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Posts Tagged ‘peas’

Sick Pea Plants; Excessive Moisture

Looking toward the northwest corner of my raised vegetable bed, you see sick, stunted, and yellowing pea plants to the north (right), and vigorous plants to the south. The northern plants took a beating from water that accumulated in the soil during a three-day rainstorm in late April or early May.

I’ve lost a lot of pea plants in my small kitchen garden. After the winter that never happened, we’ve had less than average rainfall and I planted just about everything at least two weeks earlier than usual this year. The pea plants grew vigorously until we had an impressive three-day rainstorm. That’s when trouble started.

Drainage Problems in my Small Kitchen Garden

Last year’s biblical rainfall revealed that my kitchen garden is drainage-challenged. I had no garden soil until June; instead I had mud. Things dried up in June and I was able to plant but six weeks later, rain returned and whatever was growing in my raised vegetable bed was wet until autumn.

So, I started excavating a rain garden. I dug a trench to channel water away from the vegetable bed and I dug a deep hole as a reservoir to hold overflow during heavy rains. Soil I removed to make the drainage channel and reservoir went into my raised planting bed. I also bought a hopper of sand—about one cubic yard—and added that to the planting bed.

Overall, I raised the level of soil in my vegetable garden about three inches … and then I planted.

My Raised Vegetable Bed Needs Work

The new drainage system and the deeper soil in my raised bed handled the impressive three-day rainstorm pretty well. At no time during that rain was there standing water in my planting bed. Apparently, however, water was not far below the surface at the northwest end of the garden.

I’ve served fresh peas only once so far, with more to come in the next few days. We’ll most certainly eat all the peas in-season this year and none will make it into the freezer. The sickened pea plants have shown me where I need to increase the depth of soil in my raised planting bed.

Half of my pea plants are in the northwest end of the garden and they’re not happy. Their roots must have been saturated for five or six days. That was long enough, I guess, for them to start rotting, and the pea plants are dramatically stunted. As you move south along any row of plants, the vines become more vigorous and about two-thirds of the way along the row, pea plants tower six or more feet.

From the healthy plants, I’m harvesting more peas per vine than in any previous year. However, the harvest will clearly be less than half of what I get in a typical season. Makes me sad because homegrown peas taste nearly as good after freezing as they do cooked fresh and I love to have a gallon or two in the freezer to serve into the winter (I don’t start serving the frozen peas until we finish with fresh vegetables in the fall).

This fall or next spring, I’ll add more soil and sand to the northwest end of the raised vegetable bed and try to provide a buffer between rain-saturated soil during wet spells and the roots of my vegetable plants.


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Peas are up in My Small Kitchen Garden

The planting bed went unattended for two weeks after I leveled the newly-added soil; weeds had already asserted themselves. The excavation for the rain garden lies beyond the planting bed in this photo, and you can see part of the drainage ditch I cut along the south side of the garden (left center in the photo). It has been so dry this winter and spring that soil was crumbly in March rather than moist.

On May 17 of 2011 I planted cauliflower and broccoli seedlings in the main bed of my small kitchen garden! On that day, I posted about how miserable the soil was—it had been rainless for a week, but still: big gobs of wet earth stuck to my hand trowel. I planted no other spring crops in the garden in 2011 because rain returned and there was standing water until almost June.

The tide has turned! It’s no secret that winter forgot to wint this year (That’s a verb, right? A “winter” is someone who “wints,” yes?). Then, to confuse perennials, summer started in early February. If I’d been on my game, I could have planted spring crops in the garden then… but that’s not me. Confession: I usually plant peas so late that I consider altogether skipping them.

Preparing to Plant Peas

All that summer-weather-in-spring got me into the garden early. I’ve been excavating a rain garden and moving the soil onto my planting bed. The added soil depth should keep roots out of the mud even in very rainy years. By St Patrick’s Day, the planting bed was ready for peas.

It took a bit of weeding and hoeing to prepare furrows for the pea seeds. The bed is 14 feet from end-to-end along the furrows. Each is about eight inches across and two-to-three inches deep. I set peas about an inch apart along each side of a furrow—that’s right around 1,000 peas—and cover them with about an inch of soil.

