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Camilla Care

Never enough peas

Vaseline 1 month ago

Peas growing in columnist Tom Atwell’s garden in the summer of 2020. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

I want more peas in our garden this year. Peas have always been my favorite annual planted vegetable (asparagus, a perennial, is my overall favorite), even before we started growing our own. Growing up, I ate mostly commercial frozen peas and a Fourth of July treat of fresh peas.

Last year the almost constant rain and cloudy weather robbed us of peas. We got a tasting on the 4th of July and were able to eat them with just a few meals for the rest of the summer. Although peas are a cool-season crop – they do poorly when temperatures rise much above 75 degrees Fahrenheit – they prefer at least partial sunshine and several days in full sun.

As I said in my column last week, our garden will be sunnier this year because the storm felled a nearby pine tree and our neighbor downed several more. I plan to move the peas to the part of the garden that was previously almost in the shade. I kept one tall fence for Sugar Snap peas for at least five years – these grow 6 to 8 feet tall, and I didn’t want to put up a new fence every year. But the fence has been destroyed by the falling pine, so I’m going to find a new location. I expect that crop rotation will promote production.

Peas come in three basic varieties. Shelling peas are the most popular and are found frozen and canned in supermarkets, and, briefly, at local farms and farmers markets. As the name implies, you only eat the peas, not the pods. If the peas are allowed to remain on the vines until they dry out, they can be planted as pea seed.

Snow peas produce flat, tasty pods, popular in Asian cuisine, and a crunchy, attractive vegetable in their own right.

Sugar Snap peas are a recent variety, introduced in 1979. I know it’s been almost half a century, but it’s just a blink of an eye in the history of gardening. Sugar snap peas are a cross between snow peas and peas, and the pods, like the peas themselves, are plump and edible. The vegetable’s creation was a happy accident: Idaho plant breeder Calvin Lamborn was tasked with straightening the bent pods on a snow peas. He crossed the varieties of snow peas and peas with shells and came up with Sugar Snap peas, of which both the shells and peas are sweet, soft and tasty.

We have grown both the original Sugar Snap and the newer Super Sugar Snap and we like the taste of the original better.

Because I love double-acting plants, I ordered some Magnolia Blossom Sugar Snaps this year from Renee Garden Seeds, one of our favorite non-Maine garden catalogs. Instead of the usual white blossoms, it has two-tone purple blossoms that should really stand out. I’ll let you know what I think.

We do not grow snow peas, but we do grow different types of Sugar Snap peas and snow peas. Every year we plant Knight and Green Arrow peas. Knight matures earlier, Green Arrow later. To extend the season we plant Green Arrow, which takes longer to produce a crop, a few weeks later than Knight.

I don’t mind putting up fencing for the pea vines to climb, but some gardeners do. Fortunately, you can plant dwarf varieties, which produce tasty crops while growing on vines that are only 24 to 30 inches tall and support themselves. The peas in that category include Little Marvel, Penelope and Lincoln Garden. Shorter peas are Sugar Anne, Sugar Daddy and Cascadia.

Freshly peeled peas. If you are planting peas in your garden soon, a large bowl can be left on the table in early summer. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Peas were traditionally planted around Patriots Day – although I tend to plant them earlier now with the warming climate – and the harvest ends before August arrives. This year I was planting peas outside just as the partial eclipse began. Since we have relatives who visit every August, we usually plant a row of peas in late, mid-June, to supply us for their visit. It works, but the yield is not as heavy as the first planting and I don’t think they taste as good.

But by then I may just be craving corn.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer who gardens in Cape Elizabeth. You can contact him at: [email protected].


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When a neighbor cut down some large pine trees, the sun streamed in