Monday, April 19, 2010

Thank Goodness for Peas

Thank Goodness for Peas There’s a saying in Michigan, "If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute." To an impatient vegetable gardener, this truth of climate is extremely frustrating! Every spring, the sun cracks it’s way through what seems like a permanent crust of grey winter clouds and shines down on the thawing earth. Many years, like this one, we’ve had a series of consistently warm days. Standing in the sun a wearing a t-shirt at the beginning of March makes me anxious to get my vegetables in the ground. But like every year, I have to tell myself that the sunshine at the moment, is just a flirt. And like every "true love" relationship it takes time and patience.

But patience is not a virtue I relish. It usually starts after Christmas. Something happens after the house is cleaned of all the layers of thick Christmas decorations. I’ve always found it strange that as you decorate the house, the decorations are beautiful, then the day after Christmas, they drastically transform into hideous tacky, objects, that for some reason remind me of carnival prizes. At this time of year there is a yearning for something fresh and green.

I usually start with houseplants. I go to the local nursery and get an assortment of miniature ivy, cacti, and African violets. The warn humid greenhouse air reminds me of summer and it usually eases the green twitching nerve for a bit. Then the stores get in their seeds around February. Rows and rows of packets of delicious vegetables, photographed with sparkling dew drops. I’m suddenly Peter Rabbit wriggling though Mr. McGregor’s garden fence. Before I know it I have a cart full of peat pots, seed starting soil, seed trays, and a selection of seeds. All the way home I tell myself not to start them until the proper time. "Read the seed instructions and plant indoors when it tells you to," I tell my self. But no my impatient side gets the best of me and before I know it I’m the mad planter with no will power and have 20 rows of planted peat pots balancing on TV trays in front of the window. Then I stare, craving that first sprout of green. In a week or so, just like the packets said, sprouts begin to show their beautiful little green leaves. Ah, the miracle happens again. Now this might all sound completely normal and even smart to start your garden plants indoors, however, Michigan has a prospective frost free date of about May 15th in our zone. So that means that by the time I can actually plant these little ones in the ground they will be three months old, which for some plants is the estimated picking date. But it never happens like you think. I never get giant trailing pumpkins vining themselves across the livingroom floor. No, the plants get leggy from growing toward the windowsill, and no amount of turning the trays will ever stop that, not when they have 3 months before they can go out. But I water them and care for them, pathetic as they are, and hope that when May finally comes, the sunshine will do them some good. And then May does come, and like always, I return to the local nursery to see what they have to offer as far as vegetables. And my heart sinks. Rows and rows of rich, dark green, plump little plants. Nothing at all like the pale little spaghetti things I have growing at home. So I buy a few of this and that and take it all home and out into the garden. Home grown and nursery grown. It all gets planted, but I have to admit, the homegrown ones usually die as the adult plant gets too heavy for the pathetic leggy stem that it started out with. This year however, I tried something different. I planted peas. The second week in March started out fairly warm, and the packet said "yes I actually read it" plant as soon as the soil is workable. Well by the third warm day the soil was "workable", I mean I could dig in it anyway, it wasn’t frozen solid, so in went the peas. I figured, if they die I’m out a dollar, I can live with that. It’s cheaper than the peat pot ritual. It’s now the 3rd week in April and the peas are doing great! They’re about 2 inches above ground, stocky and brilliantly green. We’ve had several nights below freezing and the little guys just keep on, keepin’ on, even through snow. (I guess that’s why they call them "snow peas")
Last week I planted cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and parsely. They were all developed plants from the local nursery. The employees at the greenhouse assured me that the delicate little plants could be planted now, and that I didn’t have to wait until May 20th, which is the magical frost free date for our zone 5 in Michigan. And yes, I mind that date as I’ve learnes many a lesson of dashing out to the garden on May 2nd with tarps, plastic garbage bags, sticks and rocks, only to find the wind had blown the frost covers off sometime during the night and half the plantings withered within a few days. So the moral of the story, if you don’t have a greenhouse. Try to resist the urge, read the seed instructions, or buy from the local nursery. And plant when your supposed to. And if you just can’t, can’t wait (like me) plant peas! Plant lots and lots of peas.

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