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Garden Journal

Peas are among the oldest garden vegetables

By Paul Barbano | Mar 13, 2013
Peas can withstand frost, so you can plant them as soon as the soil thaws.

A busboy can bus a table, and a burglar can burgle a house, so is “pease porridge hot” made of pease or a pea? In a process called back formation, English speakers assume that a noun ending in an “s” is plural, so if we drop the “s” we get the singular. But the original word for the garden vegetable “pea” was “pease” and the plural was “peasen.” We just dropped the ending and made the singular the now familiar “pea.” Whether pea or peasen, March is a good time to plant these cold hardy vegetables.

Garden peas (Pisum sativum) are legumes and have symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules. These bacteria are able to take nitrogen from the atmosphere and change it into a form that plants can use as fertilizer.

Because peas can withstand frost, you can plant them as soon as you can work the soil. Shelling peas are often called English peas to tell them apart from edible-podded snow peas and snap peas.

Choose a planting site in full sun with well-drained soil. Peas grow best in soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5, but do well in most gardens.

Dig the soil down to a depth of 12 to 15 inches. Sow seeds one to one-and-a-half inches deep and two inches apart. Plant bush variants in a single row or in double rows spaced about a foot apart so they can cling to each other, forming their own pea bushes. Tall peas will need supports.

Only water if the spring is unusually dry.

Peas are among the oldest garden vegetables, so there are a lot of old heirloom varieties still available. Tom Thumb is a nice very dwarf plant small enough to grow in pots. Green Arrow is a good main crop pea with slim 4-inch pods that each hold eight to 11 small, deep green peas. Green Arrow is noted for huge crops on medium-tall vines that will be ready to pick in under 70 days. Dwarf Grey Sugar dates back to at least 1892. It has wide, pale-green, three- to four-inch pods. The pods are remarkably fiber free and stringless, making them a good choice for eating raw, lightly steamed or in a stir fry. The gorgeous purple bi-colored blossoms make this a nice edible ornamental. The short vines only grow 24 to 30 inches high and never need staking. Expect huge harvests within just 60 days.

For a striking novelty, try one of the blue -odded peas such as Blauwschokkers from Seed Savers Exchange or Blue Pod Capucijner from Sand Hill Preservation (1878 230th St., Calamus, IA 532729). These are productive soup peas. The dramatic five- to six-foot-tall plants are spectacular enough to grow in the flower garden. This soup pea is ready to harvest in 80 to 85 days.

Since peas rarely cross pollinate you can easily save your own seeds for next year.

Pick English or garden peas when the pods are well filled, but before they begin to get hard or fade. Since snow peas and snap peas are eaten pods and all, you can pick them at any stage, but the younger the better. Pick your peas every day to keep them producing.

Plant peas now when the ground can just be worked, and in a few months, you will have fresh peas for the table and some for storage or some for porridge. Whether you make pease porridge hot or pease porridge cold is up to you.

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