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Pea seedlings! Yes!

PEAS!  So many to choose from!

Peas are SoCal’s tasty winter legume!

First decide if you want flat, snap or the peas themselves, or ALL of the above! Flat peas are called snow peas. Snap peas have a thick pod and often don’t make it home. They are eaten right when they are picked. Shelling peas have a tough thin shell, but the peas inside are delish! These might be your on-the-table steamed peas, although a fresh shelled pea is mighty tasty the moment it is shelled! Poor little helpless things.

Like beans, peas come in bush and tall pole varieties! Plant bush and pole at the same time – bush come in faster, production time is shorter. When they are done, those pole peas will be right there ready for the picking next! You container gardeners will find some great dwarf varieties listed below!

Mammoth Melting Sugar is a productive sweet-tasting snow pea, flat pea, ready to harvest in 68 days, resistant to Fusarium wilt. If you don’t want tall peas, there are several bush varieties to consider! Oregon Sugar Pod II has 20 to 30 inch vines, resistance to powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt, ready to harvest 65 days. Oregon Giant, growing to 30 inches tall, is resistant to most pea diseases as well.

English shelling peas (bush and vine form) require more space and they have to be shelled. There are dwarf and tall varieties and those that ripen early, mid- and late-season.  Dwarf vines are Little Marvel, Progress No. 9 (Laxton’s Progress) and Greater Progress. These are all resistant to Fusarium wilt.

Larger vines like Freezonian are resistant to most pea diseases, including Fusarium wilt; Green Arrow, which is resistant to downy mildew, Fusarium wilt and other viruses; and Maestro, which is resistant to Mosaic virus, Fusarium wilt and other viruses.

Of the Snap peas (thick edible pods) Sugar Snap is the most widely planted commercially in California. It is resistant to most diseases, grows to a height of 6 feet and is ready to harvest in about 70 days. Sugar Ann is a 15- to 24-inch dwarf that is resistant to most diseases, including powdery mildew. It is ready to harvest in ONLY 56 days! Sweet Snap (semi-dwarf), Sugar Rae (dwarf), and Sugar Daddy (stringless, dwarf) are all resistant to powdery mildew.

Sugar Mel, a 2- to 3-foot tall variety, has been reported to be more heat tolerant than other sugar snaps. Plant them in February. Unlike the others, this pea needs warmer conditions to sprout successfully. It is resistant to powdery mildew and is ready to harvest in 60 to 70 days. Pea Lovers, be sure to get the seeds well in advance so you will have late season peas in the spring!

Notice how many of these varieties are fusarium wilt resistant! All of Santa Barbara’s Community Gardens have this wilt in the soil, so be advised! The wilts are both soil and airborne.

If you are mindful of companions, plant carrot seeds 3 weeks to a month before your peas. Carrots take awhile to germinate, and they grow slowly. Ideally you want them up before your peas. Peas grow up, carrots grow down. Frilly carrot leaves make living mulch for peas that have shallow roots and like moist soil. Water on the pea side of your planting. Too much water and carrots will split. If you are just now planting and want those peas sooner than later, plant them both at once. The carrots will come along in time…

Presprouting your peas! The main good reason to do this is you are assured of sprouts! Peas planted where there were peas before have a natural inoculant in the ground and you are likely to get peas from seeds! If you are planting where none have been growing before, you need to buy and apply some inoculant to have better success. Or, you can sprout them at home so you can plant them with no empty spaces where ones didn’t come up. Transplants are no problem. They are already up. But if you want different varieties than available as transplants, you are back to starting from seeds.

Presprouting peas is super simple! Grab a plate, one piece of paper towel. Lay your towel so half of it is on the plate. Spritz it with good water, put your peas on the towel about an inch apart. Spritz them too! Fold the other half of the towel over them and spritz again. Put the plate in a warm place, not hot or in direct sunlight. Watch and wait. Keep them moist – not soaked, just moist or they may decompose/rot. Depending on temps, in about 4, 5 days you will have sprouts. Plan this ahead of time so they will be ready on the day you want to plant! Verrry gently plant them carefully, root down, so you don’t break off the sprouts. Plant them no more than a quarter inch deep, just covered. Keep your young plants consistently moist after planting.

