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Pisum sativum: The Glorious Pea

2743865988_51b45cd883The crisp air bites at my skin, raising goose flesh like small mountains along my exposed arm. I love the feel of the soil as I poke my fingers into the newly warm earth, creating homes for the hard round seeds I’m planting on this early spring day.

Finally I can take a deep sigh of relief; the darkness of winter’s mantel is falling away. Daffodils, crocus, and forsythia are opening their tender blossoms calling the bees home. Cherry and plum trees ignite the breeze with a mysterious perfume which seems to come from nowhere and everywhere all at once.

I roll the dry little pea in the palm of my hand; it fills me with gratitude to be planting my first crop of the season outside today. Following the tradition passed down by generations I have chosen March 17th, Saint Patrick’s Day to sow theses wonderful cool season peas.Tonight let’s raise a toast to peas!

There are three common types of pea which grace the gardens of people across the country; snap peas, snow peas, and the ever delightful English pea or shelling pea.

Their delicate vines climb up the trellises of cottage gardens, balconies, and create living fences to share their sweet flavor with those willing to dig into the cool soil of early spring. As the summer temperatures rise our cool loving friends begin to fade away and for those of us in area with mild winters, await another planting in early fall. Especially in hot regions like the deep south, arid west, and the mountain southeast peas need to be put in the ground once the soil can be worked and the last frost is about a month away.Hands of bean and peas seller, Varanasi Benares India

I think it is their sensitivity to the environment which give peas the sweet flavor enjoyed by so many. They do not like high nitrogen growing conditions, love phosphate and potassium, and thrive in areas with high organic matter.

The afternoon sun blanketed my back while I made little holes in the freshly worked soil. I contemplated whether or not my leguminous companions needed pea inoculant to begin their journey into life, I had never used it before with good results so once again I decided to take my chances. Pea inoculant is made from a bacteria called Rhizobium. This bacteria forms a symbiotic relationship with the peas helping it to grow the nodules on their roots which fix nitrogen from the air in exchange for sugars the pea produces through photosynthesis. If you choose to use inoculant be sure you are getting one that is specifically for peas as a bean inoculant won’t do much for you or your plants.

Once planted and watered my little seeds will begin to swell and re-hydrate underground. Their hard coat will burst open within six to fourteen day and my little rows will come alive with tiny sprouts two to three inches apart. Over the course of the next two or three months the sprouts will climb toward the sun, weaving their tender vines into a carpet around and over the supports I have built for them. Their white to purple colored flowers will open like bonnets and transform into delicious tender peas for the kitchen.

While the summer heat pulses overhead I will sit back on the porch swing to enjoy the crunch of snap peas in a salad, savor the tender snow pea in stir fry, and relish the rollie pollie English pea steamed with fresh herb butter.

Written by Shane Maxson


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