Mary's Veggie Garden

July 20, 2015

Sugar Snap Peas: Rest In Peace

Filed under: Peas,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 10:11 am

This is not a lament for the peas in my garden; it is a lament for the variety. Seed producers seem to be loosing the ability to produce true Sugar Snap Pea seed.

These are not Sugar Snap Peas, even though the seed came from a Sugar Snap seed packet.

These are not Sugar Snap Peas, even though the seed came from a Sugar Snap seed packet.

A bit of history: Sugar Snap Peas were a breeding triumph introduced as an All American Selection in 1979. AAS describes them this way:  “The mature pods of AAS Gold Medal Winner ‘Sugar Snap’ snap pea are round with fleshy walls and are crisp and delicious through full maturity….With Sugar Snap Peas you get to eat the entire pod with the peas nestled inside. The pods are juicy, crisp, sweet, and crunchy. Stringless, 3-inch pods keep their rich color and real crunch after cooking.”

We’d married and purchased our first house the previous autumn and I was planting my first big garden. Sugar Snap Peas went into the seed order.

Come harvest, the peas were an instant success. Even my husband was willing to eat them raw, one of only 3 vegetables he would eat raw. The pods had strings, but the rest of the AAS description was accurate. Snap from the vine, string, and munch, the shortest ever trip from plant to dinner.

True Sugar Snap peas. Seed from the same packet as the top picture.

True Sugar Snap peas. Seed from the same packet as the top picture.

I planted Sugar Snap peas from 1979 to 1993, in NY and then CT. Over the years I tried other, newer, shorter varieties but the original Sugar Snap was always the clear winner in flavor. When we moved to N.C. I discovered none of the varieties of snap peas would grow in my garden because some sort of virus killed the plants about the time they started blooming. When we returned to NY in 1998, I immediately planted snap peas, first Super Sugar Snaps, but then I returned to the original Sugar Snap peas.

In the late 2000’s I started seeing a problem and the problem got worse with each year. The problem was that some of the plants produced snow pea pods, not snap peas. At first it was just one or two plants, but then the porportion of plants producing snow peas started increasing.

In 2014 I decided not to grow the original Sugar Snap because the mix of snap and snow peas in the planting was very annoying. But then I got free seed from 2 sources I had not used before.  A friend had ordered Sugar Snap peas from Johnny’s and offered to share the packet. At the same time I was involved in a vegetable variety trial as a Cornell Master Gardener and they supplied Sugar Snap pea seed from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

I planted the Johnny’s seed in 2014 and the Baker Creek seed this year. Both were disappointing. The Johnny’s seed produced about 30% snow peas. The Baker Creek seed is worse. Of the approximately 60 seeds planted, 3 or 4 plants yield true Sugar Snap peas, one produces tough podded shelling peas and the remainder produce snow peas. Thus far, I’ve frozen 2 gallons of the snow peas; the leathery pod makes them less suitable for eating raw. The true Sugar Snaps are so rare that I eat them immediately in the garden. The top 2 pictures are a single days harvest from the Baker Creek seed planting.

My 2014 planting of Sugar Snap peas showing true snap peas  on the left, along side snow peas produced from seed in the same packet.

The snow peas produced from ‘Sugar Snap’ seed have dry, somewhat leathery pods. They are not fleshy, juicy, and brittle like true Sugar Snap pea pods. The shape of the developing peas shows through the snow pea pod. In a true snap pea, the peas do not show. The flavor of the peas in the snow-snap peas is wonderful and true to the original Sugar Snap variety. The plants producing snow peas bloom prolifically and they start blooming several days earlier than the snap peas in the same packet. I can tell at a young age which pods are snow peas, and they do not mature into snap peas.

What is your current experience with the original Sugar Snap pea variety? Who did you buy your seed from and what portion of your harvest is true to variety? Does anyone have any insight into the problem? My feeling is that it is caused by poor breeding, not some fluky weather conditions.

BTW I’ve grown Cascadia snap peas for about a decade and they are always true to type. Cascadia flavor is good and people who have not tasted Sugar Snaps think Cascadia tastes great but I know better.


  1. Hi Mary, We planted ‘Guisante’ sugar snap from Burpee this year. We haven’t seen any snow peas mixed in to date. The Guisante tastes really good. When we take a break mid day from gardening we always grab several of them to eat. YUM!!

    Comment by Judy K. — July 20, 2015 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

    • Tried to check them but that variety does not show on their web site right now.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — July 20, 2015 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

  2. I purchased my Sugar Snap seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I have one or two plants in a four-foot row that are producing snow peas like you describe. Other bloggers have had the same experience this year. I thought it was due to a mix up in the packaging. Do you really think they not breeding true to type? I have no idea, but your percentages are outrageous.

    Comment by dvelten — July 20, 2015 @ 2:19 pm | Reply

  3. I remember one year I planted Sugar Snaps and many of the pods were fibrous. Ick. I too switched to Cascadia then. Sad.

    Comment by daphnegould — July 20, 2015 @ 3:05 pm | Reply

  4. I’ve been growing so-called “true” Sugar Snaps from Fedco. I’ve found about 15% off-types, mostly snow peas as you mention. At least Fedco warns you about it. But the other 85% produce so well I can tolerate the incursions. The other problem is the vines get so tall (up to 8′) this year that they invariably fold over. I’d like to find a good tasting snap pea that gets no more than 5 feet tall. How tall are your Cascadias?

    Comment by Will - Eight Gate Farm — July 20, 2015 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

    • Yes, original Sugar Snap peas are extremely tall, they over-top my 6′ trellis in a full sun community garden plot. But folding over doesn’t seem to hurt them much. It’s the diseases that come with hot weather that kill them.

      I trellis Cascadia on a 3′ high wire fence. The vines end up at about 4′. I’m growing them at home, where the garden is shaded for much of the morning.

      Comment by marysveggiegarden — July 20, 2015 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  5. I purchased my sugar snap pea seeds from an heirloom seed company, The Cottage Gardener in Ontario, about 3 or 4 years ago. I think they are the original & were simply called “Sugar Snap Peas”. I have also grown “Super Sugar Snap” and “Cascadia” and prefer the original. Since that original purchase, I have been saving seed & have not encountered any issues with oddball peas showing up among the vines.

    Comment by Margaret — July 20, 2015 @ 4:11 pm | Reply

  6. Mary, you should check out this site – It’s Calvin Lamborn’s website, he’s the original breeder of the Sugar Snap Pea. There’s contact information there so maybe they could help you find a better source of seeds. I’ve been growing Super Sugar Snaps from Renee’s Garden and like them a lot and never had a problem with off types. But not having grown the original Sugar Snap I can’t compare the two.

    Comment by Michelle — July 20, 2015 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

  7. Your post made me feel a whole lot better. Last year and this year I was sure I planted sugar snap peas but most turned out to be snow pea. Thought I had mixed up the seeds or seedlings.

    Comment by Norma Chang — July 21, 2015 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

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