden can be especially beneficial, as a trellis of peas can offer shade to spinach, lettuce, and other cool-weather crops.
- Fruit trees (apricot, peach, pear, plum, nectarine) do better with nitrogen-fixing plants like peas planted at the base of the trees.
- Peas help the eggplant receive enough nutrients by fixing the nitrogen and increasing the nutrients in the soil.
Worst Companion Plants for Peas
- Do not plant Peas near garlic, onions, chives, leeks, scallions, shallots, gladioli, or wormwood.
- Alliums such as garlic, onions, chives, leeks, scallions, and shallots will stunt the growth of the Peas.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.