Peas get spring gardening started

February 18, 2021



Freshly-picked Sugar Snap, Sugar Daddy, Super Sugar Snap or snow peas can be on your dinner plates this spring when you plant seeds soon.

These delectable vegetables aren’t usually available in grocery stores, so unless you find them at a roadside market or farmers market, you must grow your own crop.

As they prefer cool weather, and snow pea seeds will germinate in 45-degree F soil if it isn’t too wet, I aim to plant about Valentine’s Day. Snow and ice often delay that, and did again this year. Last year I didn’t plant until St. Patrick’s Day. Snap peas like slightly warmer soil, so sow them a couple of weeks later.

These peas like well-drained soil. I use oversize pots in a place deer can’t reach, but raised beds are a good choice. Garden soil with fertilizer added should provide nutrients for 8-10 weeks, so supplemental fertilizer shouldn’t be needed.

Water thoroughly after planting, then not again until seedlings sprout. Direct the water on young plants at the base to guard against mildew.

A climbing structure lets vine tendrils cling for climbing, but you don’t need fancy trellises. Use shrub or tree prunings or thin branches blown down by wind. Short dogwood branches are good. Soaking seeds overnight can speed germination. Plant them 3-4 inches apart and about an inch deep.

Try this germination test if you have seeds left from last year: Roll 10 seeds in a damp paper towel, keep it moist and warm, and unwrap in about 10 days. If half germinated you know to plant twice as many as if they were fresh.

Frequent harvesting encourages more production because it removes the seeds and this signals the plant to produce more. When possible, retain the natural sweetness by picking pods just before serving raw as crudités or lightly steaming.

Harvest snow peas very young, anytime after the flower falls and pods begin to grow, or when peas begin to swell in the pod. Most crops mature in just over 60 days.

Snap peas can be harvested at any stage, usually when plump. Stir fry pods, stuff with soft cheese, eat with dip, or lightly steam a few minutes. Avoid overcooking.

If your harvest is large, preserve some for later. They retain flavor best with freezing rather than canning. A top choice for freezing is ‘Frosty’ which matures in 64 days. 

Peas are nitrogen-fixing plants which draw nitrogen from the air and store it in roots. Instead of pulling out roots when harvest ends, cut stems at ground level and let the roots decompose. Stored nitrogen will be released into the soil and can be used by other plants.

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer.