IT’S EASY TO GET IN A RUT with seeds—or should I say a furrow? I think I had been growing mostly the same kinds of peas, for instance, for years: ‘Sugar Ann’ or ‘Wando’ among the sugar snap types of Pisum sativum; ‘Dwarf Gray Sugar’ with its pretty purple flowers for stir-fry type snowpeas; ‘Green Arrow’ for shelling—or maybe ‘Tall Telephone.’ This year I listened to two seed-catalog experts and grew new-to-me ‘Schweizer Riesen’ (above) and ‘Mayfair’ instead, and I’m glad I did. Here’s why:
It was Lia Babitch of Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic supplier situated in the next town to where I live, who recommended the snowpea called ‘Schweizer Riesen,’ which translates as Swiss Giant. She told me that this Swiss heirloom was one of Turtle Tree’s original offerings, and produces lots of paler but sweeter-than-average pods (below, in the photo next to an open pod of ‘Mayfair’), with various other tasty parts: purple blossoms, tender foliage and tendrils—something delicious and distinctive to add to your salad even before you have a single pod to pick. What a generous plant! (5-to-6 foot vines; 70 days to maturity, but enjoy trimmings much earlier.)
When I went to place my order for those seeds at Turtle Tree, I saw a listing on the same catalog page for ‘Mayfair,’ and it rang a bell. Just a couple of weeks before, founder C.R. Lawn of Fedco Seeds in Maine had told me that although ‘Lincoln’ was the sweetest shelling pea, he also favored ‘Mayfair’(split open in the photo above)—one I’d never grown. Hearing the name twice piqued my curiosity, and now I’m just starting to enjoy very sweet and apparently abundant peas for shelling, each pods stuffed with about seven to ten peas. “Nothing is more productive than ‘Mayfair,’” Lawn had said in our interview, “and in all kinds of weather.” (40-inch vines; 72 days to maturity.)
If you didn’t try these for spring planting, you get another chance in fall in many zones. Some years I put the fall peas where my garlic was just harvested, assuming it comes ready in time. Here, I sow them in the second half of July, counting back from my approximate first autumn frost dates then leaving extra time beyond what the packet says it will take to start producing to allow for the fact that days and shorter and cooler at that end of the season than in spring.
“There’s a narrow planting window,” said Lawn. “Not too early when it is still hot and dry, not too late because fall frosts wither blossoms and pods and kill production even though the plants live on. In Maine [where he used to garden] mid-July was the planting time. In Massachusetts [where he gardens in summer now] it would probably be late July.”
A fall pea crop will be lighter—again, a consequence of a season that’s winding down—but it may also taste sweeter, since the developing pods aren’t bumping into rising summer heat. Worth a try, no?
So what peas did you grow this year, and any feedback–or midsummer sowings in mind?
IF YOU MISSED those earlier stories that offer tips for choosing varieties of vegetables and how to grow them: