First they flower; soon afterward they make pods. Start harvesting as soon as the pods are decently filled out. You need perfect timing: If you pick too soon, before the peas have gotten to their full size, you'll be wasting your and the pea vine's effort. But if you wait a few days too many, the peas will be yellow and hard and will have lost their good taste (although they'll still be fine to dry or make seed from). When picking pods, treat the vines gently, so you don't hurt them or pull out the roots. It helps to hold the vine with one hand as you pull off pods with the other one. They'll produce the most if you keep them well watered and well picked (pick every other day or so).
When farmers grow peas by the field, the crop is usually cut and windrowed; then it's left to sun-dry until a combine threshes out the peas from the pods. NOTE: If you're thinking about helping yourself to some peas, you'd best check with the farmer about his or her spraying schedule. If they've just been sprayed with parathion, you might not come out of that field alive.
SAVING Seed: Peas are a self-fertile, insect-pollinated annual. Let peas for seed stay on the vine until the pods are well developed. Dry and then shell out of the pod. Pea seed lives a long time. I have a friend whose home-grown pea seed is 8 years old and still sprouts. What's the Rush? Peas are like corn in that on the vine, they have lots of natural sugar that starts turning to starch as soon as they are picked. Peas' conversion doesn't happen as quickly as corn's, but it's quick enough to make fresh garden peas the best kind you'll ever taste. So get your peas from the plant to the pot—or frozen, dried, or canned—just as promptly as possible. Peas keep better in the shell than out of it (similarly, corn keeps better in the husk than out of it), so don't shell until just before cooking or preserving. Store in the refrigerator if you must keep them hanging around.
NOTE: Don't wash peas before cooking or preserving. Just shell them out of clean pods; that's good enough.
Continue reading here: Preserving
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