Planting and Growing

Peas are easy to raise in cool weather and hard in hot weather. They like cool nights and bright, cool days. In the South, plant in earliest spring or the fall. In a more moderate zone, plant in the later summer and get a fall crop. With

This procedure is easy. It's the same for all legumes and the same as the process you use for making dried beans. Legumes can cross-pollinate, so if you are growing more than one kind, you'll get guaranteed pure seed only by having them flower at different times or by planting them at some distance from each other.

But legumes rarely cross—un-

Saving Legume Seed like squash and pumpkins, for instance—because legumes are self-pollinated. So although legumes are capable of crosses, the odds are against it if you have at least 1 row of some other crop between them (taller is better). If they do cross, the result, though unfamiliar, is sure to be edible.

Tag the best-looking plants to leave while you harvest from the rest. Then specially harvest them for seed. Leave seeds in the pod on the plant until completely dry, because those dried in the pod have a higher germination rate. Then shell and store in a dry, cool place. They keep for years. When shelling out, get rid of small, strangely shaped, sick, or otherwise weird ones.

cooler summers, you can do succession plantings (every 3 to 4 weeks) all summer, but I prefer planting a lot of them at the time when peas grow best here (early spring). Then I freeze and dry enough for the rest of the year.

Peas are a cheery thought to me all winter because they are the first thing I plant—about February 20. It doesn't matter if it's snowing or there is snow on the ground, as long as the ground isn't frozen. That date is long before my husband will even consider going into the garden. But not me. By then I'm just famished to play in the dirt. I grab my jar of home-grown pea seed and my pick and head for the garden.

Peas don't mind cold. You could plant them in the late fall if you wanted to. They have a wonderful instinct that tells them just when to wake up and start growing, and they won't grow until then. But the ones that I plant so early get going at the very first opportunity, so we have peas on our table 2 weeks before anybody else. There's another advantage to such early planting: Peas can be picked, shelled, and put to sleep in the deep freeze—all done—leaving me free to devote all my available time to the green beans, which will be coming up a week later. It's just awful trying to put up both peas and beans at the same time.

So I go out in my winter coat while everybody in the house is either laughing or sighing in sorrow at my strangeness. I muck through the cold, muddy ground to the chosen spot: somewhere on the side of the garden, where it will be safely out of the way when Mike tills later. I eye it, calculate vaguely where my row will go, walk to one end, and commence whacking with my pick. I used to spade the ground, but that's a terrible struggle in this clay soil when it is wet. The peas don't care anyway. All they need is a head start, and they'll beat the weeds anyway. So, using the pick, I manage to break open a row. (Last year I was 7 months pregnant when I did it—in fact, come to think of it, I've been pregnant a lot of years when I planted peas because I have had mostly spring babies—like the goats.)

Then I walk back and commence planting pea seeds. I don't drop them precisely at all; I just sort of dribble them through my fingers. It doesn't hurt peas to be a little crowded. Then I walk back, kick clods back over them as best I can, and go on to the next row. By 3 rows I'm either cold enough or tired enough to quit, but the first seeds are in. After that I try to get out and plant a few seeds every day. Planting seeds makes me happy. As long as I am putting seeds in the ground, I know spring will come, and by then I'm getting anxious for spring. I plant peas until the peas are all planted (we need 12 rows) and then put in some spinach.

By the time I have those in, it has warmed up enough for the onion sets, my husband has started taking walks to the garden on his own, and the multipliers are up. When the multipliers come up, spring has sprung for sure.

The rows of peas that I planted with the pick always turn out crooked—not merely curved but outright zigzag! —and too close together for the rototiller to squeeze between. My husband looks at them, sighs, and gets on with the chard, carrots, beans, and so on. Our garden is short on looks anyway. Nobody around here is decorator-minded. But it really does grow the food.

How to Plant: To do it right, till the ground first. Then make a long trench with the corner of your hoe. Space the seeds in it. Rake dirt over them; water and weed as needed. A pint or pound of seed plants about 100 feet in your garden. If you want to hurry them because you're trying to beat the heat or just want peas a week earlier, soak them in a flat dish. Spread them one pea deep in the dish, and add water until it comes halfway up the pea seed; when little sprouts show, plant right away before they rot. Plant 1 to IV2 inches deep, 2 to 3 inches apart, in rows 3 feet apart. The large pea seeds are easy to space when planting so that you won't need to thin later. They'll be 10 days to 2 weeks coming up (if they think the weather is warm enough to come up).

In a container, plant 12 seeds per 12-inch pot or 15 per square foot in a box. Or plant wide-row-style. That way, even overtall bush peas hold each other up, except for a few plants on the edges that fall over. Wide-row style is best for growing peas in the Deep South because the dense mass of plants helps keep them all cool, whereas in a single row they soon droop and fail from the heat. Mass peas choke out weeds too.

Peas hate dryness. But other than watering—and weeding if you have narrow rows—you don't have to do anything more until harvest.

Continue reading here: Harvesting

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