3/30/2013 7:00 AM
By Robin Follette Maine Correspondent
It’s such a simple act, yet it’s become complicated for lots of gardeners. You’ve probably heard the sayings: Plant your peas on St. Patrick’s Day. Plant your peas on Ash Wednesday. If you don’t plant your peas by Easter (March 31 this year), you won’t have peas for the Fourth of July.
If I follow these bits of wisdom and plant my peas on any of the dates mentioned, I’m going to have to use some heavy equipment. First, I’ll need a snow plow. There’s still a layer of crusty snow over most of the garden. When the snow plowing is done, I’ll be needing one of those flame throwers blueberry growers use to burn their fields. This might or might not thaw the soil enough to plant peas. Then I’ll put up low tunnels to finish warming the soil.
This is getting complicated, but there’s an easier way.
Forget the date. I’ll still have snow and frozen ground on Easter, but I will have peas by the Fourth of July. Fresh peas and salmon are a Fourth of July tradition here.
Forget USDA Hardiness Zones. One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, “When do I plant peas in Zone 5?” Don’t choose your planting date by your zone. It’s as unreliable as planting peas on St Patrick’s Day in Maine.
When the soil is 45 degrees, is well drained, doesn’t drip water or form a clump when squeezed into a ball, and the likelihood of overnight temperatures being in the teens is small, it’s time to plant peas. Snow isn’t a big worry. Snow melts on 45-degree soil. A few days under a blanket of snow shouldn’t hurt the young plants.
It’s easy to test soil temperature. I use a $7 meat thermometer, jabbed three or four inches into the soil.
Amend the soil with compost/composted manure, but skip fertilizer unless you already know your soil is missing something important. Plant peas one inch deep and two inches apart. There’s no need to be exact. Peas that are a little deeper will come up a day later. Better a little too deep than not deep enough.
When peas are too shallow they’ll push up out of the soil or the soil will wash away during rain or watering. Be sure to check the rows in a day or two and cover the seeds peeking out.
Vines that are 24 inches tall or shorter aren’t worth my time for staking. They’re easy to move while picking, and if they fall over, they don’t have far to go. I stake anything taller than 24 inches.
Over the years I’ve learned to place the stakes and wrap the twine the day I plant. I’m prone to “tomorrow.” You’ll save yourself a lot of time if you get your stakes and twine or trellis up before the seeds germinate. Trying to play catch up to wind vines into their support when they’re growing is like keeping a toddler still it doesn’t happen easily.
You’ll have a better chance of having fresh peas on a certain date if you choose your varieties by Days to Maturity. Early peas are a treat even if they’re not the best tasting variety you’ll grow each year.
The second round of peas is planted around July 1. The summer heat hasn’t bothered the plants, and it’s usually over when the plants blossom and start producing.
If everything comes together as I hope, I pull the spinach that’s just starting to bolt to make room for peas. The spinach is planted as soon as the soil temperature is 40 degrees, so it’s ahead of the peas and just about done by late June.
The soil temperature in July is much warmer than 45 degrees, so the peas germinate quickly. You can soak the peas in water overnight to aid germination if the soil is dry.
Robin Follette and her husband, Steve, operate Seasons Eatings Farm in Talmadge, Maine.