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Plant Peas: It's Patriotic

Provided by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association

By Russell Libby
Plant peas!Plant on Patriots' Day and your peas could look this good
on the Fourth of July. Photo: Eric Sideman
If you want peas for the Fourth of July, it's almost time to plant! Many Maine gardeners use Patriots' Day as the traditional planting date. Peas are one of the first vegetables that can be planted in the Spring because they grow well in cool soils.

 The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) encourages you to take a step towards food independence this month by planting a row -- or two! -- of peas. The three basic types you can grow are shell peas, snow peas, and sugarsnaps. Shell peas are opened (shelled) so you can get the peas out of the pods. These are the traditional pea varieties grown in New England. Snow pea pods are harvested before the seeds get large. They are often used in Asian cooking (stir-fries) or salads. Sugarsnap varieties are eaten whole -- both the pod and the peas are edible -- and they tend to be sweet.

 Once you decide what type you want, you can get a wide range of varieties from Maine's seed companies: Johnny's Selected Seeds, FEDCO Seeds, and Pine Tree Garden Seeds. Pea seeds are also available at most garden centers.

 Planting peas is easy. You simply make a shallow trench (about an inch deep and 3 inches wide) in your garden and scatter the seeds in the trench. An ounce of seed will plant about five feet of row. Cover the seeds firmly with soil and wait for the seeds to germinate. This usually takes about five to seven days. The peas don't need to be thinned, but you will want to keep the rows weeded.

 When you plant your peas, the spacing between rows depends on the varieties that you are growing. Dwarf varieties don't need to be trellised, and the rows can be planted about 18 inches apart. Full size varieties need to be trellised, and they should be spaced about 4 feet apart. If the seed packet doesn't tell you that the peas are a dwarf variety, you should plan to erect a trellis.

 A trellis can be as simple or fancy as you want to make it. The easiest version is to put two posts in the ground, about ten feet apart within the row, and fasten a net trellis to the posts. (Reusable trellises that last many years are available at most garden supply stores.) If you want a more traditional trellis, Maine gardeners for hundreds of years have grown their peas on birch brush-white birch branches stuck into the ground and woven together to form a row. If you decide to grow your peas on a brush trellis, you may want to allow a little more space between rows to make it easier to weed or harvest.

 Because peas like cool soils, after the plants germinate you can keep the soil mulched with grass clippings or other materials to help keep weeds down.

 Dwarf varieties are ready to eat in as little as seven weeks. Some of the taller varieties take up to ten weeks to reach maturity. Harvest shell peas just as the peas fill out the pods.

Enjoy early season in the garden -- plant your peas soon! In mid-April, peas sold in the Boston market are coming from Guatemala, Florida, and California. Wholesale prices range from $1.50 a pound for shell peas up to $6 a pound for organic snow peas. You can produce them right in your yard!

 If you decide to trellis your peas on birch brush, MOFGA would welcome photographs -- we'll post some on our website this summer.

This article is provided by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), PO Box 170, Unity, ME 04988; 207-568-4142;; Joining MOFGA helps support and promote organic farming and gardening in Maine and helps Maine consumers enjoy more healthful, Maine-grown food. Copyright 2008.

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