English peas

March 24th, 2009
Pisum sativum, English peas ‘Green Arrow’

Although some of you are just putting in your spring veggies (or are still snow bound), here in Austin I’ve already pulled out my cool weather plants like broccoli and English peas. I think the peas normally might have lasted longer but Austin had a week of days in the mid-80s and after that the peas stopped flowering and looked like they were at the end of their season. I needed the space for warm weather plants so out they came.

I planted the English peas as part of my new fall vegetable garden. After being inspired by the Austin Master Gardener’s tour last April, I decided to put in a raised bed for fall vegetables. Over the winter months this spot of the yard gets full sun; in the summer it is in heavy shade. It is also on the south side of the house, protected from cold winds from the north. I have floating row covers for frosty nights. Zanthan Gardens did not experience a hard freeze at all in winter 2008/2009.

English peas

This was my first experience growing English peas. I’ve grown sugar snap peas before but AJM turned up his nose at them. My Englishman wanted English peas. I bought Botanic Interests ‘Green Arrow’ peas from Central Market because they were at hand. Only after I planted them did I learn they were the same peas that Carol @ May Dreams Gardens favors.

Garden History

Plant one 4-foot row of peas.
The English peas are up. They started poking up last Sunday but today they have their true leaves. I should plant another row.
Plant two more 4-foot rows of peas.
I don’t have a record of the first flower, but I did include it for GBBD for December, 2008. They are in full flower when I take a photo of them for GBBD January 2009.
The English peas are finally blooming as if they meant it. Do they flower best after the solstice like sweet peas?
First harvest. Afraid it will freeze tonight so pick a ripe handful.
Finally harvest enough peas to serve for dinner.
Pick last of the English peas. Wiped out by three 80° days last week. Still, harvested more than I planted which is a plus. They were very yummy.

English peas


When I served AJM some peas he said, “Mmmm. You sneaked a little butter on them.” I hadn’t. I’d added only the tiniest pinch of salt. Shelled right after picking and put directly into boiling water, these peas were sweet (but not sugary sweet) and, yes, almost creamy.

Lessons Learned

Overall, I think I was only mildly successful growing English peas this first time. I’m definitely going to try them again next year. This is what I’ll do differently.

1. Plant more peas.
One packet of seed planted 15 feet of peas and that is not enough for the two of us (unless I figure out how to increase yields–‘Green Arrow’ is supposed to be very high-yielding). While they were bearing, I picked peas about every other day but usually I only had enough peas to throw into rice. Only a couple of times did I get enough for a small side dish.

2. Grow them up a net.
Although ‘Green Arrow’ is a dwarf variety, peas like to grow upward. I used twigs and sticks for stakes but this was inefficient. They flopped too much and it was hard to harvest them. I missed harvesting some peas in their prime and by the time I found them they were hard and starchy.

I also need to grow them in the north-most rows of my 48-square foot raised vegetable garden because they shade everything to the north of them.

3. Stagger plantings.
I’m still not sure when is the best time for planting peas in Austin. So next year I will stagger my plantings. If we’re still having 100 degree days in September, I don’t think I can plant them any earlier. But since they didn’t really begin flowering until after the winter solstice, I will try planting some later to see if I can extend the season into March and April.

Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening suggests planting peas 8-10 weeks before the first average frost date (which I did) and 4-6 weeks before the last average frost date. This was an unusually hot and dry winter for Austin: we had 9 days in the 80s between our average frost dates. Peas don’t seem to like temperatures in the 80s. The seed packet confirms this.

Peas will not be successful if they are not ready for harvest before temperatures rise into the upper 70s and low 80s.

Any other advice from anyone growing peas successfully in central Texas? I’m especially interested in knowing when you plant them.

‘Persimmon’ (possibly the best tomato I’ve ever tasted) and ‘Black Krim’ (which I figure prefers cooler climates).

February 25th, 2009
In Search of the Perfect Tomato

I used to be more successful growing tomatoes than I am now. I even used to grow unusual varieties of tomato from seed, starting them on top of my computer monitor in my office (excellent source of bottom heat). Now I work at home, my computer has a flatscreen monitor, and I barely have enough sunlight in my yard in the summer to support 5 tomato plants. So rather than start my own tomatoes from seed, I find it cheaper to pick up a half dozen plants from a local nursery. I’ve found that in Austin, the best source of unusual and heirloom varieties (the kind I would have grown from seed myself) is Gardens.

I don’t have much room to play so I want every tomato I grow this year to be something special. Gardens provided their list of tomatoes (see below) and I’ve spent the last week researching them, trying to decide which ones to try this year. I was hoping for some good information from the garden blogosphere–I think this is precisely the kind of information in which bloggers could outdo print garden publication. But for the most part I’ve been disappointed.

Hands down the best garden blogging resource for tomato reviews I’ve come across is Hanna’s Tomato Tastings at This Garden is Illegal. For the last three years Hanna has grown a variety of unusual tomatoes and written extensive reviews of her experience. If you’re looking for tomato suggestions, start there.

Maybe I’ve just overlooked your brilliant tomato review. If you’ve written a post on any of the following tomatoes, or have recommendations for or against, provide a link and I’ll add it to this post. If you didn’t blog about it, just share your experience in the comments.

Help me find the perfect tomato.