Suitable days for working outside have been few and far between this spring. But on Friday, we took advantage of calm winds and temperatures in the 50s to transplant our pea seedlings that we had started inside. Although many farmers have switched to growing shorter plants such as the Sugar Ann that don't need trellises, we prefer taller varieties that we find have better flavor such as the Super Sugar Snaps from Johnny's. We are also trying a row of the original sugar snaps, which when successful, are by far the sweetest and most flavorful. They are also the trickiest to grow and are susceptible to off types - plants that produce peas that are practically inedible.
In the past, we have had mixed success with peas. The plants prefer cooler weather, so it is best to get them out early. But planting early leaves little time to prep the soil, especially if like this year, spring comes late. Seeds placed directly in the soil often don't make it either because they rot or get eaten. The plants also don't cast much shade, so we have had difficulty keeping weeds under control.
We have settled on a pea-planting method that has at least worked well for us the past couple of seasons. The preceding fall, we prepare raised beds that are ready for planting whenever we decide the time is right. We start the pea plants indoors and then transplant them into the beds. For weed control, we originally transplanted into biodegradable black mulch, but if the weather gets hot, the seedlings keel over onto the hot plastic and wither in the scorching sun. We now surround the fragile young plants with straw, which not only suppresses the weeds, but protects the plants from the sun and wind.
Last year, the temperature reached into the 80s around the time we transplanted. This year, the temperature fell into the 30s with a stiff wind the day after we transplanted. The forecast is for a day of freezing rain followed by torrential rains. Our hope is that the straw will help shelter the peas from this volatile weather.