Mary's Veggie Garden

March 31, 2010

It’s Planting Time: Peas

Filed under: Gardening,Peas,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 12:58 pm

April 1 is my target date to plant peas.  However, because of the rain we’ve had for the last couple days, the soil is too wet to work.  Things should dry out over the next few days, and the soil is warming quickly. I plan to plant peas this weekend. This morning I noticed that both lettuce and mustard are sprouting in the garden.

I wrote the following article on growing peas for the April 2008 Dutchess Dirt.

“I eat my peas with honey,  I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on the knife. ” (Anonymous)

My husband repeats this rhyme every time I serve peas for supper.  Luckily that isn’t too often, because I don’t grow traditional garden peas.  It always seemed like a lot of work for very little return.  There is all that time required to shell peas, only to discover that I’ve picked them too young or after they’ve gone to starch. And  I hate the waste of throwing out the pods.

Fortunately there is a solution – snow peas and sugar snap peas –  varieties of peas that let you pick your pods and eat them too.  I grow both snow peas and sugar snaps every year and the entire family enjoys them both raw and cooked.

Snow peas are the type used in Chinese cooking.

Snow Pea "Oregon Sugar Pod II" ready for harvest

They are grown for their tender pods which are best when picked while still flat, before the seed forms.  The pods will get tough if the seed develops. Snow peas are prolific producers; they keep on blooming because they are never given the chance to mature seed.  My favorite variety is Oregon Sugar Pod II. It is tasty, reliable, and disease resistant, and it never produces tough young pods, a problem with some other varieties. I prefer my snow peas cooked (about 2 minutes) although my daughter brings them to school raw, and uses the pods as consumable spoons for yogurt.

Sugar snap peas (also called sugar peas or sweet snap peas) are grown for their peas and pods combined.  Their pods are fleshier and juicier than the pods of snow peas.  They are sweetest when picked just as the pea fills the pod – a  day or two later than the snap peas you find in the stores. After picking, string them (if necessary) and eat the whole thing – pod and all. Snap peas are my favorite snack for eating in the garden.

"Cascadia" Snap Peas

Snap peas are a “new” vegetable; the original Sugar Snap Pea was an All America Selection in 1979.  Sugar Snap, and its successor, Super Sugar Snap, both have 6′ vines which require a strong trellis.  Fortunately snap peas were extremely popular so breeding work continued and many shorter, stringless varieties have been introduced.  Try Cascadia, Super Snappy,  Sugar Sprint, or Sugar Lace.

Both snap and snow peas are grown the same way.  Package directions say to plant the seeds outside in early spring 1” deep and 2-3” apart.  Although support is optional with shorter varieties, harvest is much cleaner and easier if the plants are grown on a trellis.  In my garden I plant peas in a double row with  the rows 6” apart and the peas 2- 3” apart in the row.  As soon as the first leaves show, I weed and mulch heavily, then I put the trellis (a piece of 30” high wire fencing) between the rows.

Peas thrive in cold weather and spring frosts, or even a late snow fall, will not bother them.  I plant my snow peas around April 1 and plant snap peas 2 weeks later.  (Snap peas prefer slightly warmer soil). This also spreads the work and the harvest – as the snow pea harvest hits its first lull, the snap peas will be coming in strongly.  Harvest starts in early June and continues 4-6 weeks.  Harvest peas every day to catch them at the peak of flavor and tenderness.

In this area (Dutchess County, NY) peas are generally free of insect and disease problems, although powdery mildew may develop once the weather gets hotter.  Trellising the vines improves air circulation and helps control PM. I remove the vines in early – mid July and let my cucumbers use the trellis.

Now is the time to plant peas.  If you’ve only eaten store bought peas, you are in for a real treat.

March 26, 2010

Eating from the Garden in Winter: Sweet Potatoes

Filed under: Gardening,Root Cellar,Sweet Potatoes,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 8:51 am

Although I’ve been growing vegetables for decades, I did not plant sweet potatoes until 2005. I never suspected that sweet potatoes could be grown in New York State. Indeed, they grow quite easily. They also store quite well; they are excellent keepers.

Sweet potatoes from storage 3/21/2010

The trick to storing sweet potatoes is to cure them properly. Curing changes the potatoes’ starch to sugar and allows any cut areas to heal over. The standard directions for curing say to keep the sweet potatoes in a very warm place with high humidity for a couple weeks after harvest.

Typical conditions in the Hudson Valley during October harvest are cool and dry with 50% humidity, far from the ideal for curing sweet potatoes. I tried to compensate by keeping them at room temperature in very high humidity for a longer time.  I  piled some potatoes in a huge bowl covered with a towel to keep in the humidity. The rest went into covered plastic storage containers. I kept bowl and containers in the kitchen for about 6 weeks to cure the potatoes.

Results: the towel covered bowl worked well. After curing some of the potatoes had tiny nubbins of new sprouts. The lids of the plastic containers kept the humidity too high. Most of those potatoes had grown tiny slips with baby leaves. These nubbins and slips are at the top of the potatoes in the picture. Both methods produced sweet SPs that have stored well.

After curing, the sweet potatoes can be stored in a place with lower temperature and humidity. Mine are stored in a single layer on shelves in my unheated basement.

Eating: use small or damaged sweet potatoes first. Long slender sweet potatoes tend to dry out during storage. At harvest some sweet potatoes had skin that is partially black. (I haven’t figured out the cause.) Those potatoes are still edible and they will keep 3-4 months, but around February – March these black skinned potatoes got dry rot. The left potato in the photo has dry rot on the bottom so I removed the bottom third before cooking.

Last fall so many of my sweet potatoes were split, cracked or otherwise damaged that we are still eating the damaged potatoes in late March. The potatoes continued to sweeten over the winter and are now quite sweet.

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