Mary's Veggie Garden

July 20, 2015

Sugar Snap Peas: Rest In Peace

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

July 27, 2014

How Vegetable Plants Climb

Filed under: Beans,Gardening,Peas,Squash,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 11:18 am
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Many vegetable plants are eager climbers. Gardeners can take advantage of this tendency by providing the appropriate support. Plants on a trellis enjoy better air circulation, reducing disease problems. Their fruits are easier to reach for harvesting and much cleaner. There is also less insect damage, particularly from slugs.

Let’s look at a few climbers.

Pea tendrils searching for an anchor.

Pea tendrils searching for an anchor.

Peas have compound leaves with slender, forking tendrils at their tips. The tendrils eagerly wrap around anything with about the same circumference as a pea vine: string, wire, brush, and adjacent pea plants.

Well anchored pea tendrils support a big plant.

Well anchored pea tendrils support a big plant.

Young pea tendrils make a tender addition to a spring salad. Once anchored the tendrils turn tough and wiry, well able to support the growing plant.

Pole beans do not have tendrils: they climb using twining stems. After the stem encounters support, it grows quickly, often traveling 5′ up a pole in a week. Pole bean stems are coarse and rough so they cling easily to rough surfaces such as bark but the flexible stems will also wrap around string and netting. The vines are big and heavy so use a tall, sturdy trellis.

Pole beans climb with their flexible branch tips.

Pole beans climb with their flexible branch tips.

This picture shows three young pole bean plants. Two have touched the pole and are spiraling upwards. The third plant is still searching for support – you can see the growing tip silhouetted against the black hose. Sometimes I help my pole beans by laying the stem against the pole.

Squash tendrils emerge from the stems opposite leaves. The spirals of a squash tendril form a hemihelix – they spiral in one direction, then change direction to spiral in the reverse direction. My squashes have climbed tomato cages, deer netting and wire fences.

Squash climbing a tomato cage.

Squash climbing a tomato cage.

Hanging squash fruit under 5 pounds do not require support. The stem of a hanging squash responds to the stress by growing stronger and more fibrous – which means you will need loppers to harvest. Bigger hanging squashes and pumpkins benefit by some support – perhaps a bucket or barrel turned upside down and placed underneath.

For more information please see my blog:

A Pole Bean Teepee

Supporting a Hanging Squash

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