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The Year of the Pea

The Year of the Pea

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved For additional information, read my column in next Friday’s Deseret Morning News.

The National Garden Bureau designates 2004 as the "Year of the Pea." Fortunately, Utah gardeners can grow these tasty, easy to grow vegetables in all areas of the state.

These are some of the oldest known vegetables. Archaeologists found peas in ancient tombs, at Troy (1450 BC) and at Thebes, but no one knows when people first cultivated them. Records indicate that by the Bronze Age (3000 BC), some variety of peas was part of the diet.

According to legend, the Chinese believe that Emperor Shen Nung (called the Chinese Father of Agriculture) discovered peas nearly 5000 years ago. By the Middle Ages, peas were stored and dried for food.

Dried peas keep indefinitely so they accompanied English colonists on their way to America and they were one of the first crops planted by the colonists. Late in the 17th century, colonists began regularly eating fresh peas.

The garden pea as we know it today was developed in England -- thus the name "English pea." Peas used to be called pease, from Middle English. As our language evolved, that "s" sound was interpreted as plural, so the singular "pea" came into common usage.

Little is known about early breeding, but it probably came through selection and through deliberate crossing, even though peas do not lend themselves easily to crossing.

The three types of garden peas are separated in the way you eat them. The types are English peas, snow peas, and snap peas. Botanically, they all are varieties of Pisum sativum and belong to the legume family, Leguminosae. Pisum comes from the Latin for pea; sativum refers to cultivated.

Snow peas grew in Asia for centuries and are always popular for their flat, edible pods. Snap peas, such as the original ‘Sugar Snap,’ may be the result of a natural cross between snow peas and English peas.

All three types need the same growing conditions but the harvest and eating differ. Pick English peas or shelling peas when the peas in the pod are full size. The pea pods with plump, round peas are shelled which means you open and remove the peas. Cook these peas without the pod.

Harvest snow peas while the peas inside the pod are immature. The entire snow pea pod is eaten either cooked or quickly stir-fried. Many snow pea varieties are available.

Harvest snap peas when the peas are immature (like the snow pea) and eat them raw or cooked. The snap pea is very versatile because if the immature pods are left on the vine and peas mature inside, the pod can be harvested, shelled, and the peas eaten like "English peas."

In spite of its maturity, the pod is still tender and tasty so that the entire pod and peas are. If the stir-frying is more to your liking, pick them before the seeds get fully mature.

Within the three different types of peas are three different sizes of vines. Dwarf, or bush-type, peas grow 1 to 2 feet tall. Semi-dwarf peas reach 2 to 3 feet in height. Tall varieties attain a height of 3 feet to 6 feet or more. Tall varieties do better when trellised.

Peas are direct seeded into the soil, not grown as transplants. Plant seeds 2 inches apart in double rows 3 to 6 inches apart or plant the smaller types in wide rows for large beds. Sow the seeds 1-2 inches deep. Fungicide treated seed is helpful for early plantings in cool soil but that is not likely a problem this season.

Unlike many vegetables, many varieties of peas are very old and have been around for many years. Peas are not easy to breed because they usually pollinate even before the blossoms open.

For a continuous supply of fresh peas, plant early, midseason and late varieties or staggers plantings every two weeks. The days to harvest range from 52 to 70 days, depending on variety, soil, temperature, and moisture.

Recommended varieties: Shell Type: Patriot, Lincoln, Early Frosty, Novella. Edible Pod: Little Sweetie, Oregon Sugar Pod. Snap Type: Sugar Snap, Sugar Daddy Stringless.


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