Volume 13, Issue 23 ~ June 9 - 15, 2005

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by by Gary Pendleton

Taking a Chance on Peas

Among the hierarchy of garden produce from my backyard, none is more rare and precious than Pisum sativum. Snap peas are sweet, crisp and fresh tasting. They are among the earliest of spring crops to plant and harvest. Plant them in early March, and if all goes well there will be peas from mid-May to mid-June. If all goes well.

Things sometimes don’t work out. The season for peas is short, and there aren’t many second chances.

Peas are by nature chancy. You put the seeds in the ground when it is still winter. The air is raw and the ground is cold and clumpy. With other plants, you can start a dozen or a hundred in a flat in a south-facing window, then pick out the strongest from the ones that germinate, finally hardening them off in a cold frame before transplanting them outside. But with peas there is no intermediate stage. No babying.

Some years, you get the cool weather that peas need to thrive; temperatures above 70 degrees cause the plants to stop producing. So if they are planted too late, or if the weather turns unseasonably warm, all will not go well.

This spring once again tempted my patience for planting peas. For the most part, spring weather was cool and damp, conditions that usually portend well for peas. But early March was too darn wet and downright cold. The weather around the first of March was so nasty that I didn’t get my peas in for 10 days. After that is stayed so stinkin’ chilly and rainy that half my seeds rotted in the ground.

Finally, some of the plants sprouted. They were looking good. Then we had a very hot spell in April. It got above 90, which is not good for peas, but they survived. With May, cool weather returned — but it turned dry with hardly any rain for two weeks. During the dry spell, I tried to keep the peas watered, but a little rain would have helped.

My garden is small, and the space I allotted for peas again this year has caused me to cramp on space for tomato plants and to delay putting in cucumbers and other summer crops. Sometimes it seems like too much bother for roughly three meals worth of snap peas. If I had been able to get the seeds in earlier and if the weather had cooperated, we might have had a larger crop and more time to enjoy them.

My trivial garden trials and tribulations are nothing compared to those of the farmer whose mortgage depends on bringing in a single crop of wheat or corn. Still, peas can try one’s patience.

They are delicious, however. They are fun to eat straight from the plant, but I like them best steamed for about one minute, no more. Last year I overcooked about half of my crop by forgetting them on the stove for three minutes. Discouraging? Yes, but we were in no danger of going hungry, and we still made the mortgage.

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