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English Peas and Sugar Snaps

Its springtime in South Central Texas!

Springtime? It’s still as cold as an ice cube at the North Pole! Has the horticultural specialist slipped a cog, lost some of his gray matter or going senile in his not-so-young age?

One of the most important decisions to make in planning any successful garden is WHEN to start. If you start right you have a good chance of a successful finish. If you "stumble on the starting block" you will have a tough time even finishing the contest of growing, much less winning. Recent migrants to the San Antonio area from the North, and local residents with short memories can’t believe that gardening should begin in January! Yet, many of these folks soon find that springtime in this part of Texas is shorter than an ant's whisker—if it occurs at all!

To emphasize my point that now is the time to start gardening, let me remind you that beets, broccoli, carrots, Swiss chard, collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, onion transplants, potatoes, parsley, radishes, spinach and turnips should be planted into the garden in early February.

If you planted cereal rye (Elbon) in your garden in the fall to reduce nematode populations and serve as a green manure crop for spring, remember that you should shred and till the areas to be planted one month prior to planting. This means that if you intend to plant any of the crops listed above you should shred and till those areas of rye NOW.

There is one particular crop that should actually be planted in January if acceptable yields are to be expected.

Seed of peas (snow?peas, sweet peas and English peas) should be planted six weeks before the last expected frost. For San Antonio and areas to the south, the last expected frost is early March. That makes late January or early February the time to plant garden peas. (A side note: Black-eyed peas, cowpeas and purple hull peas are not edible-podded peas. These are actually beans, not peas.)

The pea plant can tolerate an occasional frost, although new flowers or pods may be damaged. Soil temperatures must also be considered. Studies have shown that peas may take as long as 36 days to germinate when sown in cold soil (below 40 degrees F.). Germination takes about 9 days at a soil temperature of 50 degrees F.
At 68 degrees F., germination takes 7 days. Try to plant when the soil temperature is around 50 degrees F. It may take almost two weeks for germination to occur, but you must start early so the weather during the pea's growing season will still be cool enough for the plants to grow successfully.

Planting in cold soil invites a fungal attack on young seedlings. Preventative action is recommended to avoid over seedling death and subsequent crop failure. But don’t delay the process. Prepare a wide planting bed (about 16 inches across) so that double rows can be planted in each bed. Double rows in a bed will allow plants to support each other as they grow. If a trellis is used for support, only one trellis is needed between the rows of each bed. After the planting furrows are opened on each side of the top of the bed, sprinkle a soil fungicide in the bottoms, on the sides and on the cover soil. The soil fungicide should be approved for garden use to prevent the damping?off fungus damage.

There are many types of garden peas. Originally, garden peas were developed in England—hence, the name "English pea." Through vigorous breeding programs, new varieties of shelling peas, edible?podded peas (snow peas) and snap peas have been produced.

The sweet, crunchy flavor of the edible-podded snap pea has made it today's "fashion and madness." Interestingly enough, an early relative of the sugar pea, Pisum sativum saccharatum, was widely grown in Europe three centuries ago. In 1699, John Evelyn, a British diarist, recommended that young pea pods be eaten raw. An 1885 book listed 10 different varieties of edible-podded snap peas.

The Chinese believe that the pea was discovered by the emperor Shen Nung some 5000 years ago. Shen Nung, who is called the Chinese Father of Agriculture, was a student of plants and is credited with bringing wheat, rice and peas into cultivation. He often wandered about the countryside observing and collecting plant material, looking for those that might be suitable for food or medicine. Plants that had the potential of being edible would be prepared by the cook and fed to a dog first, and then to a servant. If both survived the taste test, the dish would be served to the emperor. (Don’t you wonder how many ill?fated dogs and servants were required for this research?)

Because of their versatility (i.e., edible?podded Sugar Snap peas can be shelled, snapped or eaten raw), only varieties of these will be recommended. The pod of the “common” pea has a tough, fibrous membrane lining the inside. The absence of such a lining in the Sugar Snap pods results in its better edibility, compared to the common pea.

The original 'Sugar Snap' variety requires a support trellis for its 4 to 6 foot vines. It takes more than two months for the peas to mature. Dwarf sugar snaps such as Sugar Bon, Sugar Mel, Sugar Daddy, Blizzard and Sugar Ann have been developed and should be tried. One source is Park Seed Company, 254 Cokesbury Road, P.O. Box 46, Greenwood, South Carolina 29648?0046.

Few pests bother sugar snaps early in their growing season, but later on, the Texas plagues take their toll. Periodically, examine the foliage carefully for spider mites and eliminate their populations as soon as detected. A whitish appearance of leaves signals the beginning of the fungus called powdery mildew. In addition to dusting sulfur, there are several very effective fungicides recommended for powdery mildew control on many vegetables. As the plant gets older, bottom leaves will turn yellow indicating the time for plant removal.

Check the moisture of the soil often, since peas require a great deal of water. If water is needed, avoid overhead sprinkling because this encourages mildew and disease. Drip irrigation or a trickle hose along side the furrow is the best way to water peas. Apply enough water to soak the soil to a depth of six inches.

Harvesting at the proper time is almost as important as planting at the right time. The edible-podded snap pea requires the least amount of timing. The pods may be picked young and eaten with their small nubs of peas. They reach their full flavor if you let them grow and fill out. Snap pea harvesting can be done at any phase.

To remove the pod from the plant, grasp the stalk at a point just below the pod and then pull the pod off. By holding the stem secure, you will avoid damaging the plant. With age, the pods of the snap peas develop a fibrous mid?vane that can easily be removed to improve eating quality. To remove this mid?vein, break its tip and the string will adhere to the broken pieces. Then pull the string down to the bottom of the pod.

Because the sugars turn quickly to starch, all peas should be harvested just before using them. If the peas must be stored before using, pick them early in the morning while it's cool. Put them in the refrigerator in a moisture?proof bag or container. When stored this way, fresh peas will last up to five days. Do not shell English peas until you are going to prepare them. Prolonged storage of fresh green peas requires canning or freezing.

So remember, spring HAS sprung. It is upon us. Planting peas signals spring's beginning, and the time to plant is NOW!



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