Growing Peas for Winter Greens
Harvesting Austrian Winter Peas for Winter Salads and Stir Fries
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No matter what variety of vegetable pea plants you are growing in your garden, all parts of all varieties, including the buds and blossoms, are edible. Note that flowering ornamental peas are excluded. They are poisonous.
Austrian winter peas are easy to grow, come up fast, and are particularly resistant to cold temperatures. If, as I do, you winterize your garden with a cover crop of Austrian winter peas, you are all set to harvest the tips as winter greens.
Some gardeners prefer to grow edible pod peas. Like Austrian peas, they are easy to grow and they tolerate cold temperatures. Plus you have the advantage that they produce edible pods as well.
Two types of peas have edible pods: snow peas and snap peas. Snow peas, also called sugar peas or Chinese pea pods, produce an abundance of flat, succulent pods. Harvested before the peas fill out and the pods turn tough, they are popular for stir fries. The pods, along with the shoots and tendrils, may also be eaten raw in salads.
Snap peas are a cross between snow peas and standard English garden peas. Also known as sugar snap peas, they are not quite as sweet or tender as snow peas, but are considered more productive because they produce both edible pods (when young) and shelling peas (when mature). Snow peas are typically steamed, used in stir fries, or added raw to salads.
English garden peas, also known as green peas or shelling peas, take longer to mature, the shells are too tough to eat, and you have to grow and shell a lot of pods to make enough peas to serve with a meal. Since shelling is so tedious, but the homegrown peas are so delicious, our family typically harvests only a handful of pods at a time to add raw, sweet peas to a garden salad.
Growing Pea Vines
To avoid dealing with trellises when growing peas, we plant bush varieties and scatter them over the soil, like we sow Austrian winter peas, so they will grow thick and the plants will support one another. When growing pea shoots, plant the seeds closer together than you would when growing peas for pods. You can then harvest early shoots by thinning the plants.
Depending on your climate, peas planted for shoots can go in anytime between mid-October and early January. The pea plants themselves are more resistant to freezing than are the blossoms or pods.
If you miss your window of opportunity, you can try growing peas and other vegetables in pots indoors. I picked up a couple of window boxes at a local nursery, which I place under grow lights to produce winter greens when the weather turns too bitter for gardening (the plants may survive out there, but I’m not sure I would).
Harvesting Shoots and Tendrils
Young pea shoots are tender and crisp and taste much like pea pods. If you garden where the season is too short for peas to mature, you can still enjoy the pea flavor of shoots and tendrils. When the plants grow to at least 6 inches tall you can have your first harvest by thinning out some of the young plants. Or you can snip off just the top set of leaves, which will not only give you your first harvest but encourage the plants to branch out and produce more tender tips.
From then on you may continue to harvest the top 3 or 4 inches every few weeks, always snipping tender new growth. As the vines mature, they get tough and bitter. At that point let the plants mature and develop pods.
Serving The Harvest
One of my favorite ways to eat pea shoots is to break off the tops of pea plants to snack on while I’m working in the garden. Another favorite way is to add them to a variety of greens when making a tossed salad. And the curly tendrils as garnish look nothing less than exotic when floated on top of a bowl of soup.
As a wilted green, pea shoots may be gently heated in a little olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper. Some people like to add a few drops of lemon or lime juice, which enhances both the flavor and the color. Others like to add shoots to sautéed garlic, crushed or sliced, for a Chinese-style stir-fry served with soy sauce.
Pea shoots are not only delicious, but they’re loaded with two important antioxidants, vitamins A and C. They’re also high in folate, a B-vitamin that’s important for healthy body cells and blood. And they’re a good source of fiber.
Fresh homegrown pea shoots and tendrils are both tasty and good for you. What’s not to like?