February 2009

This month, many gardeners are getting really anxious to start some crops as they dream of the fresh foods of the spring and summer. The first to come to mind is peas. Yes, plant this month, usually on George Washington’s birthday. Select your varieties carefully. There are three types of peas: snow, snap and shelling. Some varieties, like Oregon Sugar Pod II are technically a snow pea, but they will bulk up and stay tender and crunchy like a snap pea. The caution here is that you don’t want to plant the shelling peas intermingled with the edible podded types. If you must plant them in the same row, be sure to mark where the shelling peas end and the edible podded ones begin.

Peas need trellises, usually string types work best. They should never be planted near where you planted them last year. The pea weevil is a determined pest and its larva will eat the pea as they germinate in the soil. You’ll wonder why you got poor germination as you are simply feeding the larva. The adult weevil comes out at night and eats the tender pea shoots and leaves. So, it is difficult to get a good crop of peas. Usually just moving the pea rows every year keeps this pest under control.

Birds and voles love eating pea seeds as they swell and sprout. Protect from birds with a barrier (netting or floating row cover) and good luck controlling rodent damage. Cats, dogs and raptors can be good predators to stop voles. And reduce your vole habitat, like tall grassy areas by your garden. A 2 foot tall fine wire mesh fence, like hardware cloth, can exclude the voles from your pea patch also. Bury the base of the fencing 6 -8 inches below the soil as these pests like to tunnel.

As you plant, plan for how the area should look in June when you harvest. Peas like a cooler area, not where they will be stressed by too much drying sunlight. They tolerate being crowded, but not so crowded that you can’t see to pick them. I have enjoyed the Maestro shelling pea because it is so easy to pick. Though it only produces for a few weeks, Maestro has pod stems that drop away from the vines and are easy to see and pick.

Now is a good time to plant parsley too. The seeds need a cold period to germinate. It still takes 3-4 weeks for germination, but they are reliable sprouters with minimal pest damage. We consider parsley a food crop, not just an herb. It is very nutritious and we have many recipes to which we add a cup of chopped parsley. Try it in tabouli, pasta salads, meat loaf or salmon loaf, pesto, and many more. There are new more upright varieties of parsley in the seed catalogs that I am considering this year, though I have saved a ton of seed from last year too.

Spend some time getting your indoor seed starting kits in order. Set up a grow light and start planting onion and shallot seeds. I love the Ambition shallots we grew from seed last year. We still have 15 pounds of them in the shed and they are proving to be great keepers. Start some of the early Brassicas too, like broccoli, gai lan and choys. They can be planted out in mid-March with some protective row cover. Though as I say that, I am reading that we may be in for another cooler than normal spring. So, keep planting the Brassicas all the way till June. Expect lots of greens from your local farmers again this spring and early summer. The garden fruits may be late again.

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