Slugs and birds. Put down Sluggo or the like BEFORE you plant tiny precious seedlings or seeds! Slugs can mow them in one night. Pea seedlings are tender and carrots are so tiny! This is a time when over planting carrots is a good strategy. Theoretically the slugs can’t eat all your carrot seedlings…. A good thick row could act as a barrier, but, you will definitely be on your hands and knees thinning those little plants for your salad! If the pellets disappear, put down some more for second generation slugs. Keep watch.

Cover your seedlings with AVIARY wire as soon as your seedlings are in the ground. Birds love those fresh green morsels. A small flock of hungry winter birds can take the whole lot in moments. Once the plants are up, 8″ to a foot, you can try removing the wire. In our garden the birds still peck the leaves of the bigger plants, so my enclosure is about 1 1/2′ tall on both sides of the trellis.

Harvest tips! Once picked, peas lose their sugar within hours, so pick, shell and eat them as soon as possible. No problem.

Pick peas regularly to extend your harvest. Be careful – use two hands to pick the peas, one to hold the stem, the other to pick the pod. There is nothing so sad as to pull a producing vine from the ground accidentally. You can’t replant them. And that’s why you stake your trellis or cage so strongly to prevent them from blowing over in winter winds! Don’t lag getting your trellis up or installing your cage. Peas grow quickly, and keeping them off the ground keeps them out of reach of ground feeding insects, soil diseases, and gives a clean harvest.

Plant lots of them, different kinds, successively, every month or two! When I first started gardening veggies, a gardener said to me ‘You can never plant enough peas!‘ As a pea lover, I now know he was so right!

From Monticello.org: The English or Garden pea is usually described as Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vegetable because of the frequency of plantings in the Monticello kitchen garden, the amount of garden space devoted to it (three entire “squares”), and the character-revealing playfulness of his much-discussed pea contests: according to family accounts, every spring Jefferson competed with local gentleman gardeners to bring the first pea to the table; the winner then hosting a community dinner that included a feast on the winning dish of peas. Among the nineteen pea varieties Jefferson documented sowing were Early Frame, which was planted annually from 1809 until 1824….  more

May your peas live long and prosper!

Updated 9.16.17

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for our SoCal Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Dry farming has been a garden practice done for centuries in arid places.  With global warming, many will be using these ancient techniques to great advantage!  In Vietnam today, beans and peanuts, that restore the soil, and sesame, are grown season to season between wet rice plantings!  Watch this Vietnamese video, No Water Required! Dry Farming In Âu Lạc Vietnam

Dry Farming Video Vietnam - Beans, Peanuts, Sesame Restore Soil!

I’m sharing this paragraph of a past post on DRY GARDENING from the Oregon Biodynamics Group.  We hear about tomatoes being dry gardened, but have you ever done it?  Here are some practical tips from people who have:

When the homesteaders planted their gardens, they needed to feed their family for much of the year. They couldn’t afford to do raised beds or to develop irrigation systems. How did they do that? Part of the answer is to give plants lots of elbowroom. Space rows widely at about 8 times what we do with intensive beds. They also hoed or cultivated to keep a “dust mulch” between the plants. This technique is quite effective at preserving water so the plants can make it through the summer with only an occasional irrigation. Most of this class is directed at intensive gardening because we have limited areas for garden plots. But if you have the room, one can produce high-quality produce without irrigation. Vegetables must be able to send down deep roots so that they can draw in the water that is stored in the soil. Plants that work are root crops, brassicas, corn, squash, and beans. Ones that don’t work are onions, celery, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, radishes, and spinach. The plants need to get well established in June [Oregon] using the natural soil moisture. Then they can carry themselves through the dry months. It helps to give 5 gallons of compost tea every 2-3 weeks during July-August. Liquid fertilizer helps with the stress of low water.

When getting started for the season, farmer David Little of Little Organic Farm explains another way of dust mulching. To help people understand how dry farming works, Little uses the example of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three to four inch layer is sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.

