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The problem with peas is that if you grew up eating canned peas, you have to experience peas fresh from the garden to know how delicious they can be. I do not understand why gardens are not brimming with this easy-to-grow vegetable that has few pests except moose.

The problem with peas is that gardeners do not plant early enough. Peas are one of the first seeds you can sow in the garden. I plant peas outside on Easter Sunday. I used to spread wood ashes over the snow to get it to melt faster and then use clear plastic to warm the soil. My first Easter in Fairbanks the snow was 2 feet deep, so I pulled a large pot out of the garage, set it on the south side of the deck, planted, watered, and waited. I was eating peas the first of July. 

Peas are a cool-season crop. They are among the most frost-tolerant vegetables. The seeds are able to germinate when soil temperature is 40 degrees. One year I planted peas on April 12, and they were up by May 1. It takes longer for seedlings to poke up when the soil is cold, but I have never had a year when they did not grow. 

Another problem with peas is that gardeners do not know what kind of pea they have planted. One of the joys of gardening is to be able to harvest a vegetable at its most delectable stage. When harvesting peas, you need to know if the pea is an edible-podded variety that should be picked young, an edible-podded variety that should be harvested later, or if it is a variety that must be shelled. Unfortunately, seed packets and catalog variety descriptions do not always provide this information.

Things were simple before the advent of the plump edible-podded pea. Plump edible-podded is not a term you will find in pea lexicon, but is the way I think of edible-podded peas. You either harvest when the pods are flat or plump. Flat, edible-podded peas, usually called snow peas, should be picked before the peas inside the pod develop. Sugar Ann is a plump edible-podded pea. It will not be sweet until the peas completely fill out the pods. It is flavorless if not picked at the correct time.

The problem with peas is that the first plump edible-podded pea variety to hit the home gardening market was named Sugar Snap. Many seed companies now use the term snap pea to indicate edible-podded varieties best tasting when eaten fat, not flat. It gets even more confusing when gardeners add the word sugar to snap to describe plump edible-podded peas. Sugar Snap is a specific variety. And now we have Super Sugar Snap. And Sugar Bon, Sugar Sprint, and Sugar Daddy. 

It's unfortunate there is no consistency when describing peas. Peas with pods that are tough and fibrous are shelled. These include warm-season peas like black-eyed peas, which are actually beans. For this reason, I prefer the term garden pea instead or shelling pea to mean cool-season peas eaten without their pods.

The Tanana Valley State Fair exhibitor guide includes entry categories for English, Chinese flat, and sugar snap peas. Note that English is another name for shelling or garden pea. The fair's 4-H Plant Science Division lumps edible-podded peas together and lists entry categories as “peas in a pod” or “peas edible pods”. 

Cooperative Extension Service’s own “Recommended Variety List for Interior Alaska” has its pea varieties mixed up. Freezonian is listed with the snap peas, even though it is one that should be shelled. Dwarf Grey Sugar is best harvested when flat, but is listed as a snap pea. Oregon Sugarpod II is described as an excellent snow pea, but the comments for Oregon Giant merely say edible podded. I'll have to grow Oregon Giant this season. The seed packet I bought says edible pod snow pea and also bush sugar pod. I am in search of a flat edible-podded pea that I consider worth eating.

The bottom line is to plant peas in the garden early, know the variety you are growing, and when to harvest. The best approach may be to select only one; I vote for Sugar Ann. It is not the most productive plump edible-podded pea, but it is early and easy to trellis because it grows only 4 or 5 feet tall. One last tip: Don't believe the heights you read on seed packets. Peas love to grow here.

Julie Riley is the horticulture agent for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in the Tanana District office. She can be reached at jariley@alaska.edu or 907-230-7339.