I try to heed the wisdom in not wishing one’s life away, but I confess my chilled bones are giving a little leap of joy at the prospect of January finally ending this weekend. February should bring a little stir of activity — my seed orders have arrived, and I’ve begun to clean out the potting shed and make room for flats on top of the warming mats and beneath the grow lights. Soon they’ll be chock full o’ Swiss chard, salad greens, kale, arugula, and cilantro. For starters.
And in keeping with my grandmother’s no-fail practice, a ritual I have adopted as my own for the past sixteen years, I will plant four rows of peas — sugar snap peas, to be precise — on Valentine’s Day.
Indulge me for a moment whilst I lift my voice in praise of the pea. There is so much about it that is gratifying. The pea is eager to please — the sugar snap, in particular. Peas aren’t picky about soil; they like a generally balanced pH and whatever you may happen to have put in their bed in the way of compost a few months before. And in fact, peas themselves are fertilizer. After harvest, if you turn the spent vines back into the soil, they happily bestow a bit of nitrogen for future crops. This is what we are delighted to call “green manure.”
You can plant them in a spot that is shady in the summer, because right now, all the leaves are off the trees and the sun fills your prospective pea patch. Pea seeds are relatively large, so if you spill some in planting, they are easy to recover. They sprout quickly and consistently. As you know, dear readers, I have had many problems with squirrels consuming my crops, but the peas they don’t seem to care about. If you want to be extra-sure, though, a layer of human hair clippings over your rows seems to keep them unmolested.
You can start eating almost within a couple of weeks after planting. How is that, you ask? You have planted your pea seeds an inch apart, and now you need to thin the seedlings. Who knew those pea sprouts were so delicious? I love them in a stir-fry with lots of other veggies and some tofu. Eager to please, those peas!
The only real TLC your peas require are some good trellises to hang onto as they grow. I use my tomato cages folded out flat. They work well because by the time the peas are done, the tomato plants are ready for caging. You might want to watch the weeds, but a good layer of mulch (I just use newspaper and leaves) will keep that from being an issue.
This is when the peas really start to show you some love. Lest you think Valentine’s Day is just too darn early to plant a spring crop, I remind you, Southern Urban Homesteaders, to trust the pea. It knows what it’s doing. A cold snap? Worry not. The peas love a good freeze. It seems to invigorate them. March winds and April showers? The thriving pea does a happy little pea-dance. Pests? None that I have ever encountered. Disease? Nope.
And then the best part. One mid-spring day, tiny little pea blossoms turn into tiny little pea babies, and then a week or so later, you’ll find yourself standing in the midst of your pea-patch, plucking a plump sugar snap and taking a crisp bite, hull and all. The sweetness! The crunch! You think you want to eat them all right then and there, but they grow so abundantly, you have plenty to bring inside for even more stir-fries. Or you might steam a few and drench them in butter. Or saute in a little garlic, or maybe ginger. And still they will be sweet, crunchy, pleasing little peas.
All we are saying is . . .