Life got in the way, and it wasn’t until March 30 that I finally got the peas in the ground. That’s at least two weeks earlier than usual. I want to remove the pea plants at the beginning of July, and they’re usually done making peas after ten weeks, so they don’t need to be in the ground until mid April.

I’ve set the broccoli and cauliflower seedlings in the garden and they’re recovering from transplant shock. I’ve also planted onion sets which led me to want more onion sets to plant. Oh! And I’ve mended and erected the garden fence before rabbits nested in the planting bed.

Having planted peas in March should make me feel as though I have a huge head start on my kitchen garden—especially with all the other projects completed. But the crazy weather makes me feel as though I’m trying to catch up… and if it stays warm as it is, I really do need to catch up.

Here’s more from past seasons about planting peas:

  • Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 1 – Do you want to grow peas in your small kitchen garden? It’s a tough question. Peas require a lot of space for a modest harvest. On the other hand, garden fresh peas taste astonishingly better than any other peas you’ll ever eat…

  • Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 2 – You’ve decided how many peas you’re going to plant in your small kitchen garden, you’ve reserved appropriate space, you’ve prepared the soil, and you have some kind of trellis installed or ready to install. I hope you haven’t worked too far ahead. We’re about to plant peas…

  • Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook Video – I’ve planted peas as late as three weeks after the last frost date and still had terrific yields…..

One of my first pea sprouts of 2012! Peas are amazingly hardy. I once left some too long in the vegetable crisper of my refrigerator, and they sprouted! Cold nights and cool days keep pea plants vigorous, but when the temperature climbs into the 80s, pea plants wilt and die.

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July 09 Bloom Day in a Small Kitchen Garden

In the category of Flower closest to my kitchen: A bell pepper plant is just starting to set fruit. I have great hopes as there are already dozens of banana peppers and a few jalapeno peppers ripening just a few feet away.

Flowers are not the point of a small kitchen garden. However, without flowers, there are very few food products a kitchen garden can produce. So, though I often joke that I’m too lazy to plant something that I won’t eventually eat, I am very fond of flowers.

I’m also very fond of the on-line gardening community. While many participants in that community discuss their food-growing activities, it seems a majority prefer the time they spend with their flower and ornamental gardens. From the photos on their blogs, I know I’d enjoy spending time in their gardens as well… but I have no flower- or ornamental-garden to offer in kind.

And then there’s Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day started by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens: on the 15th of each month, participating garden bloggers post entries about what’s abloom in their gardens. This month, I’m joining the gang. But my post isn’t about nasturtiums, pansies, cone flowers, daisies, black-eyed susans, and clematis. You won’t find such things in my garden (sure, you’ll find them in my wife’s garden, but she doesn’t blog). Still, my small kitchen garden is blooming its head off, and I’m psyched because nearly every blossom means another goody to eat growing in my yard.

In the category of Tallest herb in my small kitchen garden: Dill weed volunteers grow where seed fell from last year’s plants. This variety of dill grows about five feet tall.


Small Kitchen Garden Cilantro

In the category of Don’t get me started: If I left all the volunteer cilantro plants to grow as they please in my small kitchen garden, I’d never again have to plant the herb. However, the volunteers rarely start where I’d like them to. Shortly after they flower, the plants produce coriander: the round seeds that either plant themselves in the garden or season a variety of Asian and South American foods.


Small Kitchen Garden Cilantro And Lettuce

Yes, more cilantro flowers. I wanted to point out that flowers aren’t the be-all and end-all of pretty in a small kitchen garden. Several varieties of variegated lettuce are still growing where I planted them, and they provide an attractive background for this volunteer coriander factory.


In the category of Invasive, noxious herb: About five years ago, I planted a tiny oregano plant from one of those 1.5-inch-cubed nursery pots. There is now a five-foot diameter circle of densely-packed oregano shoots, and they have just started to flower. No doubt, this fall I’ll be excavating oregano roots to decrease the plant’s footprint by at least half.


