Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In Pursuit of Peas

I garden in a pretty harsh climate - it can freeze any time until early June, and then the daytime temperatures can be up in the 90's overnight. Nights cool down to the 40's so using mulch too early in the season cools the soil too much for effective germination of many seeds. We average only seven inches of precipitation annually, and most of that in the form of snow November to March. Most years, we have no rain at all from May through September so everything has to be artificially irrigated. Afternoon winds and hot daytime temperatures make spray watering wasteful, so I use 50' soaker hoses on my wide garden beds.

The land also slopes downward towards the east so instead of long rows, I've free-form shaped each bed into a flattened "S" shape to create a terraced effect on the slope, and arranged the four "S" shapes of the main garden into a decorative four-square. With wider paths between the beds and a small central circular flowerbed with a sundial, my garden is attractive as well as productive (bottom center on the aerial photo of our lot; the grey roofed buildings are our neighbors' below us). I rotate my crops around through five beds, so don't have any permanent structures as part of any one bed. Everything gets taken apart and stored at the end of the season, and reconstructed anew each Spring. And this year, I've resorted to something different in my ongoing pursuit of peas.

Fresh-picked home-grown peas - nothing like what you buy in a store: memories of shelling English peas in the backyard as a child; flat Chinese pea pods still crunchy in a stir-fry; grazing on raw Snap peas right there in the garden. I love peas, and haven't had a decent crop for years. The past couple of years, I was able to protect the young plants with wire until they got tall enough to survive assaults by bugs and birds, but wasn't getting many peas. Finally, I caught the guineas in the act of stretching up to eat the flowers before they had time to set fruit. And then this year, sparrows or quail got under the wire to the little pea plants as soon as they emerged from the ground (they got all the lettuce seedlings too, and almost destroyed the spinach that overwintered). Desperate for some fresh green things myself, it was time to take desperate measures!

It's getting late in the season for pea planting - if I wait too long the summer heat sets in, and that's it for the pea plants. So before replanting my pea patches, I soaked the seeds overnight and then kept them wet down with paper towels a couple of days until they started to sprout, then planted the sprouted seeds (I reseeded various lettuces too). My pea support trellises are t-posts pounded into the ground and then wire fencing wired between them - strong enough to both support pea vines and withstand our afternoon winds. And then, something desperate - I draped netting, originally designed to cover an entire fruit tree, over the entire "S" shaped bed, supported by the pea t-posts plus a few more here and there, held down with rocks and bricks. I think this just might work! I can leave the netting in place, and sit underneath when it's time to harvest. As long as the wind doesn't tear it apart, or a late heavy snow rip it down, I just might get good crops of both greens and peas. The heart of a gardener is ever hopeful.


Sue said...

This was interesting....I JUST planted peas yesterday, and its my first attempt at them. I always figured, why bother, but have read so many folks that said the taste can't compare with home grown. I, too, get killing freezes until June. I've never gardenend this far north....it's interesting and challenging.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea the temps swung so much over there.... that must make planning a bit frustrating. I'd love to try peas next year... this year I'm getting them from the farmers' market and my CSA, but going out to grab a handful from my garden is sounding very alluring. About how long did it take to get the vine supports/fencing there? Can you "intertwine" other vine veg there?

Sadge said...

Many of my snap peas never even make it into the house - I munch them right there in the garden. The trellises don't take long at all. I use the wire fencing piece to determine how long each pea section will be, and then hammer the t-posts in on either end. I re-use twist ties that bundle new soaker hoses, shortened by cutting in half, to hold the wire in place top and bottom on each t-post. Lettuce seeds are planted on the outside edge of the bed - they'll shade the pea roots as the peas vine above, shading them (theoretically, anyway). I might follow them with fall greens, or just let some of the plants go to seed to plant next year.

Beans are over with the corn in another bed, and all my vining squash and cucumbers in a third. Summer heat and winds dry them out too much if they're trellised, so I plant bush beans and keep the squash plants on the ground. That way they create their own shade over that entire bed instead of using mulch - discourages the squash bugs better that way.

This is high desert - fifty degree day/night temp swings are normal, but at least it means it cools down enough to sleep at night, with the windows open.

nanofarmer said...

I love reading your posts because you are the only blogger I've found that has a similar climate to mine. The other blogs I read are great, but here in New Mexico, I can't relate to some things people talk about in, say, Canada. Thanks!

Hana_Caena said...

I mostly skimmed through your text but some things caught my eye..
a sloping landscape (a little) and dry climate..

have you read/seen any videos about Permaculture?
specificly this video:

hope you find the time to watch it, it is very rewarding in thought.
(excuse my spelling been a while since I wrote in english)