When most people think of peas, they immediately think of the normal garden pea found in frozen packs, or the flat pod-type snow or mange tout peas. These are eaten as a cooked vegetable or included raw in salads.
Snap peas, in contrast, have thickened pod walls and are crisp and sweet.
They are found in supermarkets in season, but are usually marketed as flattish, underdeveloped pods resembling mange tout types.
They taste better when grown to full size, when they are also at their plumpest and juiciest. But they are not marketed at the ideal eating stage because they then look like over-mature pods.
This is one very good reason for growing peas yourself.
The snap pea variety was bred about 60 years ago from a cross using a mange tout type and a conventional garden pea, and was hailed as a breakthrough at the time.
Snap peas have the advantage of not having to be shelled; they are ready for consumption as soon as they are picked.
Some types, such as the original sugar snap, are not stringless, but this need not be a problem. To harvest, hold the pod between the thumb and forefinger and pull it sideways; the strings will then remain on the plant.
As with onions, growers are often confused about when to plant peas. They tend to associate pea-growing with winter, but if peas are planted too early in a frost-prone area, frost damage will occur.
The plants themselves can withstand quite a bit of frost, but the flowers and pods cannot. Damage starts to occur when the temperature drops below -3°C.
In cold areas, it is usually safe to start planting in July. This will ensure that by the time the flowers appear, the temperature is not that low anymore. If you are in a frost-free area, you can plant from autumn. Peas do not do well in hot weather, so they must have produced by the time the summer heat sets in.
All three pea types are available as compact growers or indeterminate types. The latter will benefit from staking.
Stronger growers are more productive and bear over a longer period. As a result, they are better suited to the home garden. Powdery mildew, the main disease threat, appears when the weather starts warming up. Resistant pea varieties are available. If you see symptoms developing, apply a systemic fungicide.