By Laura Derr, Communications Intern
Apparently, spring has sprung! It might seem like it came suddenly, but it’s definitely time to start getting your spring garden started. One of the first veggies to go in the ground this time of year in our maritime climate is peas—sugar snaps, snow and shelling varieties in all their crunchy, sweet and delicious glory. A few helpful tips from our experts here at Seattle Tilth can help you get the most out of your pea plants, and you won’t have to wait another day to get going.
Sow Peas Outdoors
Peas can be planted outside in March since the danger of frost is low, but it is advisable to test for soggy soil if the weather has been particularly wet. One way to reduce the excess moisture in your soil is to cover it with sheet of plastic for a week or so and then remove it before you plant. This will help prevent your from seeds rotting or drowning. Speed up germination by soaking your seeds overnight before planting.
Did you know that as a member of the legume family, peas engage in a process called nitrogen-fixing? Through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria called Rhizobia, nitrogen is pulled out of the air, converted and deposited into the soil for your plants to use – talk about green manure! You can jump-start this process by adding inoculants (e.g., Dr. Earth) to your peas, after soaking and before planting. Inoculants (i.e., sleeping bacteria) bolster plant health after germination because they provide an immediate supply of beneficial microbes that your seedlings would otherwise have to send out roots in search of. You can generally find inoculants at nurseries next to the seed racks.
Protect Your Peas
Peas are vulnerable to attacks by the pea leaf weevil when they are still small. Create a protective wall around your seedling with a circular tube of paper to ward off the unwanted bug. Another precaution against weevils is to avoid planting your peas near other legume crops such as clover, vetch or alfalfa.
Don’t forget to install a trellis for your vines to climb and to plant your peas in full or partial sun (if you can find any) and remember to water directly on the roots of the plant.
Harvest Pods… and Vines
As an added bonus to the tasty pea pods your plants will yield, you will also have the great privilege of experiencing succulent pea vine tendrils a month or so before you get the actual pods. If you’ve never tasted pea vines, this is the year to try! They are sweet and crisp, adding a delightful crunch to any spring salad. To harvest pea shoots, follow the vine from the top down and pinch above the second big leaf you come to. Don’t pick all of the pea vines before your peas grow, but don’t worry about harvesting an ample amount every few weeks, because they will grow back!
Here is my personal favorite way to eat pea shoots (besides just eating them straight off the vine, of course):
Pea Vine Salad
– 1 lb. mixed organic spring greens
– ½ lb. or one big bunch, pea vine tendrils
– 3 medium carrots
– 1 small bunch Easter egg or Cherriette radishes
– 2 tsp. honey
– 1 tbs. stone ground or Dijon mustard
– ¼ cup white wine vinegar (or balsamic if you prefer, but it tends to overpower the flavors of early spring veggies)
– 1 tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (or grapeseed or canola oil)
– Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse your greens and your pea shoots and toss them together in a large bowl. Wash and peel your carrots and then use the peeler to make long ribbons out of your carrots. Then add them to the greens. Finally, slice your radishes very thin and add them as well.
For the vinaigrette, start with the honey, lemon juice, mustard and vinegar in the bottom of a medium mixing bowl. Use a small whisk to fully mix together these ingredients. Next, gradually drizzle in the oil, whisking as you go. And finally, salt and pepper to taste. Toss your salad, adding as much dressing as you desire.
Note: I’ve always made my dressing by combining all of the ingredients at once in a mason jar and shaking until combined. I thought this worked just fine until I began taking cooking classes at the Book Larder in Fremont, a cookbook store providing great inspiration for seasonal cooking. The culinary director there taught us using this whisking method and I have since found that it is much more effective in dispersing all of the flavors!
Need a little more help or interested in learning how to grow other vegetables? Take one of our organic veggie courses, consult our Garden Almanac and pick up a copy of our Maritime Northwest Garden Guide. You can also contact the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 or firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.