Monday, 2 July 2012

Some Peas Grown This Year

1st and Best #2 Peas

Here we are in the middle of the pea season, I guess. The early ones are finished, the middle ones are in the middle, and the late ones are just starting. So, it's time for a few new pea reviews. Keep in mind that this has been a simply dreadful year for peas. They like it cool and moist. It's been hot and dry. Since MARCH, pretty much. Yeah; NOT happy campers.

The one above is First and Best #2. There's a name for you. I got it from Annapolis Seeds. Owen Bridge, the proprietor thereof, has an impressive selection of rare peas and I seem to be working my way through his inventory. As usual I'm a bit of a sucker for an unusual name and colourful history. He claims to be the only one to have them, and it may well be - I can't find any other trace of them. They may be, as he says, an improved version of First and Best, but they are quite different from that, pea, which is described as very short and determinate.

1st and Best #2 Peas

As for First and Best #2, they are definitely not first. They were a mid-season pea for me, and the plants are a medium tall vine, at about 5 feet right now and still growing. (That's them above.) The pods are quite small and contain about 5 or 6 peas, which are also quite small, and pale green. They are easy to find and pick because they are a little lighter than the leaves.

My first impression was that not only were they not the best, they were not even very good, being neither sweet nor flavourful. Bland, in other words. However, as they have gotten into the swing of producing, I have found them much better. They are still a pretty mild pea, but very pleasantly flavoured and tender. They look like they are going to be prodigious producers: the pods just keep coming, and coming, and coming. They also hold quite well on the vine. If I forget to pick them one day, they are still good the next day, for which I am very grateful. I would have to guess on the days to maturity, but I would say about 70 sounds right.

Overall, while I am enjoying them I probably will not grow them again, just because they are so small. It makes them a lot of work to shell. However, if I ever do any pea-breeding (the idea crosses my mind occasionally) I might use them as a parent for their above mentioned good qualities.

Mrs Vans Peas

This pea, on the other hand, is being grown again for a second year. It's called Mrs. Van's pea, after the gardener who developed or at least maintained this strain. It was and is sold by a couple of seed sellers in British Columbia, from whence it comes (Courtney, apparently). Owen Bridges lived out there for a while which is how he picked it up.

As you can see, it has bigger pods with bigger peas, and more of them per pod - generally 6 to 8. In general, I think the vines grow a bit longer than First and Best #2, but ours are struggling with the heat and drought and are not as impressive as they were last year. The peas are still very good, but perhaps not quite as superb nor as numerous as last years. Not surprising. However, in general I rate this as an excellent mid-season pea, and I think it will become a staple for us. The vines are large but more manageable than Tall Telephone or Spanish Skyscraper.

Mrs Vans Peas

Mrs. Van's peas were planted in March in the "wet" beds. Things have struggled a bit in this bed this year, but they are hanging in and still producing reasonably well. Last year the vines reached 7' or 8' easily; this year they are just hitting 5', although I expect them to be a bit taller when they eventually pack it in. Like the First and Best #2, they started producing in about 70 days.

Spanish Skyscraper Peas

This last one has an interesting local history, and an odd name - Spanish Skyscraper. It was either bred or improved by Ken Allen of Kingston, Ontario back in the 1970's (?), and has made the rounds amongst Canadian gardeners ever since. Last year it barely produced for us, as it just hit its stride as the weather got hot, and the peas would toughen as soon as they swelled. We left them and collected them for seed. In spite of it being even hotter and dryer this  year, they are doing okay, I think because they are planted in the main beds and get watered on a fairly rigid schedule. Sparse rations, but the regularity plainly helps. At any rate, while I don't think they taste quite as good as the best of last year's Spanish Skyscraper, they still are very fine peas. They are enormous long plants - last years' hit 9', easily - and very late to start producing (90 days). They are reasonably, but not completely, heat tolerant. Which is good, given how late they are.

Spanish Skyscraper Peas

All the peas in the photo above are Spanish Skysraper. Yes, incuding the ones at the end of the bed that are no more than 2.5' high. That's because the deer ate the tops off of about half a section of them on one of his random salad-bar visits. Being indeterminate plants, they are growing back, albeit pretty slowly. (Anybody want to hunt a deer this fall?)  These are definitely the tallest of the peas we grow, and some of the richest flavoured. In general, I think there is a real relationship between the quality of peas and the size of the plants. Earlier peas often grow on much smaller plants, and just don't tend to achieve the intensity of flavour of something like Spanish Skyscraper, which has a lot of leaf and vine to support the peas. Of course, you do have to have the space to grow something that big, and be willing to leave it in place for the 4 months they take to grow, mature and finish. And the weather has to co-operate too. You need 4 months that are warm-enough-to-grow, but not too-hot-for-quality: hard to find! Still, if you can, these are probably the best tasting pea I've grown.

ADDED: After I put this post up, I was able to hear from Ken Allen about the development of Spanish Skyscraper. Here's what he had to say:
In 1977, I ordered Spanish Skyscraper peas from Centennial Gardens, a small Vancouver seed company which has since gone out of business The seed packet was very small, so I decided to save seed from that year's crop in order to do a proper trial the following summer.

The small packet turned out to be double blessing: first, it initiated me into seed saving; secondly, that was the last time that this variety was offered--if the packet had been larger, I would have been unable to grow them for a second time--and I probably would not have reordered anyway because that first crop was not impressive. Most pods had only 2 or 3 peas per pod, but there were a few 5's so those were saved for the seed bed. Within a year or two I was getting a few pods with 6 peas, then 7 peas per pod. That seemed to be the max but eventually I started getting pods with 8 peas. As the number of peas per pod increased from year to year, productivity and plant vigour also increased, though I didn't become fully conscious of this until I did a comparison of pea varieties for VGR.

Spanish Skyscraper was easily the most productive of the 39 varieties in that trial.

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