Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Archaeologists have found peas in ancient tombs, at Troy (1450 BC) and at Thebes, but no one knows for a fact exactly when people began cultivating them. It may have been as early as the Stone Age. Records indicate that by the Bronze Age (3000 BC), some variety of peas was part of the diet. According to legend, the Chinese believe that emperor Shen Nung (called the Chinese Father of Agriculture) discovered the pea nearly 5000 years ago. By the Middle Ages, peas were stored, dried, used, for Lenten eating and as a hedge against food shortage and famine. Because the dried pea kept indefinitely, it accompanied the English colonists on their way to America. It was one of the first crops planted by the colonists. Late in the 17th century, colonists began to regularly eat peas fresh.

Vigorous breeding programs in Europe and the United States led to peas with improved vigor, disease resistance, flavor, keeping qualities, and higher yields. The biggest advance, however, occurred in 1970, when Calvin Lamborn, a Ph.D. plant scientist working on breeding new shell peas for commercial food processors, discovered an unusual pea plant in his field, what would come to be called an a snap pea. Lamborn saved some of the seeds and continued to select from the subsequent plants. After undergoing rigorous testing in All-America Selections trials, ‘Sugar Snap’ won a Gold Medal in 1979 for its introducers. This plant type is named edible - podded peas or snap peas.

Peas grow well in almost any kind of soil but they do best in a fertile, somewhat sandy soil with good drainage. Peas, like beans, are legumes. Legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, which makes that important nutrient readily available to other plants. With the help of a bacterium that lives in a symbiotic relationship in nodules formed on the roots of the plants, the plants “fix” the nitrogen. The nodules store any excess nitrogen and, as the roots decay, release it into the soil, benefiting plants growing nearby. Pea plants also produce long root systems, which help to loosen the soil as they reach out for moisture. Spent plants decompose into organic matter to further enrich the soil. At the end of the season, simply dig the plants into the soil -- no need to add them to a separate compost pile.

My Snap Peas and Blue Lake Beans are mostly running along the fence line. They start from behind my tomatoes on the first level, then they run up the hill along the fence on the second level. I may stick a couple in along a walkway next to the lawn. They create a really nice texture in the landscape, and its nice to be able to walk along and pick fresh young pods to munch on in the garden.

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