There are three kinds of peas: garden peas, snap peas, and snow peas.
Garden peas also called English peas or green peas are the peas you eat without a pod. There are two kinds of green peas—small-seeded type, also called petit pois, for eating fresh and freezing and large-seeded type that are shelled and used as dry peas; large-seeded peas are also called soup peas.
Snap peas, sometimes called sugar snap peas, are tender, sweet, and can be eaten pod and all.
Snow peas, also called Chinese peas or Asian peas or sugar peas, also can be eaten pod and all.
When to Harvest Peas:
Peas will be ready for harvest 55 to 70 days after sowing. Grow peas to mature in late spring or early summer and in autumn—when temperatures are in the 60°s to 70°sF (15°+–21°+C). Peas must mature before the weather gets hot.
Harvest garden or shelling peas when the pods are fully developed but still bright green. Before picking, taste garden peas for sweetness—taste them every day after the pods have begun to fill. They should be sweet and tender and slightly larger than the dry seed you planted. Don’t wait too long; once garden peas reach maturity they rapidly decline in quality, start to yellow, and become inedible as fresh peas within one to three days.
Garden peas picked too soon will lack sweetness. Over mature peas will be starchy and have tough skins. If you wait too long and peas begin to yellow and the pods become tough, leave them to dry on the vine and use as dry, soup peas.
Peas for shelling should be shelled immediately after picking or cooled immediately after picking—submerge them in cold water—for shelling later. Shelled peas are most flavorful eaten soon after harvest—otherwise the quality declines rapidly.
Harvest sugar snap peas any time after peas begin to form in the pod and continue picking until the pods are fully elongated, about 3 inches (7 cm) long. Sugar snap peas are most flavorful if picked at about half full size, about a week after flowering. Both the peas and the pods will be very sweet.
Harvest edible-pod snow peas or Asian peas while pods are immature and still flat—before the seeds begin to fill out. Harvest snow peas every other day to keep pods from getting too big. Snow peas that get too large will be tough. Some snow pea varieties have fibrous string along the edges of the pods; remove the strings before cooking. Snow peas can be eaten whole pod and all or shelled just like garden peas.
Harvest pea shoots or tendrils (used for stir-fries or steaming) when shoots are about 6 inches (15 cm) long. Cut the shoots from the vine. Edible-pod pea varieties have the tastiest shoots. Shoots that are leafless are usually tender and sweeter than leafy shoots.
English peas mature rapidly in the pod than sugar snap and snow peas. It’s always best to check peas every day or two to know exactly when to pick.
How to Harvest Peas:
Pick peas with two hands. Secure the vine with one hand then pinch the stem of each pod and pull with the other hand. Don’t tug or jerk pods away; pea plants hang on to their support with thin tendrils so a heavy hand can dislodge the plant from its support.
Pick peas in the morning after the dew has dried. That is when they will be crisp and crunchy for fresh eating.
Remove garden or field heat from peas after picking by dunking then in a cold water bath until pods are chilled then dry and refrigerate. Peas must be promptly cooled to maintain freshness and to preserve sugar content (the sugar in peas quickly turns to starch after harvest unless cooled). Cooled peas will hold their quality for more than a week in the refrigerator.
Keep plants well picked to encourage more pods to develop. If you miss the peak harvest (check the days to maturity), you can still pick, dry, and shell peas for use in winter soups. Quality for fresh eating, declines rapidly one maturity is reached.
How to Store Peas:
Eat peas as soon after picking as possible; the sugar that makes peas sweet begins turning to starch right after picking.
Store peas cold and moist, 32°-40°F (0°-4°C) and 95 percent relative humidity. Cold and moist storage is a challenge to create. Refrigerators provide the cold, but they also dry the air. Place peas in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator to keep them moist. Peas will keep in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. Peas that can’t be used in a week should be frozen.
Peas that are stored too cold or too long will become soft and start to brown.
More tips: How to Grow Peas.