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Garden Peas

Although I have not made one the past few years, I get the urge to put in a vegetable garden every Spring. With the first flowers that poke out and the seed catalogs that sprout in the mailbox comes the urge to plot out a new garden for the year. Whereas some folks are constant in their yearly layout, I have tended to experiment. Along with the regulars (tomatoes, peppers, radishes, peas, and bush beans) I'll take a stab at something not tried before. The last year I had a large garden, I put in about an acre of pumpkins (CN Field variety). Another year it was a quarter acre of cucumbers. I learned a lot in both cases.

With the pumpkins, I discovered the pitfalls of planting too early (e.g. you lose a percentage of ripe pumpkins to spoilage), and not planning ahead how to sell them (an acre is a LOT of pumpkins). With a mountain of pumpkins around for weeks, an energetic spouse that could cook, and four hungry kids to feed, also found out how many types of food you can make out of the big orange guys. Cake, cooked seeds, bread, muffins and lots more. (Still am fond of the seeds, but the seeds sold in convenience stores as snacks seem to be more salt than pumpkin.)

The big cucumber garden was another education. Those things multiply like rabbits. I was picking and hauling bushels of them every week of a long summer. Folks, if every friend you know were to relieve you of a few cucumbers every day (NOT the case), you still would have enough left from a big garden to keep a local supermarket overloaded. Most of mine were given to a home for the aged in the next town. Though I've heard they have about as much nutritive value as ice cubes, I'm still wild about them. At least they are not fattening.

There are few vegetables (and little other food) that I am not fond of. However, any variety of egg plant is forever safe from my fork. But my dear mother was very fond of the long, shiny critters, so one year I planted a bunch for her. They turned out famously, and were pretty easy to grow. Some have trouble with bugs in eggplant, but that year the insects missed mine.

Never had good luck with watermelon or cantaloupe, and this was vexing because the neighbors then had lots of luck. The few times I tried, the fruits looked great but had little sweetness. The groundhogs on our place did like my watermelons - at least until they got inside the shell.

Bush beans were another matter - hardly ever missed with those. The poled varieties worked OK, but for me were not worth the extra trouble. One nice thing about pole beans, though, is the beauty of the plants. The vines are fun to watch grow and wind about. They often threaten to cover everything - like vetch or morning glories loose in a ripe wheat field.

A good test of the real value of a garden goody is the percentage lost to the picker. For me, there is no competition for most-threatened species. Although strawberries are not too safe, sweet Spring peas from my diggings have the hardest time getting to the table. On some days only about half make it. Especially the Early Marvel variety. Seems like since birth I've had the urge to nibble this natural snack raw, cooked, or frozen - any way except completely dried. Also, like pole bean vines (if a little less so) the pea plants are attractive. The low windings that produce English peas (as the peas are known some places here in the South) look like toy miniatures of more serious bearers. The flowers are delicate and pretty against the green plants, and the peas thrive in cool, short days when the big hitters of summer will not grow much. While the crop does not produce much for the labor nor last long, pea picking and popping is a treasured rite of Spring.


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