As early as the spring of 1960, I’ve heard old timers argue whether peas should be planted on February 14 or February 15.
My mom always said she planted hers on Valentine’s Day, unless it fell on a Sunday, in which case she postponed her pea planting date until the 15th. Last week, yet another small flurry of old timers were engaged in a Facebook discussion as to whether the 14th or 15th was the proper date. My dad would have said it didn’t matter, because both dates were at least a month too early to be planting anything, unless you had way too much time on your hands and way more seeds than you really needed.
Still, mostly because it’s an old family tradition, I have dutifully planted a small patch of snow peas or sugar snaps on Valentine’s Day during those years when the weather was warm enough to do so without much risk of frostbitten toes and fingers. Valentine’s Day, 2019 was such a year. On the same date in 2020 (last week), my planned pea patch was frozen over hard enough to skate on and the same condition persisted on February 15. I figure that, since I couldn’t memorialize my mother, It’ll be okay to adhere to my dad’s opinion and wait until mid March when my brother, Andy, fires up the tiller. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
On the other hand, I would not be at all surprised to find out that my brother, Keith “Keeter”, used a pick ax to break the ice and actually got some peas planted last Friday. Keeter’s father in law, the late Dock Mitchell, has been known to rake snow off his garden there at Redstar (Letcher County) on Valentine’s Day, drop pea seeds on top of the frozen ground and then cover them with bagged potting soil or “brought on” compost. On more than one occasion, Keeter has made special trips to the farm supply store in Whitesburg to accommodate both his own and Dock’s Valentine pea planting determination.
I have had better luck planting very early peas with two varieties. Dwarf gray sugar snow peas only grow to three feet tall and it’s not necessary to trellis them. Sugar snap peas have a much plumper, round pod with larger seeds, but the vines will grow to six feet and trellising them is essential. For my taste, they are worth the extra effort.
By far, the best, easiest to grow and most reliable variety of peas that I have ever encountered is called Oregon sugar pod II. The vines only grow to about 30 inches and need no trellising. The pods are very tender but a tad smaller than long-vined, trellised varieties like mammoth melting sugar. Oregon sugar pods will also tolerate heat better than other varieties and can easily be planted up to mid April. I don’t even think about planting any other late pea variety for a fall crop. You can find them at almost any place that sells seeds.
Last year we also grew a variety from Bakers Creek Seed Company that was touted as the largest snow pea ever. I can’t recall the exact name and, at this writing, their website is down, but I do intend to order seeds again this week. I already have half a pound of Oregon sugar pod II seeds, but Andy and I are firm believers that variety is the spice of life. Baker’s Creek did not disappoint.
If you intend to plant peas, make absolute certain that you are planting a snap or snow pea variety with tender, edible, hulls. There are numerous varieties of peas out there that are only meant to be shelled. I have no idea why anybody, other than the Jolly Green Giant, would want to grow them because they are far more trouble, in my humble opinion, than they are worth.
If you have any doubts about what you are attempting to grow, ask an experienced gardener if the seeds are tough hulls. If the seed package says “snow peas” they will be tender hulls, as will “snap peas”. In any event, if you haven’t grown snow or snap peas, you are missing out on one of the greatest delights a vegetable garden has to offer.