Garden Peas

Even if you are not Mendel the Monk, you should know there are the English, or garden peas, and edible pod type peas and then there are southern peas. Black-eyeds, crowders and creams are the best-known southern "peas." In the North, these "peas" are called shell beans. Confusing as it may sound, the vegetable most southerners call peas is, botanically speaking, neither a pea nor a bean. However, I will save the southern peas for next weeks newsletter. English and edible-podded peas prefer cool, moist weather. No matter where you live, English peas should be planted as soon as the garden can be worked. Even in the North that means early spring, because peas can survive late frosts. Soil temperature should be above 45°F (7°C) before planting. The two basic types of English peas are dwarf or bush peas, which grow to a height of about 16 inches, and telephone or tall varieties, which grow more than three feet tall. Although dwarf peas can be grown without a trellis if you plant in wide rows,  the taller varieties need a fence or some type of support, especially if grown in single or double rows. For an extended harvest, plant early, midseason, and late varieties.

Successive plantings of the same varieties tend to catch up with each other, resulting in one big harvest. The growing requirements are the same for the English peas, the snow peas and the snap peas. English peas are allowed to swell in the pod, harvested and then shelled. The snow peas are usually harvested when they're young, crisp and flat, before the pods have filled out. These peas are eaten pods and all, these you'll find in Chinese dishes. However, if the pods develop too fast, the peas can be shelled, cooked and eaten as English peas. Snap peas (which gardeners often call sugar snaps after the original variety, Sugar Snap) are grown like English peas, picked when the pods have filled out and eaten pods and all. These sweet-flavored peas are delicious raw or cooked. They have the tenderness and fleshy pod qualities of young beans with the flavor of peas. All these peas are legumes, and don't need much fertilizer--especially nitrogen. Good soil that has been enriched with compost is all they need. It's a good idea to add "inoculant" to soil or seeds before they are sown. This black powder is available anywhere seeds are sold. It is not a chemical additive but a naturally occurring bacterial powder that aids peas' natural ability to "fix" nitrogen in the soil by forming "peanuts" of nitrogen on their roots. In addition to helping plants actually enrich the soil in your garden as they grow and thrive, this inoculant also boosts the health of vines and, consequently, the yield. All types of garden peas need adequate but not excessive water at soil level. Avoid watering over top of mature leaves and flowers. Too much water is the surest way to do in your peas. Preferably, plant in soil that is moist but not muddy. If you are planting in a loam don't water again until the plants are up and blossoms appear unless the plants appear wilted. If you are planting in soil that is very sandy, you will need to water more often. This is very important! If you water too much before germination, the seed will likely rot. If you water too much during root development, you will end up with shallow roots that can't sustain the plants when hot weather sets in. Garden peas can be grown in a variety of soils, but good drainage is essential. They require a pH of 6.0 to 6.7. Weed suppression is essential and as the season progresses a cool soil temperature will extend their productivity. When your plants are a few inches tall, you can sharply curtail weeding by putting mulch around the plants. A 3- to 6-inch layer of mulch completely shades the ground, preventing weed growth. Mulch also conserves moisture and helps to keep the ground at a constant cool temperature. Mulch is almost a necessity if your soil is sandy, warm and too dry. You can use organic mulches, such as bark, straw, lawn clippings, leaves or pine needles. To keep moisture in the soil and weeds out, apply mulch up to 1 inch around the base of the plants. Be sure not to add trouble where there wasn't any before. Use only mulch that's free of weed seeds. Cut worms are a real problem in my area. So I use the small plastic soda pop bottles with the top and bottom cut off to make collars. I push them down one inch in the soil after the seed is planted and then mulch with compost right up to the collar. The collars are removed at the end of the season, washed in water with bleach and stored for use next year. If you plant the tall varieties you will need to provide some support. In my cool Oregon climate, I grow nine foot tall pea plants, so my trellis has to be tall. Supports are easy to make. A simple one uses 4- to 5-foot-long stakes placed five feet apart down the row. Run three wires horizontally between the stakes, one foot apart. If you prefer, use chicken wire with a 2-inch mesh instead of the separate wires. Unlike other climbing vegetables, peas naturally grasp the support with their tendrils, though you may need to guide them gently towards the support as they become tall enough to reach it. Pick garden peas when the pods are full, firm, shining and bright green in color. The sugar content will be high at this time. Frequent harvesting from the bottom of the plant up prolongs the harvest. Once peas begin to reach the appropriate stage for picking, remember to harvest on a daily basis, this may continue for several weeks with succession planting. Peas are best used as soon as possible after harvest, but may be stored in the refrigerator for a few days if cooled immediately. The same applies for freezing and canning. For best quality, freezing and canning should be done within a few hours after picking. Harvest snow peas the same way you would English peas, only pick them before the peas have filled out in the pods. These pods will be bright green, tender and flat. Snap peas, on the other hand, should fill out completely, so they're nice and plump. Remove their strings and blossom ends, and then steam, boil, stir fry or freeze them. Better yet, enjoy them raw! Always pick overmature pods. If allowed to remain on the vines, they'll decrease your total yield. Be careful when pulling the pods so that the vine is not damaged. Use two hands to pick peas. Hold onto the pea vine with one hand, and pick off the pods with the other. This won’t damage the vine or uproot the whole plant. Good companions for peas include bush beans, pole beans, carrots, corn, cucumber, radish and turnips. Don't plant near onions. If your peas were planted early in the spring, you'll have time to plant another vegetable in that same location. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, root crops and spinach do well in soil where nitrogen-fixing legumes have grown. 'Alaska' is the English pea variety usually grown and dried for split peas. This hardy pea has a low sugar content and produces smooth seeds. Although generally dried commercially, home gardeners can dry Alaska peas easily.


