Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Growing Sugar Snap Peas
How to Grow Snap Peas
Maybe I should have planted my snap peas while I still had bare ground in my garden! Now we are expecting our third nor’easter in two weeks. Fortunately, snow is good for growing snap peas.
I had a neighbor years ago—an old farmer who always planted his peas as soon as the ground could be worked in the spring. Many years his newly planted pea rows were soon covered by a foot or more of wet spring snow. He would calmly remark that it wouldn’t bother the peas and in fact was helpful. “Poor man’s fertilizer” is what he called it and he always had the earliest and tastiest peas in town.
Poor Man’s Fertilizer
There actually is some truth to this bit of gardening lore. Falling snow absorbs ammonia from the air which breaks down when the sun melts the snow, releasing a small amount of nitric acid into the soil. Since in the spring most of the ground has thawed it is able to absorb the meltwater rather than having it run off. French peasants believed that a spring snow was as beneficial to the garden as a coating of manure and old-time farmers took it a step further, plowing a spring snowfall under to capture all its goodness.
Peas actually don’t need this extra nitrogen boost since as a legume they can take nitrogen directly from the air with the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots. You can aid this process by inoculating the seeds with rhizobial bacteria before you plant them. Most garden centers and seed catalogs sell it; just be sure to get the one specifically meant for peas and beans. Don’t worry about sticking each little seed with a needle, you only need to moisten the seeds and roll them in it before planting. Easy-peasy.
What are Snap Peas?
Sugar snap peas are a cross between garden peas and snow peas. (Snow peas are the flat ones.) With snap peas, the whole pod is eaten and has a crunchy texture and very sweet flavor. Remove the “strings” at the end; many snap peas varieties have the strings removed now.
If you are a fan of ‘Sugar Snap’ peas like me, you might have noticed that the seeds have not been growing true to type. The past few years, no matter where I source my seeds from, my plants yield as much as 30% snow peas mixed with the snap peas. Because of this lack of reliable seed stock, many companies have discontinued ‘Sugar Snap’ in favor of other “improved” varieties. Since I am always skeptical of anything claiming to be an improvement, last year I planted half the bed with regular ‘Sugar Snap’ and half with ‘Super Sugar Snap’.
Super Snap Pea Variety
The super variety really was better! The peas were ready to harvest much earlier and delivered a higher yield than the regular ‘Sugar Snap.’ Plus, all the pods were the fat crunchy ones we have come to love. This year it will be all ‘Super Sugar Snap’ for me and maybe I will try ‘Sugar Magnolia’ for a touch of color.
Photo: Sugar Magnolia Peas. Credit: Territorial Seed Company.
It bears a little later but has purple pods that will look great in a veggie platter or salad and it has lovely two-tone flowers as well.
Better get my shovel ready for the next load of poor man’s fertilizer that is headed my way. The garden should be amazing this year!
See the Almanac’s Pea Growing Guide for more information about sowing, growing, and harvesting.
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.