Green peas in a nutshell—or pea pod: one of the tastiest vegetables you can grow, as succulent as sweet corn, picked from vining plants as ornamental as many annual flowers. The first spring in our garden many years ago, eager to get started, we raked aside remnants of snow in order to plant peas. Word soon spread: “They’re hoeing the snow up there.” Two months later, the first mouthful of just-picked peas came as a complete surprise; I’d never tasted that melt-in-the-mouth sweetness before. Since then, dropping hard, wrinkled pea seeds into damp, chilly ground has become a hopeful rite of spring.
Compared with mountains of corn and tomatoes, peas appear only by the odd basketful at summer markets and are never cheap. Bring home a quart of pods, shell them and you end up with a smallish side dish for two. Since the sugars in peas start turning to starch soon after picking, the finest flavour is reserved for those who grow a row or two; and it’s the only way to have peas in abundance.
Peas are among the easiest vegetables to cultivate. They’re a true cool-weather crop: seeds go in early, vines do most of their growing in May and June, and the harvest comes in before summer turns hot. Most years, in our Zone 4 garden, we sow a batch during the first half of April (occasionally during a mild snap in March), with a second planting three or four weeks later.
The first step is choosing seeds—seedlings are rarely available because, like their ornamental cousins, sweet peas, they don’t take well to transplanting. ‘Knight’ (60 centimetres tall) is an early, large-podded cultivar; ‘Lincoln’ (one metre) is an old standby of exceptional sweetness; while the newer ‘Bolero’ (120 centimetres), which grew beautifully for us last season, is said to have the best disease tolerance. If space allows, plant early-maturing varieties such as disease-tolerant ‘Olympia’ (40 centimetres) or ‘Knight’ first, followed by later cultivars such as All-America Selection ‘Mr. Big’ (75 centimetres), ‘Eclipse’ (50 centimetres) or ‘Bolero’ to extend the fresh-picked season.
Peas thrive in a range of soils, from sandy loam to clay, as long as drainage is good and pH hovers around 6. Work in a layer of compost and/or fertilizer higher in phosphorus and potash than in nitrogen. Even in our alkaline soil, a dusting of ground limestone seems to counteract the natural acidity of the organic matter routinely applied to vegetable beds. If your soil is heavy clay, consider preparing the bed the fall before, digging or tilling in amendments and shaping a raised bed, which will drain and warm quickly in spring.
Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening
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