Weed in a Small Kitchen Garden

In the category of Winningest weed: It’s tiny. It likes my small kitchen garden planting bed. It’s gorgeous. I had to kneel with one elbow on the ground to get close enough for the photo.


Small Kitchen Garden Climbing Bean

In the category of Most fun for the money: In my first year growing climbing beans, I have become enamored. The flowers look a lot like all other bean flowers I’ve grown. However, I’ve had a lot of fun tying up strings and training the bean vines to use them. The tallest climber is about to pass the end of its string and become entwined with the kids’ play set (my youngest child is 13 years old, and the play set sees play about once a year).


Small Kitchen Garden Tomato Flowers

In the category of Another tomato blossom photo: Yes, I’ve photographed a lot of tomato blossoms over the years. This photo is a little different as it vaguely captures the components of the tomato support system I erected this year in place of tomato stakes.


Small Kitchen Garden Onion Flower

In the category of It’s cool to be different: I love the round cluster of flowers that emerges at the end of a long onion stalk. Ideally, your onions don’t flower; flowering generally results in a smaller onion bulb with a short shelf life. However, crazy weather can cause flowering, and growing onions from sets can also lead to flowers. No matter. My onions are plump and I’ll use them quickly once the stalks flop to the ground. My onion flowers look grand.


Honey Bee on Clover

In the category of: Who’s happy on Garden Blogers’ Bloom Day? And: who doesn’t have clover flowers in their yards and gardens?


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Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook Video

For the past six installments, Your Small Kitchen Garden has been all about getting a garden ready for planting, and then starting seeds in the ground. If you’ve been following along, you’ve read about how I plant peas. I crowd my pea seeds, and provide a strong trellis for them to climb. By the end of the pea season, each trellis resembles a thick hedge of pea plants stretching five or six feet high.

Plant Peas Now

In hardiness zones six and lower, it’s not too late to plant peas. Especially if you’re still getting overnight frost, if you can work the soil, you can plant just about any variety of pea and expect success. However, as your region’s last expected frost date approaches (mine is but 10 days away), you’re flirting with “too late.” Your peas may start strong in the cooler weeks, but any significant early heat could kill the plants—or at least stunt their growth.

I’ve planted peas as late as three weeks after the last frost date and still had terrific yields. At that point I probably wouldn’t have planted at all if not for wilt-resistant varieties of peas. It’s a little sad to choose varieties for any characteristic other than flavor, but I’ve yet to grow a pea variety that was less than awesome. Around here, I can reliably buy Wando pea seeds, and they stand up remarkably well against the heat of early summer.

In this video, I wordlessly summarize how I prepare the soil in a row in my small kitchen garden. Then I narrate the steps as I plant a row of peas and erect a trellis for them. Please enjoy:



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Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 2

Pea Plant Babies

Pea sprouts in my small kitchen garden have made an excellent start.

You’ve decided how many peas you’re going to plant in your small kitchen garden, you’ve reserved appropriate space, you’ve prepared the soil, and you have some kind of trellis installed or ready to install. I hope you haven’t worked too far ahead. We’re about to plant peas, but there’s a final consideration especially for people planting where there hasn’t yet been a garden. Before we plant, let’s talk about nitrogen.

Nitrogen-Fixing Bacteria

Dig back to high school biology class. You might recall that some plants—clover and beans are popular examples—are nitrogen-fixers. This means that they capture nitrogen in their roots… and that’s important for your garden. Other plants suck nitrogen out of the soil, so growing nitrogen-fixers (whose roots remain in the soil after harvest) helps prepare the soil for later crops.

I turned a garden-fork’s-width of soil, raked out the clumps, stretched a guideline, and hoed in a 3-inch deep furrow. This will become the first row of peas I plant this season.

But nitrogen-fixing plants don’t work alone. They enter into symbiotic relationships with bacteria that live in soil. When the bacteria and plant roots get together, nitrogen-fixing happens. Peas and other nitrogen-fixing plants grow best when these bacteria are abundant.

