When To Harvest Sugar Snap Peas


Sugar snap peas are great for growing in the spring garden. For our New England climate, snap peas are always the first crop that we direct sow outdoors. It is also one of the earliest vegetables that we harvest, typically in the late spring.

Timing is important when it comes time to pick your peas. After years of growing them from seed, I can share when to harvest sugar snap peas for the best flavor and crunch.

Sugar snap peas ready for harvest
Sugar snap peas on the vine.

When to pick sugar snap peas

If the goal is to eat your sugar snap peas fresh or cook them, there is a small window for harvesting the pods.

Answer: The best time to harvest sugar snap peas is right after the pods swell up and become plump. Don’t wait long after this happens, as the peas can become tough and stringy. Thinner snap peas need a few more days on the vine to mature. Waiting for the pea pods to thicken up will yield the best crunch and sweetest flavor.

Snap peas at different thickness
Sugar snap peas thicken up when they are ready to pick.

For another way of looking at it, sugar snap peas typically take around 50-60 days from planting to produce their first ripe pod. This assumes you’ve planted at the right time of year and the seeds germinate in a timely manner.

How to harvest snap peas properly

When your sugar snap peas are ready to pick, it’s important not to damage the plant in the process. Here is how I like to easily harvest peas:

  • Hold the pea pod on one hand, and the branch that it is attached to in the other
  • Pull the two apart, careful not to tug at the plant’s tendrils that hold it upright
  • The pea should come free right at the tip of the pod without breaking any other part of the plant
Harvesting snap pea

Why are my snap peas chewy and tough?

Snap peas and other legumes (like beans) will naturally become tough and fibrous when left on the plant for too long. The plant’s goal is to create a viable seed within the pea pod. So, when a snap pea matures, the outer coating becomes more tough and stringy.

The peas inside of the pod can also become stiff as they mature on the plant. In general, the ripening process of a pea pod causes them to become less appetizing. For eating, it is best to pick the snap peas before they mature when the skin is still tender.

Note: If your goal is to save seeds from your peas for planting, then you should allow the pods to fully mature and start to dry on the plant. The pods will turn brown and the peas should rattle around inside. This ensures the seeds are fully developed and ready for storage or planting.

Pick regularly to encourage more peas

Whenever you harvest a snap pea, the plant will try to replace it. As long as the weather cooperates, your peas can be productive for months. So, I always do my best to harvest snap peas regularly to keep my plants pumping out new pods.

Sugar snap peas growing on trellis

If you wait too long and allow the plants to ripen their pea pods, production may slow down. So, always pick peas on the early side rather than late to avoid this problem.

What to do with sugar snap peas

Since snap peas tend to produce small harvests over a longer window, it’s best to use them while they are fresh. Here are some of my favorite ways to use sugar snap peas:

  • Eat them fresh! Nothing beats the fresh flavor straight off the plant.
  • Fry them with salt and pepper. For an easy side dish, fry your freshly-harvested sugar snap peas with a touch of olive oil, salt, and pepper. For a tender texture, remove the stringy edge of the pods, first.
  • Add to meals. Noodles, rice dishes, and soups are a great place to add some tasty sweet peas. They’re great whole or pre-chopped to bite-sized pieces.
  • Freeze them for later. If you don’t have an immediate use for your fresh peas, you can always freeze them for storage. They’ll keep for at least 6 months when frozen properly, though they will lose some of that crisp texture.
Yellow snap peas on plant

What about nitrogen fixation?

If you didn’t know it, your pea plants are nitrogen fixers. In essence, all legumes (peas, beans, peanuts, soybeans, etc.) can add nitrogen to the soil via nodules on their roots. In other words, these plants can help fertilize the soil with nitrogen!

This is accomplished by rhizobia bacteria that invade the roots of legumes. A symbiotic relationship forms, with the pea plant feeding the bacteria, and the bacteria adding nitrogen to the soil. This is why peas make a great cover crop for the early spring or late fall.

If your goal is to use snap peas to add nitrogen to the garden, then you won’t be harvesting snap peas at all. Instead, mow or cut the plants at their base just as they begin to flower. After the pea pods begin forming, any nitrogen-fixing activity will essentially stop. The plants shift their resources to seed production instead.

If you want to make sure your pea plants have the correct bacteria for nitrogen fixation, you can inoculate the seeds. This will make sure you get the desired benefit from growing peas and other legumes in your garden!

I hope this post helps you harvest your sugar snaps at the right time. We rarely go a season without planting sugar snaps, and they always give us a huge, delicious crop of peas!

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