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peas in a pod: 2 winners I’ll sow again for fall

IT’S EASY TO GET IN A RUT with seeds—or should I say a furrow? I think I had been growing mostly the same kinds of peas, for instance, for years: ‘Sugar Ann’ or ‘Wando’ among the sugar snap types of Pisum sativum; ‘Dwarf Gray Sugar’ with its pretty purple flowers for stir-fry type snowpeas; ‘Green Arrow’ for shelling—or maybe ‘Tall Telephone.’ This year I listened to two seed-catalog experts and grew new-to-me ‘Schweizer Riesen’ (above) and ‘Mayfair’ instead, and I’m glad I did. Here’s why:

It was Lia Babitch of Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic supplier situated in the next town to where I live, who recommended the snowpea called ‘Schweizer Riesen,’ which translates as Swiss Giant. She told me that this Swiss heirloom was one of Turtle Tree’s original offerings, and produces lots of paler but sweeter-than-average pods (below, in the photo next to an open pod of ‘Mayfair’), with various other tasty parts: purple blossoms, tender foliage and tendrils—something delicious and distinctive to add to your salad even before you have a single pod to pick. What a generous plant! (5-to-6 foot vines; 70 days to maturity, but enjoy trimmings much earlier.)

When I went to place my order for those seeds at Turtle Tree, I saw a listing on the same catalog page for ‘Mayfair,’ and it rang a bell. Just a couple of weeks before, founder C.R. Lawn of Fedco Seeds in Maine had told me that although ‘Lincoln’ was the sweetest shelling pea, he also favored ‘Mayfair’(split open in the photo above)—one I’d never grown. Hearing the name twice piqued my curiosity, and now I’m just starting to enjoy very sweet and apparently abundant peas for shelling, each pods stuffed with about seven to ten peas. “Nothing is more productive than ‘Mayfair,’” Lawn had said in our interview, “and in all kinds of weather.” (40-inch vines; 72 days to maturity.)

If you didn’t try these for spring planting, you get another chance in fall in many zones. Some years I put the fall peas where my garlic was just harvested, assuming it comes ready in time. Here, I sow them in the second half of July, counting back from my approximate first autumn frost dates then leaving extra time beyond what the packet says it will take to start producing to allow for the fact that days and shorter and cooler at that end of the season than in spring.

“There’s a narrow planting window,” said Lawn. “Not too early when it is still hot and dry, not too late because fall frosts wither blossoms and pods and kill production even though the plants live on. In Maine [where he used to garden] mid-July was the planting time. In Massachusetts [where he gardens in summer now] it would probably be late July.”

A fall pea crop will be lighter—again, a consequence of a season that’s winding down—but it may also taste sweeter, since the developing pods aren’t bumping into rising summer heat. Worth a try, no?

So what peas did you grow this year, and any feedback–or midsummer sowings in mind?

IF YOU MISSED those earlier stories that offer tips for choosing varieties of vegetables and how to grow them:

  1. Kate says:

    I’ve been a bit disappointed with my shelling peas this year. I’ll have to give Mayfair a try next year.

    I did make a last minute addition of blue podded shelling peas from Seed Savers Exchange (drying peas for pea soup.) I saw the packet on the rack in the garden center and I couldn’t resist. I don’t know how they taste yet, but they super productive and so pretty! I’ll definitely be growing them again!

  2. kristi says:

    We love green arrow for shelling. I over ordered last year, and still have a great germination rate this year. Last year, I planted a fall pea crop, but was a little too late to get good results before frost. I might try again, with a small pot on the patio that I can baby when the nights start getting cold.

  3. I am so jealous when I read about all of the wonderful vegetables you grow. I planted a (mostly) flower garden years ago and wish there was room for a vegetable garden too. Good thing I belong to a CSA. I can almost taste those peas!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Barbara. My sister loves her CSA. Just talking about this week’s haul this morning. Lucky you.

      Hi, Kate. More varieties I have not tried! :)

      @Sandy — glad you tried them too! Good, aren’t they?

  4. Sandy Hutchison says:

    I tried Mayfair after your interview with the Fedco guy, and we’ve so enjoyed them. I don’t think I’ll bother with Blizzard snowpeas next year, although they did well — after a few stir fries that were okay, they just got away from me. Mayfair we’ve been eating with great joy. and dedication.

  5. Chiot's Run says:

    I haven’t tried these varieties yet, each year I add a few. This year I added ‘Dakota’ which were great because they all came ripe at once – perfect for freezing. I have ‘Golden’ growing in containers on the front porch, they bloom beautifully and are quite heat tolerant. I also tried a few new varieties but the deer got them all so I can’t say if they were good or not. I have ‘Lincoln’ to try for fall, as a well as a few seeds for ‘Dakota’ left.

