Are you wondering when to harvest peas? It’s important to pick garden peas at the right time for optimum flavor and quality. If you leave the pods on the vines too long they turn starchy and stringy. One of the advantages of growing your own peas is that you get to enjoy a harvest of crunchy sweet peas when they’re at their tastiest. Read on to learn when to harvest shell peas, sugar peas, and snap peas.
Types of peas
Before I can talk about when to harvest peas (Pisum sativum), I need to point out that there are several types of peas you can grow in your vegetable garden with each type having its own ideal harvest time. The three types are snow peas, shell peas, and snap peas.
- Shell peas – Unlike snow and snap varieties, the pods of shell peas are fibrous. Technically they’re edible, but they’re tough to eat and have little flavor. Instead, the treasure is the row of tender, sweet peas tucked inside the pods.
- Snow peas – Snow peas, also called sugar peas, are harvested immature when the pods are flat and the peas inside still tiny. The entire pod is enjoyed raw or cooked in stir fries.
- Snap peas – Snap peas, often called edible pod peas, are my favorite type of pea to grow and eat. Why? They combine the best of both shell and snow peas; crunchy pods and tender sweet peas. These are a cross between snow peas and English peas and my go-to variety is Sugar Snap peas.
When to plant peas
Peas are a cool season vegetable and sown in early spring, about 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Peas are direct seeded and you can sow them in a shallow trench anytime the soil temperature is above 50 F (10 C). Plant the seeds in a sunny garden bed and enrich the soil with compost. I also like to incorporate a slow release organic vegetable fertilizer when I plant pea seeds. This provides nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Germination depends on the soil temperature but expect to see leaves in 10 to 14 days.
It’s important to practice crop rotation and plant peas in a different site from year to year. This can reduce common plant diseases and pests like fusarium wilt and powdery mildew. If you’ve had disease issues in your pea patch in the past, plant disease-resistant varieties like Frosty, Knight, and Super Sugar Snap. Pests like aphids can be knocked off plants with a jet of water from a hose nozzle or you can spray them with insecticidal soap.
Read your seed packet to learn how tall your pea plants will grow. Some varieties are compact and don’t need staking while others can grow to 6 feet or taller. I use a sturdy pea trellis or pea and bean netting to support vining peas. Trellising the plants reduces the spread of soil borne diseases, improves air flow around the plants, and makes it easier to harvest the pods. Mulch pea plants with straw or spray-free grass clippings to hold soil moisture and reduce the need to water. Also pull any weeds that appear.
One secret of success is to make sure your growing pea plants have an ample supply of moisture. As the plants begin to flower they’ll need regular irrigation to produce a bumper crop of peas. I deep water my garden peas twice a week if there has been no rain from the time the flowers appear until the plants begin to decline in production. Water-stressed plants won’t produce a heavy crop of pea pods. You can use a watering can, hose and spray nozzle, or soaker hose to irrigate pea plants.
When to harvest peas
Peas are best picked just before you intend to eat them. Most varieties of peas go from seed to harvest in 60 to 70 days. Refer to the seed packet for specific ‘days to maturity’ information but as the maturity date nears check your plants for flowers and developing pods. It only takes a few days for flowers to turn into pea pods.
Below I’ll get into the specifics of how to tell when to harvest each type of pea, but for me, the best indicator of when to harvest peas is a taste test. Pick a pea from the vine and, in the case of snow and snap peas, try a pod. Or for shell peas, open up the pod and try the peas inside. There are other cues for perfectly ripe peas and I’ve got all the details below.
When to harvest shell peas
Shell peas are ready to harvest when pods have plumped up and the peas inside are rounded and sweet. Pop open a pod. Are the peas full and touching each other? If they’re still small and spaced apart, stop harvesting and wait another day or two for them to size up. Trust me, it won’t take long. If the pods have taken on a waxy appearance, it’s too late. At that point the interior peas will be starchy and overmature.
When to harvest snow peas
Snow peas have flat, crisp pods that are picked when the interior peas are still tiny and immature. We start to harvest snow peas when the pea pods are big enough to pick, about 2 inches long. Certain varieties, like Oregon Giant have pods that can grow 5 inches long so read the variety description carefully so you can enjoy the peas at peak quality.
When to harvest snap peas
Snap peas are picked when the edible pods have begun to plump up but are not fully filled out. A perfect snap pea is crisp and juicy. The pods should be firm, bright green, and glossy. If you leave them on the plants too long, the pods continue to fatten up but become tough and the interior peas starchy.
How to harvest peas
Once you’ve determined your peas are ready to pick, harvest often to encourage plenty of fresh pods. During peak pea season I try to pick every day or two. Don’t pull peas from the vines. Instead, use two hands to pick peas. Hold the vine with one hand and use the other hand to carefully pick the peas from the plants. If you don’t support the vines, you can damage the plants and reduce the overall harvest. I aim to harvest the most mature pods first so the remaining ones can continue to ripen. I gather my harvest in a garden hod, basket, or bowl.
Ideally, harvest peas right before you intend to eat them, but if you’re harvesting a large quantity to freeze, pick them in the morning, once the dew has evaporated. This is when the pods are crispiest and fully flavored.
What to do with over-mature garden peas
If you spot dull colored, yellowing, or over-mature peas on the plants, remove them immediately. Leaving them on the vines slows down the production of new flowers and pods. Most peas produce for 2 to 3 weeks and then start to decline. At that point you’ve got a few options. 1) Pull the plants and succession plant the bed. 2) Let the plants finish producing and keep picking the few remaining peas. 3) Leave the last of the peas on the plants to mature and dry on the vines. Save them for soups or other cooked dishes once they are fully dry.
Harvesting pea shoots
Did you know that all parts of garden pea plants are edible? As the plants grow, I often snip off a few tips to enjoy as fresh pea shoots. I trim 3 to 5 inch long shoots using garden snips to avoid damaging the growing plants. If you are growing peas for the pods, however, don’t take too many pea shoots as that can delay the pea pod harvest.
For more information on growing spring vegetables, check out these in-depth articles:
- How to grow snap beans
- How to plant lettuce
- Asparagus growing secrets
- Pea sprouts and shoots: A step-by-step growing guide
Were you wondering when to harvest peas from your garden?