Summer in the Garden: Peas in a pod

The first plants of spring come forth

By Wes Published:

When the catalpas bloom and mornin’s are soft as a pup’s ear, it’s June and it’s pea pickin’ time.

For weeks the buds have flowered and green flat pods have lengthened and broadened. Backlit by the afternoon sun, the infant fruits’ growth could be followed in their lime-colored wombs. This harvest-journey however began late in February, even this past cold February.

The winter cover of annual rye was turned over and allowed to rot into the good ground. Come early March, “as soon as the ground could be worked,” it was then tilled smooth and seed planted in double rows knuckle-deep.

Peas are among the first to go into the garden. It is truly faith by which they are planted during a waxing moon, when the least sign of spring is evident, and what joy it is when tender leaves finally break the surface, the first green in a place where browns have lain so long.

The support they will need to climb should have been installed by then. It is best before the seed goes in to prevent damaging the young vines. The thread thin and probing tendrils readily grasp whatever’s available, even their neighbors, to support themselves.

Here the axiom of “reduce, recycle, reuse” is more than just mere words. I have in the past used the spent blackberry canes that ought to be removed each year, and the limbs of trimmed trees and bushes that quickly become what is called “pea brush.”

Just jab them between the double rows for the peas to find and climb. Old fencing is another option. This year I used chicken wire and the welded wire from an old enclosure on which the vines have scaled to heights as tall as me and more.

By June, peapods are full length and rounded and should be gently pulled from the vines with both hands so as not to tear them from their support or snap the vines. It takes some “looking” and patience to get all that are ready for the picking — “looking” because the pods, vines and leaves all are the same color; then patience to not pull every pea-pickin’ pod you find because not every pod is ready.

If not full, tight and rounded, I leave it to mature even if it’s “close.” I want large peas, for the most often complaint is, ”all that work and you only get a handful to eat.” If picked too early this is well the case, because simply it takes more “early” or small peas than large peas to get what folks call a “mess o’ peas.” The large, full-podded mature peas are still tender, flavorful and just as nutritious. So give them time to get the most from your pickin’s.

Unless you planted the edible-pod variety or the flat pod snow peas, they must be shelled, which means removing them from the pods by hand or mechanically. I could use a store-bought sheller as seen on You Tube, but I don’t think I could hear the great owls call and answer one another in the tall wood along the Elkhorn from the porch, or have good conversation with a teenage boy who would rather do something else but will relish the memory in later years … I hope.

There’s just a greater satisfaction gained from running your fingers through a bowl full of what Penny in her South Georgia ease calls, “bald headed peas” I’ve hand shelled.

I eat them fresh in salads, or cook them tender simmered with sliced carrots in water, but to keep them for later use in winter’s stews, soups and potpies, I can freeze or can them. Freezing preserves the fresh like taste, but I prefer canning. They’re already cooked and if I lose electricity they’re safe on the shelf in my cellar area.

With a bit of planning, yes, June is one pea pickin’ month. It is a harvest of pods and a grace between the rows of reaching vines, an unmerited favor, if but to watch and listen to big-butt-bumbles dart away and among the blossoms, trying them on like starched bonnets of yesteryear, promising more to come.

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  • Reminds me of James Whicomb Riley's:   Tell you what I like the best -- 
    'Long about knee-deep in June, 
    'Bout the time strawberries melts 
    On the vine, -- some afternoon 
    Like to jes' git out and rest, 
    And not work at nothin' else!