Growing Peas

Peas are a cool-weather crop that is easy to grow and rewarding.  Fresh peas are a delight beyond any frozen and especially canned!  Tender shoots and pods can be used as well as the peas themselves.

Peas need a sunny location with rich loam soil.  Work the soil over to the depth of 1 foot, incorporating well-rotted organic matter (compost).  Good drainage is essential, as peas are prone to rotting.  If your soil is acidic, add lime at this time.  

Peas can be sown from fall to spring.  However, in frosty areas , sow your crop so that it isn’t in flower when frosts occur, as these can affect both flowers and pods.  The ideal temperature range for flowering and harvesting is 65-80 degrees.  Look at the maturity date on pea package to help you figure pod development time.  Example:  Green Arrow matures in 68 days.  Subtract 10 days for beginning flowering time ….Give or take a few because of weather conditions.  Green Arrow peas should be planted no earlier than 58 days before your first frost in spring.  In our zone 8 we plant peas the first week in February for the best crop.  When temperatures are over 86 degrees poor pollination, lower yields and rapid development to over-maturity occurs.

I have learned some great tips over several decades that have been fool-proof for planting peas.  Peas are best sown directly into dark, damp soil.  To do this, water the prepared bed well the day before planting and sow seeds 3/4” deep and 2” apart.  Press down firmly with your hand, and don’t water again until shoots emerge within a week to 10 days.  Many times peas sit in the ground soaking up water and never sprouting because we have loved them to much with water! Growing Peas

Snap Pea

Peas are natural climbers and don’t take up much space, which makes them easy to squeeze into even the smallest of gardens.  If you are growing the true climbing varieties, sow them next to a fence or support at least 6’ high and weave their shoots through this as they grow.  Be sure to loosely tie them to the support as they grow, because spring winds can pull the plants away just when they are in full flower.  The dwarf type only grow to 2’ high, but they crop better if their tendrils can cling to a low trellis, fence or tepee for support.  Making a criss-cross fence with bamboo is perfect for dwarf peas and quit lovely in the garden as well. 

Peas will fruit best as weather warms in early spring.  The main harvest period is just over two to three weeks for shelling peas (English), so sow successive crops at two to three week intervals.  Pick peas every few days to keep the plant producing well.  The more you pick, the more you encourage further flowering and cropping.  When a plant has finished producing, cut it down to the ground, leaving the roots in the soil to boost nitrogen levels.  

 Peas are legumes and are actually able to improve the soil through nitrogen-fixing nodules on their roots.  These nodules draw nitrogen from the air and return it to the soil for use by future crops. Grow leafy green vegetable in the soil after harvesting and removing pea plant (leaving roots), and they will flourish.

Did you know you can harvest pea shoots?  The top 2-3” of young seedlings’ growth can be added to salads.  Pinching out shoots encourages branching and stimulates the plant to flower and fruit more. 

Sugar Snap Pea:  These are crunchy, sweet, edible pods that enclose full-size peas.  They are available as climbing varieties and dwarf.  Sugar Ann is an excellent and long time favorite snap pea of mine.  

Snow Pea:  These are best eaten when the immature pods are still young and flat.  The entire pea and pod are eaten.  Melting Mammoth is one of our favorites. 

Shelling Pea or English Pea:  These are the traditional peas.  The pods are discarded and the pea inside is sweet and juicy.  Some pods can be left on the vine to produce dried peas for soups.  Green Arrow has a nice large pod filled with delicate plump and delicious peas.  Another favorite. 

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Calming the Senses

Lavender is a one of my favorite garden perennials. It not only smells lovely, is lovely, but it is calming to the senses. Lavender has an array of uses, from culinary to medicine to crafts.

Wherever you see lavender grow, you will notice people, bees and butterflies flocking to its blooms durning the heat of the summer. The essential oil made from the plant is considered to be “first aid in a bottle” and is found in herbal remedies for anxiety, sleep problems, stress, migraines and other headaches. Lavender is considered to be a mild antidepressant… it helps lift the sprits.

Lavender is easy to grow. Give it plenty of sunshine, a minimum of eight hours for best growth, and well drained soil is essential. If your soil is heavy clay you will need to help it drain by mixing in a good amount of sand or top soil (not to rich) to the existing soil to help it drain. Heavy soil that doesn’t drain is the biggest problem with not being able to keep lavender alive. It does best in zones 5 through 8, but there are some varieties that are bred for colder climates.

One of my favorite winter time teas includes lavender. Winter time we don’t always get enough sunshine and the blues can strike! This blend definitely lifts my spirits, AND it taste so good. You can blend enough of these herbs together to share with a friend as well. Store in an airtight container out of light.

Uplifting Winter Time Tea

1 part chamomile (calming and relaxing)

1 part lemon balm (uplifting)

1/2 part rose petals (helps ease winter blues)

1/4 part lavender flower (uplifting)

Steep 1-2 tablespoons of herb mix in hot water for 10-15 minutes and drink 2-4 times a day.

To this blend I often add other herbs depending on my bodies needs. Milky oats and skullcap, 1/8 part each help keep my mind clear and and body nourished. All these herbs are nervines.

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Mind Your Elder!

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis) have been grown for centuries by Europeans for both their rich flavor of the fruit and for their reputation to prevent and cure many illnesses.  They are gaining popularity in North America recently and are worth their weight in gold for their beautiful medicinal flowers and the unique taste of the fruit.

Elder flowers and berries are popular and effective remedies for colds, flu, fevers, and inflammation.  The berries are rich in vitamin A and C content, and play a role in the health of the immune and respiratory systems.  The berries also contain significant amounts of flavonoids and anthocyanin that are heart protective.