Chances are, wherever you plant peas, there are enough bacteria to make the plants happy—especially if you plant in a bed that has previously grown vegetables.

To be certain, you can inoculate the soil—or the peas—with store-bought bacteria. Depending on the brand you purchase, you soak the pea seeds in it, or you add it to the soil when you plant them.

I’ve never used an inoculant and have always been satisfied with my pea harvests, though I’ve read that using an inoculant can increase productivity by 50% or more… but compared to what? The bottom line: using an inoculant can’t hurt, and it might give you better results than you’d get without it.

Despite the planting instructions on pea packages, I set pea seeds about one-and-a-half inches apart along each side of an 8-inch furrow.

Plant Peas in Your Small Kitchen Garden

Every pea seed packet I’ve seen tells you how to plant peas. You’ll do fine to follow those instructions. I have an unorthodox approach that has always worked well for me. Here’s how it goes:

Squint, and you can see pea seeds on each side of this furrow. The parallel rows of seeds are about six inches apart.

1. I prepare soil according to the low-till method I described in an earlier post. Actually, I follow the entire regimen as shown through step 10 in that post. At step 7, I create a hoe’s-width furrow. Then I add compost and stir, and I’m ready to set pea seeds.

2. I lay pea seeds in two rows along the bottom of the furrow. I make these rows as far apart from each other as they can be and still be at the bottom. This means the rows of peas within a single furrow end up about six inches apart. I place a pea every one-and-a-half-to-two inches within a row.

Within a few days of planting, I stand a trellis that runs down the middle of a double-row of peas. You can see that the row is slightly depressed below the rest of the garden. My garden bed drains quickly when it rains, so I depress the rows to help collect rain water and spray from my garden hose.

3. I crumble the larger chunks of soil from the mounded sides of the furrow onto the peas, and gently pull the soil from the edges into the trench. I try not to move the peas as I cover them over. I’ve always planted peas about ½ to ¾ of an inch deep, and decided this season that that’s too shallow. Especially if you plant early, cover seeds with at least an inch of soil. When I plant, inevitably several peas wash to the surface after I water a few times. In warm weather, this hasn’t been a problem. However, this year an early spring freeze damaged peas I hadn’t buried well.

4. I walk on the newly-covered row of peas with my feet side-by-side. I take baby steps to ensure that I step on every inch of soil, compressing the soil and the peas so that the trench finishes about an inch below the surrounding soil.

5. I erect a pea trellis that runs down the center of the row and will provide support for pea plants up to about four-and-a-half feet. My plants usually grow a foot or more above the tops of my trellises.

6. I water the peas heavily, and I water them each day that it doesn’t rain until young plants have two or three sets of leaves. After that, I water if the soil becomes dry.

Ongoing Care of Pea Plants

Plant deep—I have a lot of experience planting peas too shallowly. This evolved starting when I switched from buying packets of pea seeds to buying pea seeds in bulk. The bulk seed comes without instructions, so I guessed how deeply to plant.

I tend to plant peas too shallow and some wash to the surface after I water a few times. I usually shove them under with my finger, or sprinkle soil on them if they’ve softened up much. Next season, my pea seeds are going at least an inch underground.

Generally, my seeds ended up deep enough, but especially shallow ones gave rise to a post-planting ritual: after watering two or three times, I walk along my rows looking for peas that I’ve washed out of the soil. When I find them, I press them into the ground with a fingertip.

Don’t fall into this pattern. Make sure you get your pea seeds at least an inch under ground. It will reduce the chance that they’ll wash to the surface, and it will protect them from adverse weather that’s common in early spring.

Train the vines—There’s no guarantee that pea vines will grow toward the trellis you provide for them. Help them by gently moving the vines as needed… but don’t rush them; pea vines are quite weak and if you bend them too much they’ll crimp. Ideally, rest tendrils against part of the trellis they can encircle and they’ll curl around it in less than a day. I often push the end of a pea branch through the trellis and hook a pea flower or a pea pod on the metal wire. Whether this works for you will depend on the design of your trellis; wire fences work really well.

