In the South, you can't simply say peas and be done with it. You might be talking about black-eyed peas, cowpeas, purple hulls, or crowder peasall of which are lumped into the category of Southern peas (see Southern Pea). Or you might mean garden peas, sometimes called green peas, Pisum sativum, the subject of the following discussion.
Though native to southern Europe, garden peas are often called English peas to distinguish them from Southern peas. They come in three basic types: shelling, snow, and snap peas. Shelling peas form large, sweet peas inside tough pods that are not good for eating. Recommended selections include 'Mr. Big' (60 days from sowing to harvest), 'Maestro' (60 days), 'Green Arrow' (70 days), 'Premium' (51 days), 'Sabre' (62 days), and Wando (68 days). Snow peas, popular in Asian cooking, feature edible pods as well as peas. 'Dwarf White Sugar' (50 days), 'Estancia' (55 days), 'Oregon Giant' (60 days), and 'Oregon Sugar Pod II' (60 days) are good bush or short vine types. 'Snowbird' (58 days) grows 1618 inches 'Snow Wind' (70 days) has few leaves on its upper stems, putting most of its energy into producing peas. Snap peas combine the best qualities of shelling and snow peas. You can eat the immature pods; eat pods whole with peas inside, as you would string beans (the most popular way); or wait for the peas to mature, and harvest them for shelling. Try 'Mammoth Melting Sugar' (68 days), 'Master- piece' (24-60 days), 'Sugar Ann' (52 days), 'Sugar Daddy' (68 days), 'Sugar Heart' (7580 days), 'Super Sugar Snap' (64 days), 'Sugar Sprint' (62 days), and the semileafless 'Sugar Lace II' (68 days).
All peas are easy to grow when conditions are right. They need coolness and moisture at planting time. In the Upper South, plant shelling and snow peas as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. Snap peas like slightly warmer soil, so plant them two weeks later. In the Middle and Lower South, plant all types in late summer for a fall crop (snap peas are especially good for this, as they take some heat) and late winter for a spring crop. In the Coastal and Tropical South, plant around late December. Successive plantings made several days apart will extend the harvest.
Grow peas in slightly acid to slightly alkaline soil that retains moisture but drains well. If you have the space and don't mind the bother, grow tall vining peas on trellises, strings, or chicken wire; they climb by tendrils to 6 feet or more and bear heavily. Bush types are better for small gardens; they require no support, though they can be grown on short trellises for easy picking. Soak seeds in water overnight before planting. Sow 2 inches deep in sandy soil, 121 inches deep in heavy soil. Leave 2 feet between rows for bush types, 5 feet for tall vines. Water thoroughly after planting; then don't water again until seedlings sprout. Thin seedlings to 24 inches apart. Plants need little fertilizer, but if soil is very sandy, give one appli- cation of a complete fertilizer (such as 5-10-5) about six weeks after planting. Don't wet the foliage when watering; wet leaves encourage mildew.
When peas reach harvesting size, pick all the pods that are ready; if seeds are allowed to ripen, the plants will stop producing. Harvest shelling peas when the pods swell to an almost cylindrical shape but before they lose their bright green color. Harvest snow peas when the pods are 23 inches long, before the seeds begin to swell. Vines are brittle; steady them with one hand while picking with the other, or use small clippers or scissors. Refrigerate peas without washing them; then rinse and use them as soon as possible.