Clearly, our SoCal weather is different than what the Oregon homesteaders had, especially in these times of climate change. I’m translating Oregon June to SoCal May. If you are a coastal gardener, or a foothill gardener, use your judgment how you will do your gardening practice. Plant your dry crops separately from your water-needing crops.  Plant your water lovers more closely together and mulch them well. Get plants going with a little water, then cut it off after a few weeks. As usual, seeds and seedlings Tomato California Dryfarmed Early Girlmust be kept moist at startup.

Soil choice is important. Dry farming in sandy soil, through which water drains easily, doesn’t work.

Dry gardening isn’t for everyone, ie, harvest is generally a tad less, or even only a third as much, or very dramatically, only 4 tons of tomatoes compared to 40 tons from watered plants. But they say the taste is superb! In fact, At Happy Boy Farms, near Santa Cruz, sales director Jen Lynne says “Once you taste a dry-farmed tomato, you’ll never want anything else!”  And people shop specifically for dry farmed tomatoes in areas where they are grown!

Useful pointers if you want to try your hand at it:

  • If it is an option, store water for summer use. Set up a grey water system.
  • Prepare your soil with well aged water-holding compost, manure, worm castings.
  • Plant out of a drying windy zone. If that’s all you have, plant subshrub barriers or build porous windbreaks.
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  • Select plants or plant varieties suited to summer, tolerate heat and being dryer.
  • Choose plants that mature more quickly so they will have the early season water.  Plant those that need less water in the latter part of the season.
  • Grow only what you need.
  • If you don’t need volume, but rather a steady supply, plant high producing dwarfs and minis, like many container varieties, that need less water for smaller leaves.
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  • Plant further apart, at least 1½ times or greater the spacing distance recommended on seed packets, 8 times further if you have been doing intensive planting practices. But, do give seeds and seedlings all the water they need until they are established
  • Make furrows and plant IN the bottoms of furrows, not on the peaks that drain/dry out.
  • Thin out seedlings on time.  No wasting water on plants you won’t use and that will slow others that need all the nutrients and water they can get.  Use scissors; don’t pull up soil causing the other plant’s roots soil to be disturbed, even expose the roots, to dry out, killing that plant too.
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  • If you don’t go the entire dry gardening route, but want to use less water, mulch deeply early on. It keeps your soil from drying out and blocks light germinating weed seeds from sprouting.
  • Self mulching:  plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation. If you are home gardening, maybe plant 4 to a block, put the blocks in different places to avoid disease or pest spread.
  • Dust mulching is simply soil cultivation to about 2 or 3 inches deep. Cultivation disturbs the soil surface and interrupts the wicking of soil moisture from below to the surface and losing it to evaporation.  Do it after rains or irrigating.
  • Remove water-using weeds. Don’t let them seed.
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  • When you water, do it by drip or trickle, deeply, early AM if possible, when wind is low and temps are cool. Plants drink during the day.  This is a good time to invest in a ‘hose bubbler.’  They deliver water slowly without digging up your soil.
  • Cultivate 2″ to 3″ deep before a rain to capture up to 70% of the rainfall! Cultivate afterwards if a salt crust (from manures) has built up.
  • Give your plants tasty compost tea, equal parts water and aged compost. Compost tea delivers rich soluble nutrients directly to the plant roots.
  • If water becomes critical, consider planting only a couple of containers with vegetables.
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  • Harvest on time at peak flavor and texture, using no more water than needed.
  • When your harvest is done, turn the remaining plants under, especially legumes, like beans, that feed your soil.

Amy Garrett, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University says ‘for each 1% increase in soil organic matter, soil water storage can increase by 16,000 gallons per acre-foot of applied water (Sullivan, 2002)! Many people think of grains and beans when dry farming is mentioned, however farmers in the western region of the U.S. have dry farmed many other crops including: grapes, [cucumbers,] garlic, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, cantaloupes, winter squash, potatoes, hay, olives, and orchard crops.’

After years of trial and error, David Little now considers himself an expert.“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.

If you decide to dry farm all or part of your garden area, know that you and your land, your plant choices, are unique. Don’t give up, find your own way. Also you can do as David did, search for people who were known dry-farmers. He even made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences! He said they humbly shared their stories and gradually he picked up the important details. That’s dedication!

Be water wise, sleep well, eat hearty, share the bounty!

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