by National Gardening Association Editors
One of the marvelous things about growing your own vegetables is that you decide when it's time to harvest. You can pick your vegetables just before preparing them, knowing that you have the youngest, freshest ones in town. Most commercial gardeners won't pick the youngest vegetables because they earn more money for heavier crops. But generally, the younger the harvest, the more tender and flavorful it is.
There's nothing more delicious than the first tender peas, picked right off the vine, shelled and eaten raw. Not only are they sweet and tasty, but they also contain an abundance of vitamins A, B and C.
English peas are sweet because of their high sugar content. However, just a few hours after picking, the sugar starts turning to starch. That's why it's important to shell and cook peas immediately after harvesting them.
In general, you can begin harvesting English peas between 55 and 70 days after planting, depending on the variety. When mature, the pea pods will be nearly round and the peas will taste sweet. You should have several pickings over a period of seven to 10 days.
Use two hands to pick peas, so that you won't damage the brittle vines or uproot the plants. Hold onto the pea vine with one hand, and pick off the pods with the other.
Always pick overmature pods. If allowed to remain on the vines, they'll decrease your total yield.
Once the peas have been harvested, till or spade the whole plants back into the ground, or pull the plants and put them in your compost pile.
If your peas were planted early in the spring, you'll have time to plant another vegetable in that same location. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, root crops and spinach do well in soil where nitrogen-fixing legumes have grown.
Harvest snow peas the same way you would English peas, only pick them before the peas have filled out in the pods. These pods will be bright green, tender and flat.
Snap peas, on the other hand, should fill out completely, so they're nice and plump. Remove their strings and blossom ends, and then steam, boil, stir fry or freeze them. Better yet, enjoy them raw!
Picked when the pods are still green, southern peas can be shelled, boiled and served in the same manner as English peas. However, don't expect the same sugar content found in English peas; southern peas contain much higher levels of starch.
You can also leave southern peas on the vine to fully mature and dry. If your growing season ends before the peas are thoroughly dry, either pull the vines and hang them in a well-ventilated area, or shell the peas and dry them in the sun or in a dehydrator.
Dried Split Peas
'Alaska' is the English pea variety usually grown and dried for split peas. This hardy pea has a low sugar content and produces smooth seeds. Although generally dried commercially, home gardeners can dry Alaska peas easily.
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