When snap peas were introduced to the modern gardening world in 1979, some folks were impressed enough to predict that they would one day rival tomatoes in garden popularity. This hasn’t happened, but most American gardeners do favor snap peas over traditional shell peas (English peas) or snow peas (the latter are called mangetouts in Europe, which is French for "eat the whole thing"). The reason for snap peas’ popularity is all about productivity. You can feed four people with one pound (450 grams) of snap peas, but you will need to shell out twice as many shell pea pods to obtain four nice servings. Delicate snow peas (mangetouts) fall somewhere in between.
Secrets of Stellar Snap Peas
I’ve been growing snap peas for many years, and can’t imagine a spring season without them. Snap peas are as easy to grow as other garden peas, requiring a near neutral soil with a pH above 6.5, and a trellis appropriate for the mature height of the variety you have chosen to grow. Of equal importance (in my opinion) is scattering a few spadefuls of soil from the previous season’s pea patch over the new planting bed. This step insures that plenty of nitrogen-fixing bacteria are present to assist the plants in feeding themselves. It’s a more reliable way to inoculate soil compared to using powdered inoculants, which often are stored under conditions that render them worthless.
I also suggest using enough starter fertilizer to get the plants off to a fast start. Peas germinate and grow when the soil is still quite cool. They can sprout in 40°F (4.5°C) soil, but temperatures this low can keep nitrogen and other essential nutrients locked away. A few drenches with fish fertilizer (or another water- soluble organic plant food) provides much-needed nitrogen to newly sprouted snap peas, and gives the plants time to form working relationships with nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
Two Plantings, One Trellis
All peas benefit from support, and varieties that grow as tall as your head need a high trellis. You can make a simple trellis of woven string, or use garden netting attached to posts. After the trellis is up, plant its base with a tall variety like ‘Sugar Snap’, seeding a row on either side of the trellis. Then, go behind and sow seeds of a shorter variety such as ‘Cascadia’ (popular in the US) or ‘Delikett’ (a top choice in European gardens) just outside the row of taller peas. Short varieties produce pods up to two weeks ahead of taller ones, so this trick automatically extends your harvest season. The two types of peas also help support each other as they scramble toward the sky.
Cool summer weather can keep snap peas productive all season, especially if you plant early and late-maturing varieties. But in most parts of the US, pea productivity falls off when temperatures rise above 80°F (27°C). Struggling plants also may become infected with powdery mildew or viral diseases. The good news is that many vegetables love being grown in soil recently vacated by peas. After old pea vines have been pulled, spinach, carrots or fall cabbage are fine choices for follow-up crops.
By Barbara Pleasant