Those deliciously crisp snow peas in your stir fry can be grown at home.
The story behind pea evolution is fascinating. Even more intriguing is why more people don’t grow their own snow peas at home.
Snow pea plants
Snow peas are flat-podded peas that are eaten whole while unripe. Like sugar peas, snow peas are indehiscent, which means the ripe pods do not open on their own. Shelling peas, which are grown to be dried and used in cooking, have a much tougher pod that is dehiscent.
All pea plants are legumes, which means they play host to beneficial rhizobia bacteria in their roots. These bacteria help plants fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can use.
How to grow snow peas
Like fat-podded sugar peas and shelling peas, snow peas are a cool season crop. In fact, that’s how snow peas got their name, being grown in winter. Seeds should be planted 1-2” deep and 5” apart in loose, nutrient-rich soil. Snow peas use tendrils to climb supports, such as stock panels and trellising.
Harvest pods as they form to make the vines keep producing. Once plants sense that they have completed their reproductive cycle, pod production stops.
Snow peas are so easy to grow.!You can add them to your stir fry garden, salad garden, or just grow them! Did you know that the immature leaves and stems are also edible?
Now you know!
Peas have received a bad reputation from those forced to eat the canned spheres of mush that claim to be peas. As any gardener knows, plucking a fresh pea from the vine and eating it whole offers a crisp, sweet flavor that shares nothing with its canned (or even frozen) cousins.
Peas (Pisum sativum) are legumes, which means they have a tidy little business arrangement with certain soil bacteria, called rhizobia, which allow them to use atmospheric nitrogen. Pea seeds develop in pods, making them a pod fruit. Peas are either green or yellow and pods can be green, brown, or purple.
Peas are annual plants that can be low-growing bush varieties, but vining cultivars are the most commonly grown. Pea plants are self-pollinating, but the more plants you have, the better the pollination rates will be and the bigger your harvests will be.
Modern peas are generally described as either edible pod or shelling varieties, but the story behind pea evolution may surprise you. Wild peas have been around for thousands of years. They were being cultivated back in the 3rd century BC. These early cultivated peas were shelling peas, or field peas. Field peas have a tough, dehiscent pod that is not eaten. Dehiscent means the pods unzip themselves when the peas are ripe and dry. Of course, dried peas are pretty tough eating, unless you cook them. As a rule, shelling peas are grown to be dried for later use in pea soup and pease porridge. [Pease porridge is a thicker version of pea soup, more of a pudding, often made with a ham hock or bacon.] These were dietary staples in medieval times.
Sometime around the 15th century, somebody figured out that immature pea pods could be eaten whole. These “garden peas” or “sugar peas” were a decadent luxury back then. Over time, cultivars were developed that retained that tenderness. These sugar peas, or “English peas”, gained in popularity, especially after canning was developed.
Edible pod peas are indehiscent, which means the pods do not open themselves. Rounded edible pod varieties ultimately became known as sugar peas while the flat-podded varieties were named snow peas (Pisum sativum var. saccharatum)
In 1952, sugar peas were crossed with a mutant shelling pea in an effort to counteract some pod distortions that were occurring at that time. The offspring of that cross turned out to be a delicious new class of snow pea, and it was named snap pea (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon). Snap peas, also known as sugar snap peas, are now the pea workhorse of modern gardens.
How to grow peas
Peas are very easy to grow. They prefer cooler weather, making them excellent winter crops. While peas grow best in full sun, they can also work well for shade gardening and container gardening. Many birds love pea seeds, so you may have to protect your crop with netting until the seeds germinate.
Seeds should be planted 5” apart and 1" deep in rich, loose, moist soil. As they grow, vining pea plants will use tendrils to grasp and climb, so you will want to provide stock panels, tuteurs, or trellising for them to climb. As tempting as it may be to let your peas climb up netting, don’t do it. You’ll have a mess on your hands at the end of the growing season. Take my word for it. If peas are being grown in a container, a tomato cage works well.
Water regularly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings, and be sure to harvest pods as soon as they are ready. This will keep the plant producing. Peas left of the vine will become too tough and starchy to eat, but they can be saved for planting or cooking. Succession planting can provide many months of harvestable peas.
Pests and diseases of peas
Fungal diseases, such as Ascochyta blight, basal stem rots, damping-off, downy mildews, Fusarium wilt, powdery mildew, and root rot cause lesions and blackened areas on stems, roots, and leaves. Viral diseases include pea enation mosaic and pea streak, both transmitted by aphids. These diseases cause distorted pods and leaves. Pests include aphids, armyworms, cucumber beetles, leaf miners, nematodes, pea leaf weevils, pea moths, spider mites and thrips.
