Dare I even say it? Could we be having an early spring? Bill and I are old enough to remember a few Aprils like this one. We also remember Aprils like the one in 1982, the year of the blizzard that shut down the world on April 10. We didn’t make it home to where we lived on Plum Island that day. We got as far as the farm before the snow got too deep to drive safely. We watched the snow fall in huge drifts from Bill’s childhood bedroom window that night. I remember this so vividly because I was 8 months pregnant with Ross, and remember climbing over an enormous snowbank to get back to our apartment the next day. A month later, on May 18, the day he was born, it was in the high 80s, and the trees were blooming as they are today.
Even though it’s weeks early I’m raring to plant in the ground. The most crusty of New Englanders will tell you the best time to safely plant warm weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants is around Memorial Day. Those things prefer soil temperatures in the 70 degree range. However, experienced gardeners know many things that love cool weather to be planted well before that date. Several waves of peas, carrots, and radishes, all get put in the ground in the coming weeks. Potatoes too.
Even though frost is still a huge possibility, if this warmth continues, we will take a gamble on putting some tender things in earlier this year. We have methods our grandfathers didn’t know about, such as hoop tunnels covered by Remay cloth, that we use to keep the tender shoots from freezing. But it’s always a crap shoot. Last year, we got frost in June after everything had been planted and we were scrambling to find enough tarps and bedsheets to cover it all up for a few nights in a row.
I love peas. Peas love cool weather. Peas have a short run, one of the reasons why we love them so much. Once the heat of July sets in, peas go away and something else will be planted in their place. I love the edible pod type, stir fried, or raw in salads. I can’t wait to nip off tender pea shoots and a few flowers to put in my salads. Yesterday, the first of four plantings went into the ground, four edible pod varieties. Dwarf Grey sugar is our mainstay, and the flat pod Snow Pea. Plus, we’re trying out Cascadia, and Carouby de Maussane. (Don’t you love that name?) Pea plantings go in every two weeks to ensures a staggered harvest. By the time we’re finished we’ll have 800 row feet of peas in a 200 foot bed. Each planting is four side-by-side rows in a 50 foot bed, with a sturdy trellis down the middle for the vines to climb. The trellis has to be sturdy. The strong vines will pull a wimpy trellis right down, and then you’ll have a mess! (I speak from experience…) Interestingly, the seeds sprout faster as the soil warms. Depending on the weather, that two week gap closes by the time of harvest and it becomes a matter of days between picking. Somehow it all works out.
Picking peas is challenging and extremely labor intensive. All of us love harvesting, but picking peas (and green beans) elicits the only grumbling I get from our team, (even though we smile as we complain…) Picking peas is tricky. The green pods blend into the foliage so well it takes a trained eye to find them. Even the most experienced picker has to pick the rows in one direction, and then double back the other way to find all the ripe pods.
Many CSA farms offer Pick-Your-Own harvest for crops like peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes, herbs and flowers. Next year, we’ll probably move in that direction. I think the team will appreciate this. I think our CSA customers will enjoy the experience of harvesting just enough for their table. It takes very little time to pick a couple pounds of peas or beans, but consider the manpower it takes to pick enough for 40 or 50 tables!