Tips From the Potting Bench: Get Your Garden On!

By RITA JACINTO, Flying Blue Dog Farm

Here we are, already at the half way point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Technically that would be February 2, or as we have come to celebrate it, Ground Hog Day. This day actually has as many names as there are cultures around the world for every culture marks these special days. Even if you didn’t know that little tidbit of information I bet you feel it.

The days are measurably longer, the robins and peepers are starting their mating songs, new growth on the trees is coloring up and buds are swelling with the surging sap. And, we have rain! Soaking, drenching wet and wonderful rain.

It is time to get your garden on. The very first thing we plant in the new gardening year is peas. English pod peas, Sugarsnap peas and tender snow peas all benefit from being pre-germinated but are just as happy to be sown directly in the soil.

Pre-germination can be of benefit if the weather is particularly cold and wet. While peas are cold tolerant and can take longer to germinate in cold soil, the combination of cold and wet can do them in causing the seeds to rot in the ground. Pre-germinating the seeds in the house, garage or what have you gives you the advantage of planting out already living plants which are much more able to deal if the weather turns cold and wet. There are lots of ways to accomplish this.
The method we use here is to fill a shallow tray with soil two-to-three inches deep. Next scatter the pea seeds in the tray so that the seeds are barely touching each other and cover with a half-inch of soil. Water well and keep the tray somewhere warm and bright. Depending on the temperature they should be up in 10 days or so. Once they are up with a pair or two of leaves it’s time to plant them out.

Prepare the bed or row for planting, use a trellis! I know some of the pea variety descriptions say that you don’t need to use a trellis, especially on shorter types but I’m telling you it will be so much easier to pick them if you use a trellis.

It’s nice to have the trellis up before you plant then you know exactly where to plant. It is much easier to put the trellis up before planting, besides you know you will never get back to it even though you tell yourself you will do it later.

Your trellis can be anything from orchard prunings rammed into the ground, to fancy store-bought trellising. We use t-posts and orchard fencing; it’s fast, easy and re-usable. Once the ground is prepared and the trellis is up it’s time to plant.

I don’t bother separating each plant out; rather I gently grasp a few plants and tease them out of the tray. Each group of three or so plants gets planted about two inches apart down the row.  In past years I haven’t worried about laying irrigation since the peas are usually done by the time the rains stop. Last year was different and this year may be as well with hardly any rain and heat coming on early.  So we will be laying soaker hose down the row.  If the heat starts early we may be out of luck any how since peas pretty much shut down when the temps reach 75 degrees. For that reason it may be a good idea to plant more heat tolerant varieties.

A 100’ row of pod peas will yield about 20 pounds; snap and snow peas will yield around 30 pounds. There are some great charts online listing expected yields by plant variety. They will tell you how much seed it takes to plant a certain amount of row feet, how much space to leave between plants and between rows and expected yield.

Seed saving is super easy with peas because they have perfect flowers and pollinate themselves as they are blooming. So choose open pollinated varieties as these are the only kind of seeds that will come true the next year. Once the peas are growing and setting pods mark out a section that looks especially healthy and refrain from harvesting them. Make sure that you save at least 10 plants for seed saving in this section. You want to get enough genetic diversity to keep the variety strong. Let them grow on to maturity and when the pods are brown and just before they twist open harvest them into a paper bag. Now you have next year’s seed stock!

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February 19th, 2014

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