Small Kitchen Garden Pea Tendril

I love the shapes of pea tendrils as they wrap around wires in the trellis.

Pick peas often—Pea plants make more flowers and pods when you harvest the ones they’ve already produced. So, pick peas when they become ready. Don’t let pods expand into thick cylinders with peas crammed together inside. Rather, pick pods that have just filled out… it’s OK if the peas aren’t quite touching each other in the pod, or if they just touch. But when they flatten out against each other, they become woody, dry, and starchy; they aren’t nearly as fun to eat.

Pick gently—Pea vines are weak, so don’t just yank pods off the vines. Rather, hold the vine still, and gently pull the pea pod from it. With practice, you can pick one-handed without damaging the plants: Grip a pod in the palm of your hand. Use the thumb and forefinger of that hand to push the stem away from the pod until the stem breaks free. I’ll try to post photos or a video demonstrating this when I start harvesting peas in May.


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Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 1

In a few days, this pod will plump up and provide, apparently, five peas for the pot. It’ll take several dozen similar pods to produce enough peas for a meal.

Do you want to grow peas in your small kitchen garden? It’s a tough question. Peas require a lot of space for a modest harvest. On the other hand, garden fresh peas taste astonishingly better than any other peas you’ll ever eat. If your kitchen garden is space-challenged, there are so many other vegetables that will produce more in the same space as peas.

That said, I plant peas every year. In fact, I dedicate a significant chunk of garden space to peas—about a third of my planting space. But that’s not as big a liability as it seems because pea plants don’t live long. They prefer cool weather and tend to die off as days get hot. I usually remove my pea plants in June, and plant the same area with other vegetables—most often, squash.

Don’t Rush to Plant Peas

If you buy pea seed in one of those envelopes from a seed display in a store, read the package! They can’t print much on those envelopes, so what they do print is probably useful.

One thing you’ll learn is that you can plant peas as soon as the soil thaws in your garden bed. You can, but there’s no need to rush. Peas will sprout when the soil temperature is around 40F degrees, but they won’t grow much until the temperature increases. Give your soil a chance to dry out a bit and warm up. Except in very warm years, peas that I plant in mid-March in hardiness zone 5/6 might mature a week earlier than peas I plant in mid-April… so I try to find other gardening tasks for March such as pruning and grafting in my fruit trees.

Prepare to Plant Peas

When it’s time to plant peas, you must first prepare the soil. Depending on your planting bed, this may be a monumental task, or it may be a non-issue. In my slightly raised-bed layout, I need to walk in the garden bed to be able to till, plant, weed, and harvest. This means that each spring I’m dealing with compacted soil; my vegetables, I know, will be happier growing in loose soil. I feel compelled to loosen the soil before I plant.

The pea plants in this row have just produced their first flowers. I set peas so close together that they grow into a hedge. Notice that the pea trellis runs down the middle of the row – which is actually two rows of plants spaced about six inches apart.

When your planting beds are narrow enough that you can work them without walking in them, the soil remains loose from year-to-year; you can be a “no-till” gardener.

My last three posts discussed soil preparation for various types of planting beds. Whichever style and approach you use, this discussion about planting peas starts where those posts end: I’m assuming you’ve prepared your soil for planting, and you’re ready to put seeds in the ground.

Space Considerations

Peas grow on vines. Pea stems are slender and can support very little weight. So, as the plant gets taller, it extends tendrils that curl around whatever they touch and support the plant. In my experience even “bush” varieties of peas are vines… they just happen to be shorter than typical pea vines.

When you plant peas, it’s important to provide a trellis. This can be a garden fence, a roll of chicken wire stretched above the planting area, strands of twine hanging from above… whatever suits your fancy.

Pea plants I’ve grown reach about six feet before they wilt in the heat of late spring. I built pea trellises that provide support for about 4 and a half feet, so the tops of the plants sometimes topple under their own weight when they grow above the trellises. Before I’d made trellises, I tried bush peas. The package promised 18-inch plants, and I got 24-in plants. Thinking bush I hadn’t provided a trellis, so the plants lay on top of each other. I plant peas densely, so there was a heavy load of plants that trapped a lot of moisture; the plants on the bottom rotted.

