Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Things I am learning about gardening: Peas
This year I seem to be making small steps towards being a successful gardener. The two things that have helped are really good gardening books, and really good gardening friends. This year I followed my friend Jessica's advice and planted peas in February, even though I thought she was crazy. Well, sure enough, those guys popped right up in spite of the cold and we now have more peas than I know what to do with. This being my first year growing peas successfully, I didn't do much planning. I basically put most seeds in the ground hoping they will germinate and not get eaten, but never look ahead to what I will do with the full-grown plants. Apparently, this is what a bed of peas is supposed to look like:
Mine looks like this:
Not too pretty - I'll save that for next year. I jammed some cheapo tomato cages amidst the rangy plants and kind of smoosh things back where they belong as they get too out of hand. Happily, the peas don't seem to care that they aren't pretty - they are producing like gangbusters!
One of my great gardening books is a book I picked up at the second hand book shop called Country Skills - the main reason I bought it is because of the chapter about how to "put up" your harvest - she tells how each one can be best preserved, and apparently for peas, the best way is to blanch them and freeze them. I would have never known to blanch my peas before freezing them - this preserves their sweetness better than just popping them in the freezer. Today the boys helped me do a batch - after picking and shelling, we dropped the peas in boiling water for 1 minute, then into ice water to cool them off. A few paper towels to dab off the water and into the freezer they went, to be cooked later.
A few other cool gardening facts about peas: Pea plants are "nitrogen fixers," meaning that they put nitrogen into the soil rather than leach it out as most vegetable plants do. Basically they fertilize the ground as they grow, preparing the soil for a healthy crop of something else next year. If you are lucky, you can also cut down your spent pea plants leaving 2 inches above the ground, and they will come back, offering you a second crop later in the season. I'm not sure I believe I can do this with my lackluster gardening record, but I'm going to try. Then after your second crop, rather than pulling the plants out of the ground by the roots, just cut them down at dirt level, leaving the roots to add more nitrogen to the soil. They will break down over the fall and winter and you will have a nice bed of healthy soil next spring. Pretty great!
As for what to do with your peas, my all-time favorite pea recipe can be found here, courtesy of my friend and blogger/vegan cook extraordinaire Kristy. It is sweet and smokey and a sure-fire way to get your kids to eat kale, because they will definitely eat the soup. If all my new-found knowledge about peas wasn't enough to get you to plant your own next year, one bite of this soup will. Happy gardening!