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Peas – January Gardening Tips from The Culinary View

Tips for your Garden in January

as recommended by Mike Vidrine

If you are looking for an attractive low maintenance fruit tree, a persimmon is a good choice.

We pretty much always have legume (beans and peas) growing in the garden.  In the cool season months like January , we will be growing and harvesting  snap peas and snow peas.  Both types of peas are what the French call “mangetout” – literally “eat all” – because the pea and the pod are both eaten.

When we lived in the Midwest, we grew these peas in the Spring.  In this part of Texas, with relatively mild winters and an all too brief Spring, we have had better success with fall plantings and growing through the winter and into the early Spring.  I usually put out my first planting of peas in late September and continue additional plantings up through early November.  We really like this vegetable so I will dedicate at least one whole garden bed – 80 square feet – to this crop.  Planted on 6-inch centers, one bed will give us over 300 individual plants.

Many of the snap and snow pea varieties grow fairly tall and will benefit from support either on a trellis or other type of staking.  The advantage of growing them this way is they are somewhat easier to harvest with less stooping.  There are also bush varieties of these peas which are my current favorite.  Although there is a bit more stooping involved in harvesting, I like not having to put up supports.

Snap and snow pea plants are both quite hardy and manage light frosts and freezes quite well.  Exposed pea pods may suffer some cosmetic damage in a freeze, so I will cover the plants with a light freeze cloth or floating row cover if temperatures are going to get into the 20’s.  The bush varieties are much easier to cover and being lower are more resistant to freeze damage.   An additional advantage of growing peas – indeed any legume- is that they can capture their own nitrogen from the air and store some of it in their roots.  Rather than depleting the soil of nitrogen as most plants do, these plants provide some increase to the fertility of the soil.  I tend to plant a heavy feeding crop like corn in the beds where peas have just come out to take advantage of their soil building properties.

January is ordinarily our coldest month with average lows in the 40’s and high’s in the 60’s – just right  for peas.  Of course, we do have “episodes” of much colder and much warmer temperatures.  The peas will set flowers and pods cyclically throughout the fall, winter and early spring, flowering more in warm spells and going somewhat dormant when it’s colder and wetter.  We  generally harvest our first peas about the end of November and continue harvesting until the end of April when temperatures are getting too warm and the plants finally give out.  Snow peas are best harvested when the pods are full length but while the peas inside are tiny and very immature.  Snap peas are best harvested when the pods are plump and the peas inside are almost full sized but still tender and immature.  In an otherwise mono chromatic vegetable garden this time of year, the white and sometimes purple pea flowers perk things up.

Peas usually don’t have insect or disease problems in the coolest parts of the season.  In the warmer weeks of early fall and early spring  insects are active and peas also can have some fungal problems particularly with powdery mildew.  Some treatment may be called for especially in the Spring to keep the harvest going as long as possible.

Because peas are so sweet and crunchy, this is a vegetable that our children and our grandchildren have always enjoyed – especially if they can pick their own.  Our family dog is also quite fond of peas and eagerly follows into the garden to “help” with the harvest.  These vegetables are wonderful in salads, stir-fry’s, soups and eaten like chips with dip.  My current favorite varieties of snow peas are Dwarf White Sugar and Avalanche.   For snap peas I’m usually planting Sugar Sprint – all of these are short varieties that need no additional support. 

I highly recommend this wonderful vegetable for your cool season garden and you can – as the old Beatle song said  – Give “peas” a chance.

Michael Vidrine

Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor

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