Types of Peas and When to Harvest Peas

We got another 3/4″ of rain last night! We are definitely making progress in the rainfall category, and I think the plants are more or less enjoying it as well.

The sugar snap peas in the Family of 4 Garden are blooming and setting on peas, so it seems like a good time to talk about different types of peas and how you know when it is time to pick them.

3 Types of Peas

The three most common types of peas are shelling peas (also called English peas or garden peas), snow peas, and snap peas (or sugar snap peas). Each of them should be picked at a different stage, and they all have some different growth habits.

Shelling Peas

Shelling peas are the most common type of pea, and they can be a lot of fun to grow. Most of the modern hybrids are bred to be more dwarf plants that will grow without a trellis or other support. Shelling peas should be harvested when the pods are plump and full, but not to the point where the pod is starting to get thin/flaccid and the peas are very large. At this point, the peas are usually very starchy (still technically edible, but not as tasty). However, you want to wait to pick your shelling peas until the pods have filled nicely. If you gently squeeze the pod, and it feels like there’s a lot of air yet, and the pods aren’t full, it is best to wait another day or two.

Honestly, the best way to get the hang of picking shelling peas is to pick a couple pods that you think are right, open them, see how full they are, and try the peas. Peas can go from just right to over-mature in just a day or two, so check often! (And if you check often, you get to sample a lot of fresh, raw peas! Yum!)

This is a picture that shows pretty well what the “ideal” pea would look like.

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar snap peas are similar to shelling peas, except that they have sweet, crunchy, edible pods. Not that you can’t eat the pods of shelling peas, but they just aren’t as tasty. The perfect stage for a sugar snap pea is when the pod is slightly less full than you would pick a shelling pea. The peas will get starchy if you leave them on the plant too long. Again, sampling is the best way to get the hang of telling when your peas are ready!

You can find both bush and climbing varieties of sugar snap peas as well. We chose the climbing varieties because it fit in well with our garden plan this year.

Snow Peas

Snow peas areanother edible-pod type of pea. However, unlike the snap peas, you pick snow peas when the pods are still flat, before the peas begin to swell much at all. They are tender and tasty when picked at that stage, and pretty disgusting if you wait too long to pick them.

Again, both bush and climbing varieties are out there. If you look hard enough, you can also find some purple and yellow podded snow peas!

This is a picture of the Dwarf Grey Sugar Peas that we grew a couple years ago in the Demo Garden. The cool thing about this pea is that it has purple flowers instead of white flowers. (The flowers and shoots are edible too!) As a snow pea, it isn’t the tastiest variety, but it does have gorgeous flowers.

The real key with peas though, is to know for sure what type of peas you have when you plant. You need to know if a trellis is necessary. You also need to know when to pick your peas to ensure maximum enjoyment of them!

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About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and lawn care.

Posted on May 19, 2011, in Around the Garden and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. My family has some small round white peas, they grow like purple hulls on stalk, they have called them Yates (mr. Yates gave them to grandmother years ago) peas for years but do not know what they really are called, we cook them like purple hulls, do you have an idea what they really are. Thanks

    • It’s hard to say without seeing the leaves and the whole plant. My guess would be that it is something in the cowpea family.

      Rebecca McMahon County Extension Agent, Horticulture K-State Research and Extension Sedgwick County 7001 W. 21st St. N Wichita, KS 67205 316-660-0100 x. 0142 rmcmahon@ksu.edu “Knowledge for Life”

  1. Pingback: Harvesting Peas « Gardora.net

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