I know—you might not like theidea of putting anything in the groundreally early in the season. But there are two very good reasons to getpeas in the ground on March 17th:
1) They ARE called "SPRING Peas" for a reason: Peas are NOT a summercrop. As soon as it gets hot, the vines wither up and depart thismortal coil. If you wait till it seems a reasonable time to plant, yourvines may shrivel and die just as the first peas are ready for picking.It's a lot like going back to dating in High School. And
2) …one of the great superstitions of gardening is that is it LUCKY toplant peas on St. Patrick's Day. And as you probably know all too well,we gardeners NEED that luck much much more than normal people.
So--it's the right time AND it's lucky—you're already two points aheadof your normal score! (No matter WHAT, plant by April 1st or you'rewasting your time--and the peas'.)
Your basic choices are:
• Sweet and crispy snow peas; pick 'em while they're still nice andflat and enjoy 'pod and all' in salads and stir-fries (MY personalchoice of pea!).
• Southern favorite 'snap' or 'sugar' peas; let the pods get a littlefatter on the vine before picking, then zip off and discard the stringsand eat these sweet treats 'pod and all' as well.
• And, of course, your basic 'English', 'garden' or 'shelling' peas;where you zip open the pod and just eat the tasty peas inside.
(Note: Most snow pea vines are self-supporting, but even they prefer alittle support to do their best—and you'll need to provide a talltrellis for the other types to climb.)
However, even SNOW pea seeds won't germinate outside if the weatherturns (or stays) frigid. So, to get those extra March 17th good luckpoints, plant sprouted seeds outside instead! You'll pick peas for sixweeks this Spring instead of just two days! Surround your seeds withwet paper towels, put 'em in a Ziploc bag, BUT DON'T SEAL IT, and leavethem sit out in the open at room temperature. The seeds should sproutin 48 hours. If it's nice and warm on St. Pat's, plant 'em all. If it'scold, plant a few seeds (for luck), wait a few days for the weather tochange and then plant the rest (for intelligence).
Dig a little trench next to a trellis, fence or tall, thin sticksjammed into the ground, so your vines will have something to climb. Adda tablespoon of wood ash per foot of row to 'sweeten' the soil, drop inyour sprouted seeds (don't be afraid to crowd 'em—they love it!), coverwith an inch of non-clay soil or (better!) seed starting mix, and waterwell.
Then be brave—if a cold wave hits, it may be awhile before the sproutsshoot thru the surface of the soil, but they will. Water weekly if itdon't rain. For food, shovel some nice fresh finished compost aroundthe plants when they get to be about six inches tall; water withcompost tea every other week; or use a gentle organic packagedfertilizer. Pick promptly when the peas start coming—the more you pick,the more you get!
And for the Advanced Class…
Get some 'pea and bean inoculant' at the garden center or through acatalog and roll your seeds around in the flour-like stuff before youbury 'em. Bacteria in the powder will form a symbiotic relationshipwith your plants, enabling them to suck plant-feeding nitrogen rightout of the air. This also works with 'string' beans; in fact thesebacteria work their magic on all peas and beans (and other poddinglegumes). WAY cool.
Great science experiment: Start some peas 'with' and some 'without' theinoculant in little containers on a windowsill. Pull a few up after amonth or so. The inoculated plants will have little round growths ontheir roots, showing that bacteria and plant have become one (better)organism!
Note: If you miss the planting window in Spring, don't plant late; thecool-weather-loving vines will just burn up. Instead, plan on puttingin a Fall crop:
Pick the coolest spot in your garden (i.e. afternoon shade), put theseeds in the ground 90 days before your first expected frost date inthe Fall, keep the young plants well watered (and perhaps even cooledwith some shade cloth or the shadow of taller plants, like corn ortomatoes) till summer's most torrid days are done, and think goodthoughts. Remember—the plants like cool weather, so light frosts won'tbother them a bit. Northerners will generally get a nice run ofpeas—lots if the frigid winter frosts hold off for awhile.
The further South you are, the more likely you'll get a nice long cropof Jun…eh, NOVEMBER peas!
©2004 Mike McGrath
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