The point of the story is that even if you find a short variety of peas, you should provide something for the vines to climb.

Pick Your Pea Variety

I’ve noticed only three significant differences between pea varieties: size of plants, palatability of the pods, and wilt-resistance. We talked about the sizes of plants.

Palatability of pods—if you’re growing peas, the pods don’t matter. You’ll find varieties that claim more peas per pod than others, and you’ll find varieties that claim you can eat the pods, or let the pods mature and then eat the peas. And, of course, you can find snow peas—varieties intended to grow pods but don’t even think of letting them fill with peas.

Wilt-resistance—Pea plants don’t like heat. When they experience several sequential days of temperatures in the 80s and above, their leaves curl and their tendrils shrivel. If the temperatures hold, the plants die. Wilted plants will recover if the temperatures falls, but a mid-spring heat wave can seriously decrease your pea yields.

There are wilt-resistant peas that handle hot days far better than other varieties. Which brings us back to when to plant.

This pea pod sat for a month too long in the produce drawer of my refrigerator. All the peas in it sprouted, despite the refrigerator’s temperature being close to 40F degrees.

When to Plant Peas

You can plant peas as soon as the soil thaws. Peas will start growing in soil that’s above 40F degrees. I’ve had peas sprout in the produce drawer of my refrigerator which runs right around 40 degrees.

If you choose to plant that early, plant the peas deep. I learned this season that I tend not to plant peas deep enough. I planted in late March, and peas I’d left shallow softened up and then froze during a sequence of crazy cold nights. 10-15% of my seeds failed. (That same freeze would probably not have harmed pea plants had any already emerged above the soil… pea plants don’t mind nippy, frosty nights.) In most years, I’ve planted in mid May, and even peas that ended up on the surface because of my carelessness rooted and grew.

So, as I said: if you plant early, plant deep. I suspect my peas would have been fine had I set the seeds ¾ inch underground.

How do I get away with planting peas in mid-May? I buy a variety called Wando. These are amazingly wilt-resistant, and I’ve seen them suffer only in one very hot spring out of about a dozen.

Here’s my recommendation for when to plant peas in your small kitchen garden: Sow directly in the ground from two to four weeks before the last frost date.

How Many Peas to Plant?

A single pea vine may produce a modest single serving of peas. But you won’t get those peas all at once. Rather, as the vine reaches about 12 inches, flowers emerge. The vine continues to grow, and those flowers produce pea pods. As the first pods develop, more flowers emerge higher up on the now taller vine. This sequence continues… but you must pick the fully-developed pods as they become ready or the plant will stop making new ones. Once the vine starts producing peas, it may develop two-to-five pods every three-to-five days. So, you might harvest twenty, thirty, or forty pods from a single plant… but when you harvest the last pod, peas from the first one will be thirty days old.

A pea flower in the dew has inspired many a poet and playwright. OK, I made that up. But pea flowers are delicate and exotic: beautiful harbingers of the coming harvest.

All that to say: you need several pea plants to grow enough peas for a particular meal. My experiences may help you decide how many.

I plant 4 ounces of seed in three doubled rows totaling 42 feet. (I crowd my peas, as you’ll see in my next installment on this topic.) My family of five eats peas at two or three meals a week, and I still freeze around two gallons of peas to eat during the off season. I did some noodling about this some weeks ago and concluded that I harvest about one gallon of peas from every seven feet of doubled rows. Or, for every ounce of seeds I plant, I harvest between five and six quarts of peas.

I’ve never formally kept track, and different varieties of peas, different soil conditions, weather, and garden pests will all affect yield. So, the best honest advice I can provide: plant at least enough peas to assure you’ll have a meal’s worth when you do harvest.

How to Plant Peas

My next post will explain how I plant peas. My approach is a bit unorthodox, squeezing way more plants into my small kitchen garden than the package suggests. You’ll do fine to follow instructions on the pea seed package, or read my next post and get a look at extreme pea culture.

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