    I’ll definitely be adding these to my list as I love trying new varieties of edibles in the garden each year!

  6. Cindy Baugh says:

    WAY OFF topic, but as I am new here, I have been happily perusing the site and came across your “Gardening No-No’s” and I am just wondering, is Fred for real? I mean, I have read your book, so I know what a capable writer you are. I am just left thinking, ‘Margaret made Fred up Just to shake things up she had to have made this guy up.. She had to! How else could someone be such an a–?’ Please tell me you made him up! :) My own gardening no-no? People who put plastic plants in their window boxes. Believe me, I have seen it, It was in Missouri 10 years ago and I have not been able to forget it.

  7. My family can’t get enough sugar snap peas…I would grow them year around if I could. I sew them early and late season. My Sugar Ann Snap peas have already fruited…I am waiting for my Heirloom Snap Peas from Baker Creek Heirloom to flower. The count down begins.

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, Janell: The Countdown begins! I feel like that about green beans (up and growing but weeks from producing) and lots of goodies to come. Nice to see you here.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Adventures. Me, too. I am eating them in salad etc. every day once or twice right now. In fact, must head out and pick today’s batch before it gets too warm!

  8. naomi d. says:

    Thanks for this – I keep forgetting to plant peas because they aren’t usually advertised ’til late Spring. If I want any, I must plant them in early January. Perhaps if I get the packets and tape them to my bedroom mirror.

  9. leslie land says:

    Thanks so much for the tip about Schweizer Riesen!! I’ve grown Carouby de Moussanne (from Pinetree) for years, because it has those purple flowers, is super productive and makes enormous, very tasty snow peas. But lately I’ve had a lot of trouble with off types. Trying to save my own strain now, but not convinced I’ll be able to do it before I’m too old to care, so having this alternative is VERY exciting.

    As for the fall planting, for what it’s worth I don’t do it any more, even though I was able to get decent if not huge crops. Once I’m eating tomatoes, corn, and pole beans like rattlesnake, peas just don’t taste right. In late September, I don’t want them any more than I want rhubarb (When I do want them out of season – in February, say – I use the ones I froze from the more-abundant first crop. IF I froze any. Not happening this year, the !!!*##!! catbirds are destroying them.

  10. Linda says:

    ‘Super Sugar Snap’ from Renee’s garden get my vote this year. It’s the first year I’ve tried them. Definitely the most productive sugar snap peas I’ve grown, and they’re doing great in part sun. I like them best when the peas are pretty filled out. The pods stay tender, and the big ones have more pea flavor. Large or small though, they’re all delicious.

    My old Lab mix faithfully follows me to the garden every morning waiting for dropped peas as I gather them, or tossed if none get dropped accidentally. Peas and green beans are his favorites, along with any kind of kale, and broccoli. He has good taste!

  11. Chandra says:

    Timely post as I’ve been contemplating which sugar peas to grow this fall and next year. I grew Dwarf Gray Sugar Peas this Spring. Since I’m in Northwest Florida, I started them the first week in January. We typically have a few light frosts, maybe a freeze and nice, pleasant weather through March and early April. They took off and were gorgeous! Five feet tall and loaded with peas, but a string of early warm days turned them from sweet to bland and fibrous in a matter of days. Very disappointing. Their demise came with a massive aphid infestation. The blessing was that the aphids brought a ton of lady bugs and lizards. I definitely want to give these others a try. Thanks for the recommendations!

  12. Eileen says:

    Thank you for Schweizer Riesen. I can’t wait to try it for a fall crop. I too have grown Green Arrow for shelling and even my pea-hating husband likes them.

  13. Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm says:

    Sweet raw peas, fresh from the garden are delicious! I prefer to eat them raw and often add them raw to a salad. t’s nice that you’ve found some varieties that you really like!

  14. Leslie Reed says:

    Forth year growing schweizer reisen. It is my favorite! The vines always get super big and beautiful in my garden.

  15. Beth says:

    Hooray for Turtle Tree Seed. I just ordered Mayfair, Schweizer Whatsit and piracicaba from them, everyone else seemed to be out! Looking forward to fall already…..

  16. shannon says:

    Ok, just found the answer to my question: “days to maturity” means from transplants if the vegetable is usually transplanted. Unfortunately the sowing guide from U of TN extension does not tell you if they mean transplants or direct-seeded for a vegetable like, say, collards which could be either direct sown or from transplants! The guide in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalog, though, does tell you whether it means transplants or not for the dates given.

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