Here's a guide to the surprising variety of peas, as well as the growing conditions that each needs to thrive.
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Peas come in more shapes and colors than most people realize and there are varieties that can grow in almost any soil type. Along with beans, they're a member of the legume family.
Latin name: Pisum Sativum var.macrocarpon
Family: Leguminosae (Peas and Beans)
English Peas, or garden peas, are the type you might picture first when you hear the word pea. You can find them canned, frozen or dried in your supermarket, but those aren't nearly as good as freshly picked. Peas are naturally very sweet and once you pick them, they begin converting their sugar to starch so they taste best right from the garden. The flower is fragrant and white. Each flower will become one pod. This type of pea is opened at harvest, and the round fruit inside is the part that's eaten, not the pod itself.
Cool-weather peas come in several forms. In general, peas are small 1'- to 2'-tall plants that are perfect for a small garden, but there are taller types that get 4'-5' high. Shorter plants can support themselves or can be grown over a small stake. The taller variety grows best on a trellis or wooden teepee. Peas are categorized by the time they are planted. Cool-weather varieties can be planted in all areas in early spring and in some areas in late summer. They grow best when the temperature stays below 70 degrees. Peas will stop producing pods when they get too hot, but will start producing again when it cools down. That's why peas are considered a cool-weather crop.
Sugar peas are yet another type of pea. They look different from other types because they have flat pods. You can see through the pods if you hold them up to a light. The peas inside the pod stay small and tender. Sugar peas are used in cooking because of their texture, but they burn and brown quickly because of their high sugar content.
Sugar peas, also called snap peas, are great tasting and healthy vegetables you can grow in your garden. They're harvested when they're immature so you can eat the pod. They're less fibrous than English peas, and they snap like green beans. Some varieties have a string along the seam that needs to be removed before you can cook it.
Southern peas, though they're called peas, are really more like a bean because they like warmer weather. These are often also known as field peas or cowpeas, and include black-eyed peas, crowder peas, purple-hull peas and lady peas. These varieties thrive during the summer, and the thick hull they produce protects the fruit inside from the heat. Southern peas are not frost-tolerant, so there's only a small window to grow them in cold climates.
One of the most commonly known southern peas is the black-eyed pea. Many people believe that these peas can bring good luck if eaten on New Year's Day. A good source of protein, black-eyed peas are sold frozen, canned, dried and fresh. But they're easy to grow in the garden.