Please pass the peas

The SSE preservation garden crew finished planting over 64 varieties of peas this week for evaluation, public display and seed regeneration. In a few short weeks these peas will take over the trellises here at Heritage Farm. But climbing skills aren’t the only interesting thing about peas, here are a few more facts and growing tips that might leave you thinking Pass the Peas!


Peas love cold weather, and should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Direct seed peas 1-3” apart and ½-1” deep.

Peas are a great option if you are new to seed saving. Pea flowers are papilionaceous (butterfly-shaped) and “perfect”, meaning they contain both male and female parts. This floral anatomy means that flowers are easily self-pollinated with little risk of cross-pollination.

With the exception of dwarf varieties, pea plants need something to climb. Here, we constructed A-frame pea supports made with chicken wire and cedar. These hinged frames are easy to store for use year after year.

In the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook, peas are classified according to culinary use as either pod peas, garden peas, or soup peas. Pod peas, such as ‘Golden Sweet’, have an edible pod and taste best when young and tender.

Garden peas are eaten when the seeds have fully expanded, but haven’t started to dry. The pods may be inedible, but the seeds will be tender and sweet and taste best when eaten fresh from the garden.

Pods of soup pea varieties should be left on the vine until they are dry and the seeds inside have hardened. Dry seeds can be stored for long periods of time and are best used for making soup.

Do you see the leaf-like structure that completely encircles the stem? Known as the stipule, If it has a purple ring at the base of it, then the flowers will be purple. If it is green, then the flowers will be white.

Some varieties, such as ‘Lacy Lady,’ have modified leaves in which the leaflets are replaced by tendrils. While this variety produces less fruit than pea varieties with typical leaves, ‘Lacy Lady’ has an exotic look.

Don’t confuse sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) (pictured below) with edible peas (Pisum sativum)! Edible pea plants look like sweet pea plants with beautiful, fragrant papilionaceous flowers, but their seeds are poisonous.
‘Midnight Snow’ is a strikingly beautiful purple-podded pea variety developed by SSE member Dan Quickert of Davis, California. The brilliant purple pods keep their color when cooked.
‘Jump’ was donated by Dennis Miller, whose great-great-grandfather grew this pea in Eastern Washington in the mid-1920s.
‘Jeanne Wolf’ is the smallest pea in the Diversity Garden this year, reaching only 10” tall. Despite its small stature, donor Jeanne Wolf says it’s worth growing for the unbeatable flavor.
Inspired to try growing peas in your garden? Check out the SSE catalog which offers 13 varieties for sale. For even more options, the Yearbook makes hundreds of pea varieties available to SSE members.
« Back to Blog Home


  1. Hi, heard about your huge pea planting. I have just place a fine trellis in my garden for a potential plant. Is this a good time of year to plant sugarsnaps in Tucson, AZ.

  2. Christy says:

    Hello JoAnn!
    I’m glad to hear you have a trellis up and ready for pea plants! Unfortunately, you may be a little late for pea plants this year in Arizona. Peas are very sensitive to warm weather, and prefer to be planted at the tail end of winter. They can survive light frost, and usually produce fruit during the spring before the summer heat hits. I bet things are already warming up in Tucson, which may stress out the little pea plants. Here at Seed Savers Exchange, we’re located in Zone 4b and our last frost date is May 23. Tucson is in Zone 9b with a final frost date of January 19.
    If you have any questions, feel free to continue commenting! Our forum also has great information and a community full of people with information about gardening all over the country – check it out here:
    Happy gardening!