This season, I’m tweaking the succession plantings to make my potager even more productive. If crops (peas for example) are available for weeks, then we can eat them fresh and skip the energy (mine and the power company’s) it takes to can or freeze them, and just preserve enough for the weeks they aren’t available. Growing up, I clearly recall eating peas every dinner and supper for the week they were ready to harvest, and then getting them sparingly canned or frozen the other 51 weeks of the year. That’s because the entire garden was planted at once, including rows and rows of peas that were all ready to pick at the same time.
In my potager, things are different. Six foot rows are planted weekly, which gives a harvest over a longer period. Last year shelling peas were harvested from June 10-July 19 and again September 21-October 13. Twelve weeks. Not bad, but this year I want to do better and extend longer. So, I’m plotting and planning a succession of plantings. Here’s the current plan: When the first daffodil appears, usually about March 7, I’ll seed “Strike” a compact pea taking around 50 days to harvest, and “Little Marvel” also compact, 60 days. For years, I’ve planted “Little Marvel” as my main crop because they don’t require support and I didn’t want to bother with pea stakes or fencing. (And because it’s the variety my mother always grows.) Now I’m curious to see if there is another compact variety that may outperform it, thus a series of comparison plantings. A variety that comes out 10 days earlier, so something else can go in the ground sooner, would be a big bonus.
Now, a pause here for some explanations. Bear in mind it is now March 2 with nary a daffodil bud in sight. Foliage is up only 4″ but at least the sun is finally shining! Weather is always a factor. It may be that the first daffodil blooms a week early or a week later than I estimated, so I may gain a planting or lose a planting. And I can put my date on the calendar, but Mother Nature may send a hard freeze or a snowstorm or drown us in rain all week. Trying to work sodden soil just defeats the purpose, so there may be a rain delay and a planting date or two may be missed. Having raised beds has certainly helped in this case, because they dry out much more quickly than a regular garden, and I don’t have to wait to get in with a tiller to prepare the soil because it’s been ready and waiting since autumn! In any case, it’s not the end of the world, so I don’t fret. Be flexible. Also, the “date to harvest” (in “Little Marvel’s case it’s listed as 60) is an approximation based on ideal conditions. Very early spring is not always ideal conditions. For example, last year “Little Marvel” was planted with the first daffodil on March 7, but was not harvested until June 10…65 days. Shorter days and colder soils slow growth. Also, hive populations are not high in early spring so there may be fewer insects to perform pollination, and they can’t work on drizzly or cold days. The plants may look terrific and be full of flowers, but pods are sometimes slow in setting on because the flower aren’t getting pollinated fast enough. Be patient. It will happen.
On March 14 (or “thereabouts,” as my dad always said) “Legacy” also compact but 64 days and “Little Marvel” will be sown. And now peas can climb the fence around the potager, so I do plant taller varieties. For comparison, “Green Arrow” (68 days) and “Knight” (56 days) go in the ground along the fence on March 21. The following week, “Progress #9” (60) will be planted. April starts with “Sabre” (65) and more “Green Arrow.” April 15 is “Knight” and “Green Arrow”. I should be out of fence by then! April 22 repeats “Legacy” followed by “Little Marvel” the following week. These overlapping crops will yield plenty of peas for freezing. Generally I get 3-4 pickings from each crop before they are replaced with another vegetable.
Early May is when my mother will be planting all her “Little Marvel” peas at once, but I’ll be alternating weekly plantings with the compact varieties mentioned above through that month. A June 1 planting would mature at the end of July or early August, theoretically, but in reality it gets so hot here that a planting that late just doesn’t do well. Besides, by then we’re tired of peas, the freezer should have its quota, and the potager’s beds are needed for summer crops, so I’ll stop planting peas at the end of May.
Pea planting begins again July 26 with “Wando” a heat-resistant variety that performs well for me in this situation. It does need support since it grows 36″ tall, and matures in 70 days. That was my latest planting last year, but I’m gambling on one more planting in early August this year. As the days grow shorter it will likely take more than 70 days, but hopefully they’ll be picked before hard freeze comes. It’s worth a try!
And now, another topic. I read so many blogs about saving seeds, open-pollinated seeds, and heirloom seeds that are misguided. The pea seeds I’m planting are open-pollinated, that means NOT hybrids, so theoretically I could save the all the varieties of seeds for planting next year BUT I WON’T!!! Why? There are several reasons. The first is that because I am growing several different kinds at once, no doubt two or more will be flowering at the same time. The bees and other insects will be gathering pollen and visiting them all, thus cross-pollinating. “Little Marvel” will be mixed with “Sabre” or “Legacy” or “Green Arrow,” so I won’t get “Little Marvel” seed. I’d get “Little Arrow” or “Green Sabre” or “Legacy Marvel Sabre Strike!!!” Bees travel long distances. My neighbors across the road may be growing a variety I’ve never heard of, but it could “contaminate” my seed with cross-pollination. (And, I haven’t even mentioned the two varieties of snow peas that will also be growing in the potager.) Unless there is ONLY ONE variety flowering within half a mile, the seed is unlikely to be TRUE to the parent, that is identical in growth, taste, disease resistance, size, performance, etc. This is true of peas, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, apples…..anything that is pollinated by insects or wind. That means allotment growers, suburban, and even rural gardeners like me can’t reliably save even open-pollinated seeds in most cases.
Secondly, in order to collect seed the plants must be allowed to die and dry. They can be cut off after turning brown and hung to dry in a protected location, but still it requires the plants to be in their allotted garden space a long time. I need to plant another crop of something else quickly, so as soon as the variety is no longer producing an adequate return on space investment, out it comes! Oh, and I hope you just clip peas off at soil level, allowing all that nitrogen the pea plants have collected on their roots to remain in the soil to feed the next crop that goes in. Don’t pull them out!
Lastly, leaving crops in the ground long enough to produce viable seed is an invitation for insects to set up a long-term breeding hotel resulting in generations of bug production, and for diseases to get totally established. I’ve found this especially in beans and cucurbits. I’d rather harvest my crop and remove old plants quickly, taking any diseases and insect eggs out with them. It helps keep the potager healthy.
So, the only pea seed I’ll be saving is “Wando” because it will be the only variety growing in August and September, and I know my neighbors won’t be growing a different kind then. It’s late in the growing season, the space isn’t needed for new crops so I don’t mind letting the peas ripen to old age in peace.
That’s the pea plan. It will be interesting to see how it relates to reality. It’s not chiseled in stone, so adjustments will be made along the way, but they will be carefully recorded, along with dates in/dates out, harvest results and any other relevant notes. Were the peas tasty? Tough? Hard to shell? Hard to pick? Prone to disease? Split when blanched? Oh! I can hardly wait. It’s SO exciting!!!