Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Snow Peas - A Delicious Oriental Treat
Snow peas are another popular cool season oriental vegetable that has captured the interest of American growers. Snow peas are easy to grow and have an excellent flavor. Since the entire pod can be eaten, snow peas eliminate much of the tedium associated with shelling standard English peas. Snow peas are some times referred to as edible podded peas, snap peas or sugar peas. Although widely considered a Chinese vegetable, snow peas originated in the Mediterranean, and were grown widely in England and Europe in the nineteenth century. They were called English sugar peas or mange tout in France. The Chinese adopted these peas into their own cuisine from the English, and they have been known as Chinese snow peas ever since. Their Mandarin name is ‘he lan do' or Holland pea.
Snow peas have light green pods that follow purple or white, sweetly scented flowers. Some varieties climb with twining tendrils to four or five feet, and other varieties are dwarf types, only growing to two or three feet. Snow peas are true legumes, classified as Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon. Several varieties including: "Sugar Snap", "Sugar Bon", and "Oregon Sugar Pod" are recommended for use in Florida.
Snow peas prefer a soil that is rich in phosphorus and potassium. If your soil is acidic, add ground dolomitic limestone to raise the pH.. Snow peas require a fertilizer high in phosphate and potash. There is little need for extra nitrogen since the plants fix atmospheric nitrogen. Snow peas will perform best in soil with plenty of organic matter which makes the soil moisture retentive. Select a site in full sun and be sure to rotate peas annually to avoid blights and root rots. All snow peas need some sort of trellis, even the dwarf varieties. They have fairly weak root systems and untrellised peas don't produce as well as those on a sturdy trellis. A lightweight trellis of netting or string is sufficient as long as it is securely anchored. Some gardeners use shrubby branches to make a natural trellis.
In our area, snow peas are grown as a cool season crop. Make successive sowings every ten days from late September through early March. Some gardeners soak pea seeds for 24 hours or sprout them before planting to give them a head start. It can be beneficial to dust the seeds with a bacterial inoculant to help boost their nitrogen fixing capacity. Plant the seeds one to two inches deep in prepared soil, two to three inches apart in rows 18-24 inches apart. Be sure to put your trellising system in place when you sow the seeds to avoid disturbing the tender roots later.
Keep snow peas well watered during dry spells and cultivate lightly between the rows to remove weeds. Don't cultivate too near the peas, however, because their shallow root systems are extremely vulnerable to damage. Snow peas will benefit from mulching as the soil warms in order to help keep it cool. Production will drop of in the spring because of higher temperatures. As soon as the peas have finished bearing, turn them under rather than pulling them. This provides nitrogen to succeeding other crops. Watch for fusarium and root-rot diseases. Fusarium wilt, a vascular disease, can usually be avoided by rotating your crops. You can also help avert root rots by not planting your peas too early avoiding hot wet soil conditions.
Snow peas are ready to harvest 50-60 days from sowing. Pick them when the tiny peas are just beginning to swell inside their pods, usually 5-7 days after flowering. Harvest as long as the peas are very small inside, daily to keep plants producing. If not picked regularly, snow pea plants will stop producing. They also stop producing as soon as the weather gets hot although they are a bit more tolerant of heat than English peas. When you see production begin to slow, be ready to pull the plants or dig them under. Try to eat or blanch and freeze your snow peas as quickly as possible after picking. Although they can be kept in the refrigerator up to two weeks, they tend to lose their intense sweetness.
Gardeners who are conscious of the nutritional value of vegetables will love snow peas. They are nutritious and full of vitamins and minerals but lower in carbohydrates and fats then shelled peas. The pods lack the papery inner membrane of regular peas, which is why they are so tender. The sweet, crisp, tender pods are eaten whole, either lightly steamed or stir fried in oriental recipes. They are also delicious as a raw vegetable along with carrot sticks, broccoli spears zucchini slices. The tender shoots (called Dow miu) and leaf buds are considered a delicacy in China. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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