If an unsuspecting frost came upon your garden while you were sleeping and the plants were not protected, get to the garden before the sun shines on the plants and spray the foliage with the garden hose.


Most gardens have soil that provides something less than the ideal environment for many garden plants. Perhaps it's rocky or scraped bare from new construction; perhaps it's too claylike or too sandy to suit the plants you want to grow. While changing a soil's basic texture is very difficult, you can improve its structure--making clay more porous, sand more water retentive--by adding amendments. The best amendment for soil of any texture is organic matter, the decaying remains of plants. As it decomposes, organic matter releases nutrients that are absorbed by soil-dwelling microorganisms and bacteria. The combination of these creatures' waste products and their remains, called humus, binds with soil particles. In clay, it forces the tightly packed particles apart; drainage is improved, and the soil is easier for plant roots to penetrate. In sand, it lodges in the large pore spaces and acts as a sponge, slowing drainage so the soil stays moist longer. Among available organic amendments are compost, well-rotted manure, and soil conditioners (composed of several ingredients); these and others are sold in bags at many full-service nurseries, or in bulk (by the cubic yard) at supply centers. Byproducts of local industries, such as rice hulls, cocoa bean hulls, or mushroom compost, may also be available.


Chinch Bugs

They are grayish brown about 3mm long and have narrow bodies. Immature bugs have red markings on their bodies. They hide under rocks and clods of dirt in the heat of the day. They thrive in the Midwest states but have been found as far north as Wisconsin an as far south as Alabama. In the hotter states like Florida, they have 6 or 7 generations per year. They are also found in Eastern Canada (hairy chinch bugs) with 1-2 generations per year. They overwinter in the adult stage in protected areas where weeds are abundant. A harsh cold winter will kill many of the insects off. Eggs are laid in the spring on the ground near host plants or in the leaves. Nymphs climb up stems of plants and feed for almost two months before they become adults. Nymphs resemble the adults but without wings. They are mostly crop pests attacking cotton, barley, wheat, corn and other grain crops. St. augustine is a favorite host for them. They also attack lawns and wild grasses. They first appear in wild weedy grasses and then move over to crops when their food source dries up. These bugs are in the plant sucking category. Plants get deformed, stunted, wilt and die. Severe infestations of these guys will devastate crops.


1) Weed Control, Nitrogen Control & Thatching

Keep weed populations to a minimum in and around your gardens. Chinch bugs start their feeding generally on the high weeds surrounding your property. A slow release nitrogen control such as blood meal or dried blood can help keep the population down. Thatch is an excellent environment for these guys so making sure you dethatch your lawn regularly should also help. Using a mulching mower will also help replace any nitrogen deficiency.

2) Hand Pick

They are not that easy to spot but if you find one, you know there are more. They have a musty odor when you crush them.

3) Predatory Insects

Praying mantis, beneficial wasps, ladybugs, lacewings and big-eyed bugs (they look very similar to chinch bugs)

4) Bt

Use a spray of Bt on the plants at the first sign of these bugs. Spray the ground around the plant and half way up the stems. On lawns, spray the areas completely.

Repeat every 3 days if necessary.

5) Crop Rotation

Crop rotation is a good way to be sure you get a chance to combat this insect in the following year. Insects overwinter where their food was abundant.



"Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January, it

begins with the dream.'




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