“The enemies of peas are few in number, but great in power. Chopped gorse sown with
the seed will prevent the ravages of mice, for the spines will prick their noses…”
Shirley Hibberd, 1877
The enemies of peas are, indeed, few in number. Around here mice are outclassed by crows whom I suspect of loitering quietly, casing the joint, watching from the shadows as I lay out my rows. They always know exactly where I have buried these morsels and will work straight down a whole row, barely disturbing the earth as they pluck seed out like cocktail nuts. The most effective defense I know is strips of expanded metal mesh, bent like a pup tent and placed over the seeds until they are up a couple of inches – when the crow boys seem to lose interest.
Another enemy is soil too wet and cold for germination. Peas, like all true Northwesterners, actually like cool rainy weather and, like their human counterparts, have their limits. Traditional wisdom in Western Washington is to plant your peas on Washington’s birthday (February 22), perhaps because it’s easy to remember. In practice this is often too early and many are lost to rot. Peas, like us, begin to perk up at soil temperatures rise above 50 degrees. Planting two or three weeks later and into April is just as well, although, as in all garden matters, it depends on your site. In addition, there is a disease called pea enation which eventually takes over the plant making the pods pale and bumpy and unappetizing, but this is only a problem as warm weather increases. As with many worthwhile things, there is a time to enjoy and a time to do without.
Once past these enemies, peas take hold and grow cheerfully in our long cool springs, though they do take their time, from 90 to 120 days before harvest, so I grow impatient with them when all the little lettuces and greens are offering themselves for salads while the peas twine ever upward.
There are three styles of peas to choose from: old-fashioned shelling peas with 8-9 babies in every little green boat; snow peas whose sweet flat pods are picked, steamed, and eaten before the peas themselves are visible at all; and sugar snap peas, the work of crafty hybridizers, which are eaten pod and all and are better, even, when the peas swell big and sweeten up.
There is excellent and extensive information on varieties and culture in the Oregon based Territorial Seed Co. catalog, as well cyberspace. One could have a whole pea plantation with wonderful variations in form and flavor, but I usually opt for the shorter growing snap peas because of their irresistible efficiency. They don’t take much of my limited space and I can skip the trellis and grow them on “pea brush” which is any sturdy twiggy stick pruned from something else in the yard and stuck in the ground along the row – just a little someone to lean on. Then there is ease of preparation with no washing – the rain has done a good job – easy picking and quick steaming. They are so sweet, juicy and delicious that the better way may be to avoid the pot and simply go hand to mouth.
Editor’s note: Watch for more gardening philosophies from Ann.