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If, like me, you are a big fan of snap peas, you have noticed that over the years the quality of that classic ‘Sugar Snap’ has been deteriorating. Fortunately, these unique and favorite ‘Sugar Snap’ peas are back!
Back in 1979, ‘Sugar Snap’ was an All-America Selections National Gold Medal Winner. But over time, instead of producing true to type, as many as one-third of the plants turn out to be snow peas or shelling peas instead of the snap peas we love. Availability of the seed has waned as well since many of the seed companies quit carrying it altogether due to problems with quality. What happened?
First, let’s go back to the father of the snap pea and breeder of the original ‘Sugar Snap,’ Dr. Calvin Lamborn. In 1969, fresh out of graduate school, Lamborn went to work for Gallatin Valley Seed Co. in Idaho. As an apprentice to Dr. Mel Parker, one of his first jobs was to try and straighten out the curly pods of ‘Mammoth Melting Sugar’ snow peas. Parker had kept seeds from a mutant plant of the shelling pea ‘Dark Skinned Perfection’ that had extra thick walls on the pod and thought it might do the trick.
Lamborn grew them out, crossed them with the snow pea and a straight pea pod with thick walls was the result. Voila! A new type of edible podded pea was born. True, the heirloom ‘Amish Snap’ pea had been around for years but this was something different. Over the next 10 years they grew the peas, rogued out the off-types and mutants, selectively breeding and replanting only the best ones until they had a stable variety that would come true to seed.
Called ‘Sugar Snap’, in 1979 it easily won the gold medal from AAS. It was a game-changer for growers like me who wanted to get as much bang for their buck out of their gardens as possible. Since you could eat them big crunchy pod and all with no waste they quickly grew to be a staple in vegetable gardens across the country.
Lamborn went on to develop other snap pea varieties that he named for family members including ‘Sugar Ann’ which won an AAS award 1984, ‘Sugar Mel’, ‘Sugar Bon’, and ‘Sugar Rae’. Some like ‘Sugar Ann’ and ‘Sugar Bon’ you can still purchase today while others have been dropped. He also developed ‘Super Sugar Snap’ in 1998 which many gardeners, myself included, have been growing instead of the original ‘Sugar Snap’.
The problems with ‘Sugar Snap’ began after the Plant Variety Protection rights, which gave Gallatin exclusive control over it, expired. Then anyone could produce the seeds and sell them to seed companies. No one was monitoring the quality of the seeds they produced and the seedstock became degraded.
Lamborn passed away in 2017 and his children have formed the Magic Seed Inc. to carry on his legacy. They continued to use same traditional (non-GMO) plant breeding techniques.
‘Sugar Snap’ Peas Are Back!
The Lamborn family teamed up with Johnny’s Selected Seeds, growing out the original ‘Sugar Snap’ pea stock, checking for off-types, and selectively bred only the best plants.
Happily, they have developed a strain that matches the one Calvin Lamborn released in 1979. I, for one am so glad that it is back. It was too good to lose!
Called Calvin’s ‘Sugar Snap,’ it’s the most flavorful of all snap varieties with juicy sweet, crisp pods. This superior strain is cleaned of shell and snow pea off-types.
Lamborn also developed some new colored snap peas that Johnny’s also has for sale.
Try purple ‘Royal Snap II’ (pictured at the top) or yellow ‘Honey Snap II’ to lend some color to your table.