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Save your seeds: Peas


Clockwise from above: Snow pea seeds; Harvested peas ready for eating; Leave the pea pods on the vine to dry. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

Pisum sativum var. sativum – pisum means pea; and sativum means cultivated, in Latin.


One of the most ancient old-world vegetables, the garden pea can be traced to the Bronze Age. It was domesticated in Europe and later in southern Russia, Armenia, northern India, Pakistan and the mountains of Ethiopia. Primitive peas were found in the city of Troy. This vegetable reached China early in the Tang Dynasty, 600 to 900 BCE.


There are dwarf and climbing forms of pea plants. Species of pea:

  • P. sativum var. arvense – arvensis means growing in the fields in Latin – is the smooth-seeded field pea, used dried in soups and pies.
  • P. sativum var. macrocarpon – macrocarpon means large fruit in Greek – is the wrinkle-seeded snow pea, with flowers that are nearly white, and which is eaten for its succulent young pods.
  • The green-shelled pea was only developed last century.


Garden peas should be timed to flower neither in cold weather, as the buds will be damaged by light frost, nor in hot weather, as flower setting is poor. In crop rotation they do well sown after cabbages mature.

Saving The Seed

Peas are self-pollinating, but varieties ought to be separated by another tall crop. Rogueing out the off-types is most important. Look for exceptionally strong plants from which to save seeds. Peas from plants which display narrow leaves should not be saved, but can be eaten.

When the peas are at eating stage, a good number of bushes should be marked or tagged with a bright piece of cloth and left in the field or garden for four more weeks. When the peas rattle in the pods, they can be picked and threshed.

If it is rainy weather, bring these pods inside earlier, as peas sprout very easily in the pod. A further week of drying on a rack is necessary before storing these vegetables in a canvas bag.

Storing Seed

The shrivelled seeds of succulent varieties like snow peas have a lower viability than the plump hard varieties. Generally, peas keep for about three years and lose viability quickly after that. All the same, you will find a few will germinate after eight years of storage in good conditions. There are approximately five seeds to the gram.


Snow peas are nicest if eaten shortly after picking, which is best done in the cool part of the day. The tops of both field and green peas are abundant and must be the most delicate and sweet-tasting salad green; throw them into a stir-fry just before serving, much like you would treat spinach.

Because of their high nicotinic acid content, fresh peas from the garden will lower blood cholesterol level. When eaten as a snow pea, they also help eliminate any toxic waste in the intestine.

On The Lookout

The smooth-seeded pea types, which have purple or blue flowers, are suitable for cold climates. They are the oldfashioned starchy soup pea. Flour was made out of them and was sometimes mixed with wheat flour to make bread. There were more than 200 strains listed in the Vilmorin (French) seed catalogue of 1904. In comparison, Yates had more than 50 varieties in their 1904 catalogue.

The first variety of garden pea was perfected in Holland and became known to the French as petit pois (little pea), but the Victorian English were the first to develop and catalogue the separate varieties of peas. Many of the 19th century names display Victorian chauvinism: Prince Albert, Victoria, Champion of England, William the First, Conqueror. In response, the French have varieties with names such as Napoleon.

In Australia, gardeners attached to a particularly good pea plant variety made sure they saved their strain. Little Marvel and Melbourne Market have been the standards for home gardeners for years, producing steady crops, while new varieties like Canners Perfection are more suitable to the commercial grower, because the crop ripens all at once.


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