Is there anything better than picking peas straight off the vine?
Many won’t make it back to the kitchen, but that’s the beauty of it. Luckily, they’re easy to grow.
Words: Graham Ross
When Chinese restaurants arrived — wok in hand — in every suburb and rural town in Australia during the 1950s, their new culinary fare included a few exotic additions. Miniscule prawns and other things we wouldn’t normally eat, like the white stems of spinach, and flat peas! Whoever heard of a pea-less pod? Well, there they were, and we enjoyed them like everything else they served up. The snow pea had arrived and quickly joined the ranks of the regular garden pea and sugar snap pea — just in time for the new wave of stir-fry cooking.
Upfront, snow peas are not young, immature garden peas nor are they sugar snap peas (which are actually a cross between garden peas and snow peas), but a separate variety that has existed in Asia for centuries. Many mistake snow peas for growing in very cold climates, and while they can withstand frost and snow, they will grow in all temperate region gardens. Sow seeds or plant seedlings from March to August, allowing them ample time to grow and mature during cooler weather. They are by nature a late summer to mid-winter crop — unseasonably hot autumn or spring weather can prove fatal.
Like home-grown sweetcorn, fresh is best, with the pods becoming flavourless and starchy within hours of picking. The all-edible snow pea pods are flat with under-developed or premature small peas inside and the removal of the side string along the pod is recommended before eating raw or cooked.
How to grow snow peas
Snow peas are available as dwarf or climbing forms. Dwarf varieties grow up 1m tall, require support in the form of sticks or wire cones, and can be harvested in 7-10 weeks. The climbing forms tower at 2m tall, need a sturdy trellis, and are picked between 10-12 weeks.
Garden beds should be away from tree roots, in an open sunny area and have well drained sandy or clay loam soils. If poorly drained, beds must be raised. Apply a dusting of garden lime and a complete organic fertiliser, and dig in to a depth of 40cm.
When sowing seeds, plant into moist soil and don’t water again until shoots appear. Don’t overwater new seedlings either. To extend your harvest, sow successive plantings, at least two weeks apart.
As plants grow, feed regularly with an organic liquid fertiliser to help boost flowers and pods. Harvest when pods ‘snap’ when squeezed — hold the stem with one hand and pick the pod with the free hand. The more you pick, the more pods you’ll get.
Varieties to Grow
Dwarf: ‘Oregon’ 60cm, disease resistant.
Climbing: ‘Melting Mammoth’, 2m, heavy cropping with medium length pods.
Climbing: ‘Yakumo’, late maturing 2+m tall with large pods.
- Overwatering is the main reason for crop failure.
- Powdery mildew and other fungal diseases can appear late in season. Ensure you space plants adequately and avoid watering the foliage, if possible. Alternatively, select a mildew resistant variety.
- White fly can be controlled with sticky yellow traps hung in bushes.
- Snails can eat germinating seeds and young seedlings. Use a metaldehyde-free, iron-based snail bait like Multicrop’s Multiguard or a beer trap.