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Peas are the first seeds that I have planted into my garden soil this season. I got only a small taste of these sweet morsels last summer, leaving me with a huge appetite for more this year.

Pea seedlings in last year's garden

Last year, my very first year as a vegetable gardener, my spring peas took an awful hit when cutworms came along and in one night wiped out a sizable portion of the crop. Well, you expect to learn a few things the first time you do something new, and I vowed while they got my peas then, they would never get them again. Hah! I have been saving up egg shells for the solid past year and now I am arming my peas with crushed eggshells, which (I’ve read) will cut up those little cutworms who try to break through their barrier. Let those cutworms try. We are ready.
Crushed egg shells will help defend my peas from any cutworms who might see them as an easy mark.

I’m planting my peas a little later this year as well. I’m hoping the cutworms — if there are any hanging out in our neighborhood — will take the rampage elsewhere by the time my little peas sprout and grow.

This is a household of women, and I look for ways to use lightweight material for heavy-duty tasks. My trellises are constructed with 12-foot lengths of vinyl fencing tied to three 4-foot pine stakes. These are easy for a one-woman army, without any assistance, to lift and hammer each into the ground. I tried nailing the fencing last year for a fall planting of peas, but with my arthritic hands, that took more time and effort — and caused more pain — than I was prepared to give this year. So, sisal ties became my cheap and easy alternative.

I soak my pea seeds overnight before planting to get the sprouting process underway, and then I sprinkle my seeds with soil inoculant before planting the seeds. After double spading a 2-foot wide by 12-foot long stretch of ground, raking and then, using a hoe, plowing a 4-inch wide trench the full length of the row, I hammer the trellises into place first before planting my seeds about 2 inches apart on each side of the trellis. The egg shells are sprinkled into the ground with the pea seeds, and then I, again using my hoe, push soil over the seeds. Another sprinkling of egg shell pieces cover the entire top.

Finally, I support the each end of my trellises by tying them to my fence and a nearby tree to pull the vinyl fencing taut. These ties will stay in place throughout the entire pea growing season. I learned from last year, also, that it’s better if I put in my trellis before planting the seeds, as I’m pretty clumsy and tend to kill off a plant or two if I attempt to do this later on. (Oh, the things you learn from your garden.)

Each end of the trellis gets anchored to pull the trellis taut.

I’m planting a large crop — two double rows of sugar snap peas and two double rows of shelling peas. We love peas in this family, and I want to grow enough to keep us going through the next twelve months. I’ve selected my back garden plot for my peas this year, which gets full morning sun but has high shade in the afternoon hours. This is where I grew my lettuce bed last year, and I expect that I’ll rotate these two crops yearly. For both lettuce and peas, I can get in a spring and a fall harvest, given that both crops are relatively tolerant of cool spring and fall temperatures, as long as we don’t have a hard freeze. If I can finish planting these four double rows of peas quickly, I’ll also add another row of snow peas. In my family, those likely will be eaten as fast as they grow, and we’ll have little available for freezing.

I’ve shared before the unexpected garden treasure I received from my elderly neighbor next door, whose husband planted bamboo some years before his passing, hoping to furnish the growth to our local zoo’s red pandas. The zoo turned him down, evidently having certified food sources for these valued animals, but the bamboo next door grows on.

I accepted the bamboo, planning to use it to support my pole beans. (And I do have several bean teepees in place, increasingly covered with growing bean vines.) What to do with the rest didn’t come to me immediately, until my compulsively overplanted tomatoes took off and passed my knees in height. In my ever-stringent effort to keep garden expenses to a minimum, it occurred to me that I could put my excess bamboo to use in the form of tomato cages.

I'm using my excess bamboo to make tomato cages.  Okay, yes, I know I need to do a bit of weeding.  I've been a little busy, but that's next.

I'm using my excess bamboo to make tomato cages.

There’s nothing special about their design. I don’t have a lot of extra time, so I wanted to keep their construction as simple as possible. First, I use a wood stake to make four post holes, into which I drop four sturdy pieces of bamboo, cut to 40 inches in length.

The holes are about eight inches deep and help keep the bamboo tomato cages in place and upright.

The holes are about eight inches deep and help keep the bamboo tomato cages in place and upright.

I used plain old yarn that I had in my closet to tie four smaller pieces of bamboo to join them surrounding the tomato plant, and I do this on two levels, although I could add a third if the tomato plants outgrow these.