Planting:

Elderberries like a sunny location with room to spread.  They thrive in a deeply amended soil with organic matter and moist soil conditions.  Set young plants 5 foot apart and 10 foot away from other plantings such as other fruiting trees.  Elderberry flowers are self-pollinating, but the plants are more productive if two or more cultivars are planted near each other.

General Care:

Apply a thick layer of organic mulch or compost to conserve moisture.  If plants aren’t growing well, apply an organic plant food containing nitrogen under the mulch.  Otherwise, fertilization usually isn’t needed when compost is used around the base each spring.  Be sure to water in dry seasons.

Pruning Elderberries:

Prune away any dead canes in the early spring and cut out all the old canes whenever bushes become crowded.  Vigorous elderberries produce an abundance of suckers, so keep plants neat by frequent clipping.  Some people will even mow around the base of elderberry bushes to keep them in their place.  Dig transplant suckers if you want new plants to share with a neighbor or friend.

Problems of Elderberries:

Generally speaking, elderberries are free from disease and insect pest, but birds love the fruit.  If birds aren’t to numerous and you have the space, plant extra bushes…. giving the birds a little to eat.  When berries are abundant, birds tend to tire of them after a few days and leave the ones that ripen later.  You can pick the berries a few days before they are ripe if birds are a problem, and set them in a warm room, where they will continue to ripen.

Winter Damage can be a problem some years.  The plant’s roots are very hardy, but extreme cold sometimes injures the canes.  Fortunately, the fruit forms on new growth, so even when damage is severe, it seldom affects the crop.  Since blooms don’t appear until summer, late spring frosts never seem to hurt them.  If you live in cold climates where fall frosts come early, plant early ripening cultivars to insure a crop.

Harvesting Flowers and/or Elderberries:

The tiny white clusters are not only beautiful, but delicious.  Pick them as soon as they open.  Flowers can be used to make oxymels for preventive cold and flu care or used as a tasty healthy tea.  Add a few clusters of flowers to a gallon glass jar filled with water and a bit of lemon juice and honey.  Set it in the sun for a day, then strain out the flowers.  Yum! And good for you!

Soon after blooming, the green fruits form and ripen to a rich dark color.   Pick the whole fruit cluster head and strip the berries later when you’re ready to use them.  Elderberries are best put into tarts, pies, pancakes and desserts or process the into jelly, juice or wine.  Too many raw elderberries can make ones tummy upset.

Elderberries are excellent made into cough syrup.  They are a great substitute for blueberries in many recipes.

Elder flowers can be dried for winter use and the berries can be frozen or dried, also for winter use.  I think every household should have elder flowers and berries on hand, especially in the winter months!

Elderberry Cultivars:

Cultivars that I have had the best success with in my zone 8 climate is ‘Nova”, and ‘York’ both  large-fruited, productive, and slightly later than some other varieties.  ‘Adams’ is an earlier ripening medium-sized berry.

 

Elderberry Syrup:

Fresh, frozen or dried berries can be used for this recipe.

3 cups water

1 cup fresh, frozen or dried elderberries

1-2 tablespoons finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

1/2 to 3/4 cup honey, depending on your taste

Combine the water, elderberries, and ginger in a saucepan, bring to boil over medium heat.  Simmer with lid ajar, 30-40 minutes.

Strain mixture, mashing the berries to get all the juice.

Stir in the honey and cook over low heat until syrup thickens.

Pour into a glass jar, cover tightly, and let cool.  Stop in the refrigerator up to 4 months.

Caution:

Know your plants!  Sambucus racemosa, which is a toxic red berry rather than the edible deep blue/purple and is a lookalike cousin..  They are easy to tell apart when they are ripe, but more difficult when in flower.

 

 

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Protecting Seedlings from Damping-Off

Many gardeners have experienced the disappointment of sowing seeds, watching them germinate, and carefully tending the tiny, apparently healthy seedlings only to find them one morning keeled over dead and rotting. The cause is an attack of damping-off fungi. These pathogens can kill seedlings even before they emerge from the soil.

Damping-off fungi are present in most gardens, and virtually every kind of seedling is vulnerable; no resistant cultivars have been developed.

Nevertheless, the disease can be prevented if you take a few simple precautions. The most important step, is to minimize the risk of exposure to the fungus itself. It is also important to avoid high nitrogen levels and excess moisture in the soil and to ensure adequate light, whether natural or artificial. Poor light results in spindly seedlings that are more likely to infection.

Tips for starting healthy seedlings:

Seeding Indoors. Use either a new container or if using used containers, disinfect with a 10 percent bleach solution. Dry. Fill planting containers with a sterile seedling mix. Do not use compost or garden garden soil, since it may contain damping-off fungi. Sow seeds, cover to depth suggested by the seed pack with vermiculite or perlite, both of which are free of pathogens and drain quickly. Water, but do not let containers soak in water. Before watering again, be sure soil is not already moist. If the soil is to wet , it can and likely will encourage damping-off fungi. Keep soil slightly moist, but let the surface dry out slightly before watering. Air circulation will encourage healthier growth. Using a fan works well. Keep seeds away from cold drafts such as a window at night when temperatures are cooler. Windows are great to put your seedling in for the sunlight during the day, but remove from the window sill at night, as windows can be cold at night time. Do not fertilize with nitrogen until the seedlings begin to produce true leaves- these follow the first growth of leaves to sprout.

It’s so satisfying starting your own selected seeds at home. Not only do you have a larger selection when choosing from seeds, but its more rewarding. Kids love to start seeds indoors too!

Seed Starting Supplies

Organic Seeds

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