The sublime taste of fresh peas

THE OLYMPIANFebruary 29, 2012 

All I am saying, is give peas a chance.

This is the week to leap into spring as February stretches into March, and it is time to plant the seeds of a healthy harvest. Plant pea seeds now if your soil is well drained or you garden in raised beds. Delay planting if you can grab a handful of soil and a good squeeze causes water to run through your fingers. This means the soil is still too wet and seeds could rot.

In most areas, sweet peas, garden peas, bare root strawberries, raspberries, fruit trees, rhubarb and asparagus now can be planted.

If you’ve never grown peas from seed you are missing one of the sublime sensations of tasting the sweet color green. Like tomatoes and sweet corn, home grown peas have a superior flavor. Our kids preferred fresh peas to candy and we still serve them in the pod as portable snacks and after-dinner treats.

You don’t need a vegetable garden to harvest a crop of peas. A pot at least two feet deep or half-barrel planter can provide enough root room for a small harvest. There are several types of dwarf or bush peas perfect for small home gardens, and there is a short-growing sweet pea you can even grow in a window box. Imagine swooning from the sweet fragrance every time you open the window.

All three of the varieties below are sold by local Ed Hume seeds, easy to order online or to find in seed racks at local nurseries.

BEST PEA FOR THE BEGINNING GARDENER: ALASKA PEAS

Super early harvest from this more cold-resistant pea that ripens on bushy vines that grow only 2 to 3 feet tall.

BEST PEA FOR THE GOURMET COOK: OREGON SUGAR POD II

An edible pod pea perfect for stir fries, or eating fresh. The bushy vines grow to four feet, so use all of those fallen twigs and branches from the wind storm to poke into the ground and support the seedlings as they grow.

BEST SWEET PEA FOR THE ROMANTIC AT HEART: DWARF SWEET PEAS “LITTLE SWEET HEART”

Another bush variety, but these are blooming sweet peas, the old-fashioned fragrant flower that still inspires sonnets to be written, music to be composed and old folks to fall in love all over again.

PEA PLANTING TIPS

Soil: Work or loosen the soil and then add steer manure or compost as peas love organic matter.

Seeds: Soak the seeds overnight or pre-sprout them by wrapping in a damp dishrag for a few days.

Plant: Dig a trench six inches deep. Lay two inches of manure into the bottom of the trench. Cover the manure layer with an inch of soil, then set the pea seeds into this trench. Add another inch of soil on top of the peas. As the peas grow, fill in around the seedlings until the trench is all filled.

Containers: If planting in a window box or container garden, or if your soil is well worked (this means it is light and fluffy) you can simply poke the pea seeds four inches down into the soil.

It pays to follow the spacing instructions on the seed pack. Crowded seedlings are prone to disease.

PEA PESTS

Bait to ward off slugs and cover the crop with netting to keep out the crows – these intelligent birds watch you plant the seeds, read the label that says the peas will sprout in 10 days, then arrive on that very day to pluck each seed from the soil. Of course, these feathered thieves wait until they hear the shower water running or watch until your car drives away, so you never catch them in the act.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her website at www.binettigarden.com.

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