Yarn wrapped around the bamboo and tied with square knots is all that holds these cages together.

Yarn wrapped around the bamboo and tied with square knots is all that holds these cages together.

I had enough bamboo to make cages to support 30 tomato plants. That’s about half of what I have planted. I haven’t yet decided what to use to support the rest, but I have to think of something soon. (I’ll let you know how that goes. My sister says she has a few wire cages left over from past seasons that she can lend me.) Whatever I come up with, I don’t think I can match the rustic charm of the cages I have in place so far.

I have bamboo tomato cages in place for 30 tomato plants in the garden bed along the south side of my little farm house.

I have 30 bamboo tomato cages in place along the south side of my little farm house.

The thing about using natural materials is that the pieces are not always uniformly straight, but I don’t mind. It all adds to their beauty. I’m not sure how bamboo weathers, but I’m hoping that these cages will last for several seasons.

My tomatoes share their bed with 18 pumpkin vines growing from six hills, along with random plantings of herbs, nasturtiums, marigolds and sunflowers. I can’t wait to see what this garden bed will look like in a few weeks.

Despite the devastation my pea crop experienced in late April (details here), the day has arrived. I finally have peas. There aren’t many, but at present the snow peas are plentiful enough that I can use them in my salads or in a stir fry or two.

My garden's spring harvest now includes peas and radishes.

My garden's spring harvest now includes peas and radishes.

At this point, less than one fourth of the peas that I originally planted remain. There were four different varieties — a snow pea variety (Dwarf Gray Sugar, W. Atlee Burpee & Co.), an edible-pod sugar pea variety (Mammoth Melting Sugar, W. Atlee Burpee Co.), and two varieties of shellings peas (Dark Seeded Early Perfection & Burpeeana Early, also both W. Atlee Burpee & Co.). After losing about 300 pea plants, I moved what remained closer together and, as a result, the varieties ended up all mixed together. In other words, I no longer knew which plant would bear which type of pea. What to do about this? Hurray for the Internet once again.

By doing a search on all four varieties, I was able to gather enough information to help me identify which was which. For example, the Mammoth Melting peas grow on vines reaching four to five feet. These are easily the tallest of the peas, as the height of the other pea vines ranges from 24 to 30 inches. I have about a dozen Mammoth melting vines growing vigorously, some on a trellis I made with stakes and wire fencing that I had on hand. The others grow on trellises of tree branches and twine.

Mammoth Melting sugar peas in my garden

Mammoth Melting sugar peas in my garden

The Dwarf Gray sugar peas are very easy to spot. While the other varieties have white blossoms, these peas have blossoms violet-red in color, with reddish tinted stems. These peas also seem to be growing vigorously, but it appears that just 15 or so plants survived the April assault.

Dwarf Gray sugar peas in my garden

Dwarf Gray sugar peas in my garden

The rest are the shelling peas. I am having more difficulty telling these two apart. One appears to have a darker foliage. The Dark Seeded Early Perfection is described as having larger pods and somewhat longer vines. Perhaps I’ll be able to distinguish them as the pods fill out more. At present, while I have more than 50 of these plants, many are not thriving. Many were munched upon earlier this spring, but because of peas’ incredible will to live, the plants grew side shoots. Some have done well, but some have not. Only time will tell what kind of harvest they will bear.

A word about the trellises that I am using. I mentioned the fence-and-stake trellis. This was made using wire fencing that had been left in my garage when I moved here. I found working with it a bit difficult, due to the arthritis I have in my hands, so I used old tree branches and twine to construct trellises for the rest of my crop. I didn’t want to put a lot of money into my trellises, as I wasn’t at all certain I was going to keep these plants alive long enough to see a harvest. They aren’t especially pretty, but they are doing the job. And, in their own way, they have a rustic charm that probably would be more attractive if I had more vines covering them.

I still don’t have enough shelling peas to put together a meal, but I’ve heard a great deal from other gardeners about what a treat these will be.

In the meantime, we’ve been pulling up some of those radishes planted between the beans and squash. MMmmm. Now my salads have some color and some spice. My son Jacob, who stopped by yesterday afternoon right after I pulled the first red globes out of the soil, declared them the juiciest radishes he’s ever tasted. In fact, he ate all of them, and I had to go out for more later in the day. It’s good to know they are a hit, because they are bountiful here and I’m going to need help consuming all of them.

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