Forget the mushy peas of your childhood. Grow your own peas for a delicious treat!
Spring is the time of year when it is common to see white powdery patches appear on leaves. This bane of gardeners is called powdery mildew, and it can occur in autumn, as well.
Cucumber, melon and other cucurbits are susceptible to powdery mildew. You may also see it on tomatoes, roses, snapdragons, chrysanthemums, peas, artichoke, beets, grapes and wheat.
What starts as a small white spot, powdery mildew expands to engulf an entire leaf as the nutrient-sucking fungi bleed the life from your garden. It can be found on either side of a leaf and sometimes on stems.
Powdery mildew identification
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease. It is caused by different types of fungi (e.g., Erysiphe spp., Sphaerotheca spp.), depending on which plant is affected. Contrary to common belief, moisture and humidity are not needed for these fungal beasties to appear.
The white powder seen on leaves is actually thin layers of fungal tissue (mycelium). Other symptoms of powdery mildew include:
How does powdery mildew grow?
Powdery mildew fungi simply need living plant tissue to survive and thrive. To make matters worse, their spores are carried on the wind, so the battle never ends. The reason powdery mildew seems to disappear in the heat of summer is that these microorganisms prefer shade and temperatures between 60° to 80°F. Our California summers are simply too hot for the spores to reproduce. Instead, they remain dormant until conditions improve.
Not only does powdery mildew cause leaf loss, it can also weaken a plant. This lowers production and increases susceptibility to other pests and diseases, such as citrus blast. Leaf drop can also lead to sunburn damage.
Powdery mildew management
Prevention and vigilance are the best ways to counteract powdery mildew. These tips can help, but nothing will eliminate powdery mildew in the garden:
Some people recommend spraying plants with a baking soda solution, but this can add too much salt to your soil.
More recent research shows that spraying the soil with milk before planting and then spraying the leaves of susceptible plants when the disease is most likely to start appearing can significantly reduce the incidence of powdery mildew in your garden.
Has half a cabbage turned brown? Or have the pea plants in your garden turned white?
If you look at the photo below, you will see that new (uninfected) growth is bright green, as it should be. Everything else on the plant looks bleached. That bleaching is caused by a fungal disease known as Fusarium wilt.
Similar to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt is a common vascular disease in which a fungus (Fusarium oxysporum) clogs vascular vessels. It’s pretty much the coronary artery disease of the plant world. In addition to bleaching, common symptoms of Fusarium wilt include chlorosis, stunting, damping-off, brown veins, necrosis, and premature leaf drop.
This soil pathogen is found worldwide and it is spread by water splash, tools, and infected seeds and transplants. Fusarium wilt enters a healthy plant when germinating spores (mycelia) stab at the plant’s root tips and any damaged root tissue. That’s where the really amazing stuff starts to happen!
The Fusarium oxysporum fungus has no known sexual stage. Instead, it produces three different asexual spores: microconidia, macroconidia, and chlamydospores. Basically, the germinating spores (mycelia) inject themselves into a plant’s root system. From there, the mycelia move through the cells of the root cortex and into the xylem (a plant vein). Then, it starts producing the microconidia (asexual spores). The microconidia join the sap stream for a free ride to the rest of the plant. Eventually, there are so many microconidia that a vein is blocked. That’s when they germinate.
The vein blockage stops the plant form absorbing and moving nutrients, so the stomas close, the leaves wilt, everything looks bleached and it dies. As the plant dies, the fungus spreads throughout the plant and sporulates. [Cool word, right? It means “to produce spores”]
Plants affected by Fusarium wilt
Fusarium wilt attacks a variety of garden plants and the pathogens are specialized according to the victim. Fusarium wilt can attack peas, beans, and other legumes, tomatoes, tobacco, sweet potatoes, cucumber and other cucurbits, and even banana plants! When Fusarium attacks cabbages and other cruciferous vegetables, yellowing and browning leaves is the most common symptom. This particular form of is called Fusarium yellows.
Fusarium wilt controls
Once a plant is infected with Fusarium wilt, there is nothing to be done except remove the plant and toss it in the trash. Planting resistant varieties in the garden can help prevent Fusarium wilt, but crop rotation is not an effective control method. This is because the chlamydospores can hang out in the soil indefinitely. Some fungicides can be marginally effective.
Since Fusarium oxysporum prefers heavy, moist soil, aeration and adding compost to the garden can bring more oxygen into the soil. This reduces the welcome mat effect for many types of fungus. Ensuring proper drainage is the best way to avoid this garden menace.
Yesterday, I curb-scored 8 very nice tomato cages. While they come in a variety of sizes and shapes, the most common type are concentric circles held at different heights, usually with three legs.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!