Sunday, 29 June 2014

Some Early Peas and Some Pests

Tom Thumb Peas

We continue to make little changes in the way we plant things every year. This year we decided that our season is usually long enough that we can in some cases plant two crops, one after the other, in the same space. The idea was to plant early, determinate peas, pick and freeze them in a few big batches, then rip them out around July 1st, and plant a mix of determinate and indeterminate, but fast producing beans.

We planted two different early peas; Tom Thumb and Strike, as early as we could possibly get them out, then covered them with hoop-houses for a while. That was on April 14th. Tom Thumb is shown in the picture above. Most of the pods have 6 to 8 peas in them, but about 1 in 30 has 9 peas; and by odd chance the one I split open to show the peas happened to be a 9er. The peas could have been a little larger for perfection. I find that both of these peas tend to get large, swollen pods before the peas are fully developed, and so the peas are not always as large as I expect. The pods are rather tough, too, which doesn't make it any easier to determine ripeness.

Tom Thumb is an heirloom pea, or rather, there are a number of different heirloom peas that tend to get called Tom Thumb. They share in common being very short, determinate, early peas. We have tried a strain of Tom Thumb from Prairie Garden, and another one from The Cottage Gardener. Last year we decided we like the strain from The Cottage Gardener better, and that it also fit the description of Tom Thumb peas much better - the ones from Prairie Garden reached a foot and a half in height. The plants from Cottage Gardener are really short, and don't get much above 8" in height. Originally, Tom Thumb was started in cold-frames for super early production, which made their low height a requirement. In spite of the low height, they have a respectable number of pea pods per plant; perhaps 8 to 12 over a 2 to 3 week period.

Overall, while we like Tom Thumb, it did not work as well for our purpose as the Strike. It was just a few days slower to get started producing peas, probably in about 65 days for us, and it is slower to wind up production. Because we need to rip them out and replant, the resulting overall difference of about 7 to 10 days in the ground matters - that's 7 to 10 days that have to be taken off the growing season for the beans.

Strike Peas

Our other pea used in this experiment was Strike. I chose it because it was the shortest season pea I could find. William Dam, our source, says they are ready in 55 days. Ours probably took a little closer to 60, but they are still definitely the earliest pea we have ever grown. Moreover, they produced for about 2 weeks then were done - We planted the first bed of them on April 12th, and we pulled them out on June 27th. - 3 days ahead of our goal of July 1st.

Strike is not an heirloom pea; it appears it was bred in Idaho by PureLine Seeds Inc, of Idaho, presumably some time in the second half of the 20th century. The plants are longer and rangier than Tom Thumb, reaching up to 2' in length. They would have benefited from a few short sticks stuck into the bed, but they did okay just sprawling, so far as growth was concerned. They are also still short enough that we had no trouble keeping them under a hoop-house for as long as we needed. Plants are a very rich, dark blueish-green, and the peas are a stronger green than the Tom Thumb, which tend a little to the yellow side. Again, there were generally 6 to 8 peas per pod, but I haven't seen any with 9 peas. Quantity of pea pods produced is probably a good bit more than Tom Thumb  - maybe 50% more.

I say probably, because we had a new problem with our peas this year - they got eaten! I mean, they always get eaten, but preferably by US. This time they got eaten, I think, by a raccoon, or raccoons. They didn't get them all - we were able to achieve our minimum expectation for packets of frozen peas, but only just. We should have gotten a lot more. Strangely, only the lowest peas got eaten - anything over a foot off the ground seemed to be safe. Much more of the Strike got eaten than the Tom Thumb, but I don't think that was through any particular preference for the Strike; I think it is because they were ripe first and so that's where they headed first. I have never had this problem with peas I have grown on a trellis. They completely ignored the Dual, for example, which were growing in the next bed with the lowest growing peas within their reach, I would have thought. It is possible that if we had put a few sticks for support in with the Strike peas that the raccoons would have been more deterred from eating them. Possible. Who knows; raccoons are determined little sugar fiends, which is why I have given up on growing corn and why they will cheerfully settle for peas.

Neither of these peas are the sweetest, best tasting peas. Later peas are both sweeter and richer in flavour, but they are also later, and require trellising or other support. Still, these two taste pretty good! By growing them as a first crop followed by beans, we can probably triple or quadruple the quantity of peas we put into the freezer. Since peas seem to be the favourite vegetable of just about everyone in the family, this is a very good thing. 

So, how did this experiment work? It's too early to tell, because we still have to get the beans in and perform the second half of the experiment. But so far, it's looking very feasible. This was a slow, cool spring, and some years we can expect to be able to plant before mid April. It seems pretty clear though, that it's plant those peas by mid April or bust. We will also drop the Tom Thumb, at least for this purpose, and stick to the Strike, because we will need those extra 7 to 10 days for the next crop that Strike provides. We also expect the Strike to produce quite a few more peas, especially if we can keep those rotten raccoons out.

We planted our peas 6" apart in every direction, and even as we were planting I was afraid that was too far apart. It was, and we got a lot of weeds and not as many peas as we would have liked. Next time, they will be planted about 4" apart in every direction, which will  hopefully also double our crop. Our theoretical crop, anyway.

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