St. Patrick’s Day, in gardening lore is pea planting day. But Connecticut gardeners might better spend time having a cold one rather than trying to plant peas in yet unthawed or too-wet soils where they are likely to rot. In all my years of zone 6a gardening I think I’ve been able to plant peas on March 17 once – that’s once in 30-plus years – and that truly called for a Guinness celebration. But, we do need to begin watching the thaw in our soils so we can get peas, including fragrant ornamental sweet peas, in the ground as early as possible. So for us, jumping Leprechauns might serve as reminders that it’s nearly time to plant.
Peas thrive in the cool temperatures of spring, and must be planted early to get in a good crop before the heat of summer moves in. Anne Raver, gardening columnist at the New York Times, has a wonderful article on planting peas in her area, so there’s no need for me to restate the ins and outs of pea planting. Just don’t plant them until your soil has thawed and dried to the point she describes. Instead, while thoughts of freshly picked peas are dancing in your head, take a look at your garden to choose a nice sunny location to plant your peas. You can follow Anne’s advice for building a trellis using tall posts and plastic netting, or grab pruners and cut thin, low-growing, but sturdy branches from fallen or still growing trees for use as a no-cost pea trellis (I use beech and birch, but willow is great when available). Make sure branches are tall enough to support the variety of peas you’ll plant … some grow very tall while other vines hold at 2-3 feet in length and only need branches about 4 feet tall. Once the soil is adequately thawed, sink the branches into the soil, using the tallest (about a foot taller than the vines they’ll hold), strongest as anchors. Interweave branches so they form a sturdy upright support, and tie with twine to insure they stay together. Hint: if you choose some branches with lots of side shoots you can weave these together to add strength. Alternately, consider making pea teepees here and there. Wind garden twine around the legs of the teepee and pea vines will grab onto the twine and stretch upward. I’ve built and used supports of woven branches, plastic netting, teepee structures of branches or bamboo, and created other bamboo supports by tying horizontal and vertical bamboo rods together into a grid. Any structure works as long as it is strong enough to support the weight of the plants. Peas and other vines with tendrils also like some sort of support about an inch or two above the ground for tendrils to grab onto shortly after emerging. Google ‘pea trellis’ for many examples.
In previous years, when my family was larger and my vegetable garden housed fewer plant eating voles, I planted longer vining snap peas with much success. But now I stick with edible pod peas. I love Carouby de Maussane, a snow pea with dainty lavender to purple flowers that grows only 2-3 feet (available here). This year I’ll also plant Snowflake Pea Pods from Kitchen Garden Seeds, and rather than planting them in the vegetable garden, I’ll choose a couple of spots at the rear of a perennial bed (in a deer-protected fenced area – yes, deer love peas). When the soil warms enough, I’ll sink my pea seeds about an inch into the soil, and about 3 inches apart on either side of a trellis, firm the soil over the seeds, water, and wait – making sure the seeds receive enough water each day to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. This may sound like a lot to do for mere pea pods, but once you pick peas fresh from the garden, you’ll wonder why you didn’t plant more.