And The Season Begins . . .


St. Patty’s Day Passed; No Matter

Uh oh! St. Patrick’s Day was way passed and I hadn’t planted my peas. No matter. St. Patty’s Day is the right time to plant peas in Virginia, southern Missouri, and other similar climates, including, probably, Ireland.Peas in pod

Around here, in New York’s Hudson Valley, where the average date of the last killing frost is sometime in the latter half of May, April 1st is more like it. That’s the date that I shoot for, at least. Some springs, like the spring of 2017, earlier plantings would have done better. But you never know what bodes for the weather, so playing the averages is the best bet.

The problem with planting pea seeds too early is that the seeds will just sit and perhaps rot in cold soil. The problem with planting peas too late is that temperatures are too hot when the plants are supposed to be in all their glory, so they peter out rather than bear well. Again, an April 1st planting date, around here, generally works best.

Soil temperature is an even better guide than calendar date; pea seeds germinate when the soil warms to 40°F. Or a phenological indicator; blossoms of spring-flowering trees and shrubs open in response to warmth. Forsythia blossoms are just about to open at about the same time that the ground has warmed to that 40° temperature.

Get ‘Em Up

Peas grow as vines anywhere from a foot and a half tall to more that 6 feet long. Whether short or long, the vines are not self supporting. The laissez faire gardener just lets the vines sprawl on the ground, then lifts them to harvest.

For a neater garden and cleaner pods, I trellis my peas. By exploiting a third dimension — up — I also reap more productivity per square foot of garden space from trellised peas. Peas on trellisPlus, if the peas are planted down the center of my 3-foot-wide garden beds, I can flank them with other vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, lettuce, and arugula.

Peas, like other vegetables, should be rotated around the garden, that is, not planted in the same place again within 3 years. Crop rotation avoids the buildup of pest problems that overwinter in the ground. Without their host plants, they starve.

With this caveat, peas need temporary trellising, trellising that can follow them around the garden.  Traditional temporary trellising for peas, and very British, are pea sticks. Looking quite charming, this trellis is made by merely sticking brushy twigs into the ground along the pea row. Pruning off branches sticking out perpendicular to the row leaves a flat plane of twigs up which the clinging vines can clamber.

The traditional pea trellis takes some time to set up and requires some time gathering a lot of suitable twigs.

Second Best Pea Trellis

I opt for the “second best pea trellis” which starts out by my pounding an old piece of inch-thick iron plumbing pipe into the ground at each end of my pea row. The trellis itself is chicken wire, each end of which I weave onto the pipes. The chicken wire can then be cut to the length of the row, or excess roll can just be left standing just beyond the pipe. The chicken wire slides down the pipes most easily if kept almost parallel to the ground, so I attach one end partway on one pipe, then the other end partway on the other pipe, and keep going back and forth easing the mesh down to the ground.

At this point, the trellis is quite floppy. I strengthen it with some of those inexpensive, fiberglass posts sold for electric fencing, weaving one of these posts into the chicken wire every three feet or so and then pushing it into the ground.Pea trellis

Presto! In about fifteen minutes, I’ve erected a serviceable and inexpensive pea fence. This fence can be erected just after the peas emerge through the soil, so what it lacks in beauty it makes up for by spending little time uncovered with pea vines. After pea harvest is over, I pull the vines down off the trellis and dismantle the fence in a reversal of the steps described. The fence, not being permanent, can move around the garden to a different location each spring — just as should the peas.Snow peas on vine




With blossoms spent on forsythias, lilacs, fruit trees, and clove currants, spring’s flamboyant flower show had subsided – or so I thought. Pulling into my driveway, I was pleasantly startled by the profusion of orchid-like blossoms on the Chinese yellowhorn tree (Xanthoceras sorbifolium). And I again let out an audible “Wow” as I stepped onto my terrace, when three fat, red blossoms, each the size of a dinner plate, stared back at me from my tree peony.

Tree peony blossoms

Both plants originate in Asia. Both plants are easy to grow. Both plants have an unfortunate short bloom period, more or less depending on the weather. Fortunately, both plants also are attractive, though more sedately, even after their blossoms fade.

The tree peonies have such a weird growth habit. I had read that they were very slow to grow so was quite pleased, years ago, when each of the branches on my new plant extended its reach more than a foot by the end of its first growing season. Tree peony is a small shrub; at that rate mine would be full size within a very few years. Or so I imagined.

The tree peony still grows that much every year. But every year many stems also die back about a foot, more following cold winters. No matter, though, because every May giant silky, red flowers unfold from the remaining fat buds along the stem.Yellowhorn blossoms

I originally planted Chinese yellowhorn not for its flowers but for the fruits that follow the flowers. Each fruit is a dry capsule that later in summer starts to split open to reveal within a clutch of shiny, brown, macadamia-sized nuts. Yellowhorn frequently makes it onto permaculture plant lists, with the edible nuts billed as having macadamia-like flavor also. Not true. I’ve tried them raw and roasted. Roasting does change the flavor, but raw or roasted, the flavor is bad.Yellowhorn tree

Still, those blossoms make yellowhorn well worth growing. And after the blossoms fade, this small tree is adorned with shiny, lacy leaves. Much like the tree peony, yellowhorn grows many new stems each year, and many of the stems die back, not necessarily from winter cold but because they’re seemingly deciduous. I tidied the tree up last week by pruning off all the dead stems.

Out With You-All

Today, May 25th, with temperatures around 90 degrees F., I may not be able to restrain myself. It’s hard to imagine that temperatures could still plummet below freezing at least one night sometime in the next week or so. I’ve already ignored that “should” and a few days ago moved houseplants outdoors.

Why the rush? First of all, houseplants enjoy growing outdoors more than growing indoors. Outside, breezes rustling leaves and stems make for stronger, stockier growth and rain showering the leaves washes off a winter’s accumulation of dirt and grime.

After a winter indoors, the plants do need to acclimate to these conditions, which is why they start their outdoor vacation on the terrace on the north side of the house, which blocks wind and, for part of the day, sunlight.

I also urged the plants outdoors because populations of aphid and scale insects were outgrowing the appetites of the ladybugs crawling up and down the stems. Outside, natural predators keep pests in check and, if necessary, I can spritz the plants down to knock off pests and spray soap or summer oil to kill them without worrying about getting spray or oil on windows, walls, or furniture.

The Rush On Sweet CornCorn planting

Even tender seeds, such as corn, squash , and beans, can be sown now. The earth has warmed enough for decent germination, and by the time the plants are up, warm weather will have settled in for the season.

Tomorrow I plant sweet corn. Kinky as it sounds, I’m anxious to sink my teeth into a freshly picked ear.

Upcoming Workshop

June 24, 1-4:30 pm, DRIP IRRIGATION WORKSHOP at the garden of Margaret Roach in Copake Falls, NY. Don’t wait for dry weather to learn about this easy and better (for you and plants) way to water, including participation in hands-on installation. For more information and registration,