Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An article from my old St. Pete Times column in 2004

If you live in a cold climate area, plant peas either in the fall JUST before the ground freezes, or in early spring after it has just thawed out.


John and Yoko were planting acorns around the world when they sang that famous anthem many folks are singing once again, but today we can use that same spirit of hopefulness with a “garden bed-in”. The cooler months of winter here in central Florida are our chance to cultivate the sweet crunchy pods and even the soul-penetratingly fragrant sweet pea flowers all too many think grow only up north or in our memories of our grandmothers’ gardens.

While we rarely see either edible peas or “sweet peas” in gardens here they will thrive each winter and spring if given full sun, rich fertile soil that isn’t too acid, something to climb up and plenty of cool or even cold nights. October through February are ideal planting times as peas grow quickly then; even a frost won’t hurt them. Add plenty of bagged compost to your sandy soil, and if you have highly acidic inland soil also apply a light sprinkling of dolomitic limestone about as heavy as parmesan cheese on spaghetti then turn it all under. Peas actually like “sweet soil” so coastal folks need only add that compost. Feed the peas once a month with a good drench of “fish emulsion” from a garden center....3 tablespoons per gallon of water is fine. Once they start to climb just entwine them into the trellis or chain link fence you planted the seeds next to and they’ll take off on their own as their tendrils grab a hold.

Like snow peas? Plant them and enjoy both those tender pods and the equally edible leaves raw in salads or tossed into stir fries. For the most food per foot of garden row sow the irresistibly crunchy-sweet “sugar snap” peas, be they the modern dwarfs that need no trellis or the old original with 4 foot vines. Once again, feel free to harvest the pea flavored tender new leaves and tendrils till the pods form but these pods are stringless and filled with crisp plump peas that rarely make it to my kitchen...it’s hard to not just stand there in my peaceful garden tossing the whole pods into my mouth! While they will grow just fine I never grow English Peas because they need to be shucked and after the pods are discarded it seems I get very little food.

Many northern transplants sorely miss old-fashioned “sweet peas” and the heavenly perfume they oozed when we were children visiting grandma’s garden. By the 1970’s though that amazing fragrance was lost by breeders in search of new colors and bigger blooms. But luckily the wild species was rediscovered on the island of Sicily, plus some heirloom varieties were tracked down too and now appear on ordinary seed racks and in catalogs. And winter and spring offer native Floridians a chance to experience a quality of scent like no other flower...sultry and spicy and sweet and soulful. Just one cluster of those elegant blooms will perfume a whole room! While some modern hybrids have brought back fragrance due to new breeding work, my heart still swoons most over two very old strains, the magenta and pink and white “Painted Lady” and the brooding deep blue and plum 17th century stunner ‘Matucana’. Be sure to pick plenty of bouquets to keep the vines blooming till the heat returns.

All I am saying is give peas a chance in your garden, and try three sowings per season; one in late October after the cool down begins, another in December, and a last one in February for a steady stream of delicious pods and startlingly sweet flowers.


Thompson & Morgan Seed Catalogue 1-800-274-7333
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds   http://www.rareseeds.com/

No comments:

Post a Comment