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A pot to pea in: When and how to start planting peas

Peas can be a tricky spring plant. (Getty Images)

Meet Mike and learn how to grow titanic tomatoes at Homestead Gardens in Annapolis, Saturday, April 6 at 11 a.m.

Put down the beer and pick up the peas

Happy St. Patrick’s weekend; a time for ordinary people to drink beer laced with green dye and for MY people — gardeners — to start their peas.

Spring crops like peas and salad greens are difficult to time, as these tasty treats are normally “direct seeded,” but the soil is much too cold for those seeds to germinate in March. On the other end of the stick, pea plants (and salad greens) can’t handle hot weather, and pea vines and salad greens typically burn up in early July.

That leaves a very short window for actual pea-picking—unless, of course, you cheat. And as I like to emphasize when there are young and impressionable children in the audience, “cheaters always win.”

So pick a pack of pea seeds and let’s get growing!

Pick your pea-picking peas

St. Patrick’s Day is considered the “lucky” day to plant spring peas — because if you don’t do something right around now you ain’t getting no peas.

It takes about 60 days for the plants to produce their first tasty treats — so if you coax them to sprout early and keep them happy during April and May, you should be pea-picking the entire month of June.

To get started, pick the type of peas you enjoy the most: those flat-walled “snow peas” that you eat pod and all; Southern “snap peas,” whose edible pods are more rounded; or “English” shelling peas — where you only eat the peas and not the pod.

How deep my valley? How tall my peas?

Read package and catalog descriptions carefully so that you’ll know the final height of the plants. Most of the small, flat “snow peas” used in Asian stir-fries grow on bush-style vines that top out at a tidy two feet or so — as does the popular Southern Snap Pea variety named “Sugar Ann.”

But the vines of some other varieties of snap peas and most English shelling peas grow six feet tall or more and require a sturdy trellis.

So if you’re working in a small space, stick to the bush style varieties. But if you’ve got the room, go big with a tall trellis, where the picking is easy.

Be cool — and eat well!

St Patrick’s Day weekend is the perfect time to talk about two different kinds of edibles: the ones that love to grow in cool weather, like peas, broccoli and salad greens; and the ones that like it hot, like tomatoes, peppers and cukes.

To get a good amount of eating out of those elusive earlies, you need to start the first runs inside, and peas are the easiest crop with which to do so. Roll the pea seeds of your choice onto a bunch of wet paper towels—not sopping wet, but wetter than damp. Put the towels inside a zip lock but don’t zip it. Spritz the seeds with water once a day until sprouts appear.

Then carefully plant the sprouts in a raised bed or container outdoors — and don’t worry about cold nights. The seeds need warmth to sprout but the plants can take freezing cold.

A pot to pea in!

I like peas.

I like the flat, super-sweet snow peas you eat pod and all.

I like the Southern snap peas that you eat pod and all after zipping off the string.

And I like the English shelling peas that you take out of the pod and eat like candy.

All these peas have one big thing in common; they only grow well through the end of June, after which the vines burn up.

So here’s a great pea-picking option: Pull out your biggest container, fill it with a soil-free potting mix (none of your awful garden soil!), saturate the pot with water, plant your pea seeds, stretch clear plastic over the top and keep it in a warm place indoors.

Remove the plastic when you see the first sprouts, wait three days and then take the container outside into full sun. You should be picking peas the entire month of June.

Easy-peasy!

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