Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Better Way to Get Your Peas Started

I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation.  It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

In years past I used to start my peas outside in late February with not so great success. Here in the Pacific Northwest our damp cool weather is great for pea germination but also heavenly for slugs that usually ate more than their fair share of my emerging seedlings. So I began sowing my peas indoors in a variety of cell trays and soils, experimenting to find the right mix.  A couple of years ago I began soaking the seed 24 hrs before planting to plump them and speed up the process of germination. I’d been doing this soaking method with corn for many years with great success. Planting the plumped peas and watering them after planting seemed to work ok but I only usually got half germination and the other half rotted, gooey seed every time. Clearly too much water. As I stated in the previous post, moisture, air and temperature is a delicate balance for good germination. I should add here that old seed does not germinate well either but I knew my seed was still viable.

 Fast forward to last year when I used to work with Sarah, a horticulturist at the greenhouse where I volunteer. She always grew her crops on the drier side of usual. A week ago while buying a new package of peas, since more than half of those I sowed on February 15 have now rotted, I talked to the proprietor about soaking pea seed. He suggested never soak the seed more than one hour and rather than watering them into the soil, use a mister to keep the soil barely moist but never dry. If you are using peat-less potting soil, it may have some moisture in it straight from the bag, mine did. Keeping what he said in mind and the success Sarah had with her drier growing methods I tried it. I sowed the seed on February 26 and now 8 days later nearly all have emerged with the few remaining beginning to push up the soil so I can already see I have 100% germination success!
 So from now on I will be keeping to this procedure:

  • I start my pea seed in plastic cell packs indoors to keep slugs from mowing over the emerging crop.

  • I soaked the peas for 1 hour or a little less, not more. This time I am planting Cascadia snap peas.

  • I used standard organic potting soil as pea seed is large enough to push through the chunkiness of potting soil, (tiny seeds like basil, lettuce and tomato will do better in a fine seedling mix which contains peat). Make sure your soil of choice is organic with no fertilizers or wetting agents added.

  • I used a mister to add moisture rather than a watering can only as needed, keeping the soil barely, slightly moist.

  • I put the planted cells in a recycled “clam shell” food container (I think it had baby croissants in it from the bakery originally) to hold in moisture so I actually didn’t have to mist much at all. If you don’t cover your cells you may need to mist a little more often. A plastic dome  like cover works like a greenhouse and recycles its own moisture which will collect on the top and drip back down to the soil.

  • I did not use a seedling heat mat this time but have in the past. Peas don’t really need it.
My peas are well on their way to being happy vines! As they get a little bigger and some leaves start to form I’ll harden them off for covered outdoor temperatures so I can put them outside under my little plastic cover on the south side of my house where they will get better light. When they are a good 6 inches (15cm) or so tall I’ll harden them off again for no protection at all, and then plant them around my bamboo teepee. I’ll be picking peas in no time, woohoo!

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Tete-a-Tete daffodil, Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Rhododendron, Sarcococca confusa,

Author’s photo