Peas

Peas (Pisum sativum).

No photos. Coming soon with the growing season, hopefully.

There’s a famous story about Thomas Jefferson’s pea-growing contest with his neighbor at Monticello, George Divers. Everything about Jefferson is famous. The pea-growing contest was this. Whoever had the first peas in the spring would invite his neighbors to dine, in this way announcing himself as the winner of the contest to grow the earliest peas. Mr. Divers usually won. One spring, Jefferson’s peas were ready, but he did not issue the dinner invitation. When his family reminded him that he had won the contest and by all rights should invite his neighbors to dine and claim the victory, Jefferson replied to the effect that his family should say nothing about the early peas, it being more agreeable to Mr. Divers to think that he never failed in the pea contest. But it seems Mr. Divers did win fair and square most of the time.

In the spring of 1813, Jefferson wrote in a letter that he was hastening home in order to attend the Divers’ first pea dinner, but was afraid he would not be in time. Another year, Jefferson wrote in a letter to a friend that he had dined on peas at the Divers on April 29. Even in Virginia, that’s early. The above anecdotes can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, edited by Edwin Morris Betts.

In a great article in the NY Times, “At Monticello, Jefferson’s Methods Endure,” Peter Hatch, who has worked on restoring the gardens at Monticello since 1979, said that Jefferson was not so much a good gardener as a good collector and distributer of seeds and cuttings from all over the world. According to Hatch, Jefferson would often kill off some prized plant in his own garden, and then go to Divers, who, according to Hatch, was the better gardener, to get back seeds or cuttings of a plant he had earlier shared with his neighbor. An important reason to share plants, according to Hatch.

In Four-Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman says that peas can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked in spring. I planted pea seeds that early once, and they didn’t come up. This year, I will plant early but use row covers for a little added warmth.

I plant peas around tepees made with bamboo poles and twine, as I described in the post Green beans. If row covers are used, I’ll have to wait to put the tepee in place until the weather is warm enough to remove the row covers. So, we’ll see how that goes.

Peas need fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. A fall crop is possible, but I’ve never tried it. Peas seem like a spring thing.

There are 3 kinds of peas for this area of the country. The traditional garden pea, or English pea, that is shelled. The snow pea. And the sugar snap pea, which is eaten entire, shell and all, like the snow pea, except the snap peas are fatter. I love the sugar snaps best, so that’s the kind I grow.

I have 2 varieties of pea seeds this year. They are leftover seeds. I couldn’t tell one from the other last year, so I don’t know which I like better. I should make up my mind this year so I can order just one packet of pea seeds next year.

As with beans or any legumes, an inoculant is important, See the post Green beans for a discussion of the benefits of an inoculant. I plan to order the Garden Combination inoculant from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Guess that I had best order soon.

I love to snack on sugar snap peas while working in the garden. Peas are not heavy producers, like beans, so the daily pea harvest may never make it into the kitchen. When it does, there’s one recipe I look forward to each spring, basically onions and garlic sautéd in olive oil, with sugar snap peas, which include the shell, of course, and prosciutto added, served over pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Yummy.

I don’t usually have enough peas to freeze, but a small container of frozen peas added at the last minute to a stew is lovely.

Here is my sugar snap pea lineup.

Sugar Ann. Snap peas. Earliest snap pea, according to Johnny’s catalog. Has strings. 52 days from direct seeding to harvest.

Super sugar snap. Snap peas. More resistant to powdery mildew. I haven’t had a problem with powdery mildew on peas, but important to note. 60 days from direct seeding to harvest.

Row covers are the important addition to my pea plan for this season. Something of a pain to put up row covers, then remove them and put up tepees. We’ll see if all that is worth the effort. It’s impossible to have peas by April 29, like Mr. Divers, but maybe by Memorial Day. That would be something.

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