words + photographs Julie Johnson
At the start of elementary school, my family lived in Minnesota, close to the Twin Cities. You could say Prince and I were practically neighbors. #80sGirl Mary Hefner – neighbor lady, mother of two sons and one daughter, taker carer of a German Shepherd – taught swim lessons to me and my school of friends. Sometimes after watching me belly flop like a boss (darn proper diving technique), she invited me to see what was growing in her backyard garden. On one particularly fateful day, she introduced me to the sweetest gem of green I had ever tasted.
It wasn’t cooked. It wasn’t stinky. It wasn’t mushy. Instead, this round object of summer* delight was a tender bite of deliciousness.
I grew a handful of peas years ago, but harvesting less than a bushel or a peck left pea plants off my garden must-haves ever since. Last year, my mom took notice of the lack of legumes and quipped, “I figured you would have planted some peas.” I couldn’t help but reminisce of the long ago days of swimming-my-heart-out before gobbling-my-neighbor’s-garden-produce, so for a year now, I have strategized how to fit pea plants in one of my two 2’ x 8’ elevated garden beds, while leaving space for the usuals: lettuce, radishes, onions (because, apparently, onions and peas squabble? Or so the Internet says.) Thanks to Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company^ and Square Foot Gardening, I have a proper plan, and its name is “Little Marvel Garden Pea.”
Kathy McFarland, who talks gardening all day, every day++ at Baker Creek through media and public relations, says, “Little Marvel is one of my favorite varieties because it is a bush-type pea that does not have to have a trellis to climb.”
“It has a sweeter taste than many of the other peas. It tends to have less starchy taste to it.”
I have read peas do not like to be transplanted, so consider this a cautionary tale and feel free to do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do.
On Feb. 23, I planted nine Little Marvel peas in newspaper pots I made using a wooden pot-making contraption given to me for Christmas last year. I remember the 23rd well: The day was sunny and a warm 71 degrees. Fun fact: I have started a gardening notebook. When recording details about all the vegetables and flowers dancing in my head, I thought it a good idea to write down weather conditions (inspired by my mom). After the previous two weeks in February of drastically colder-than-freezing temperatures, 71 degrees and sunshine must have felt in.cred.ible.
By March 1, one Little Marvel was beginning to peek through the seed starting medium^^. Five days later, all but one was growing. March 2, I planted nine more seeds. Then on March 12, I planted a final nine Little Marvels.
“I find peas very easy to grow,” says our gardening friend Kathy, who has been growing peas for about four decades. “The best piece of advice I would give is to not be concerned about planting peas too early. They can be direct seeded into the ground as soon as the soil can be worked. They tolerate frosts and even light freezes without major damage.”
Other pea varieties to try, according to Kathy McFarland, media and public relations at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield.
- Snow peas Mammoth Melting Sugar and Oregon Sugar Pod are my two favorite varieties for eating the entire pods. They are tender and sweet and somewhat forgiving if left on the vine a little longer than some.
- Snap peas Sugar Ann and Sugar Daddy are also good choices and quite popular with gardeners. I just find them a little more tough, as they were developed as a cross between snow peas and garden peas. I like to put the entire snow pea pods in salads, eat them raw as snack, or sauté them in butter. I also blanch them and freeze to cook later. Those are the same ways I use Little Marvel peas after I have shelled them.
Three weeks after turning loose the first Little Marvel seed, I transplanted each pea and pot to one of my elevated garden beds. No roots were harmed in the making of this move. Research into the world of Square Foot Gardening explained nine pea plants fit in one square foot. Today, I am happy to report all 27 seeds sprouted into healthy plants and are well on their way to climbing to their full potential, which includes producing plenty of health-benefiting peas to be eaten by yours truly.
“One of my favorite springtime dishes when growing up was creamed new peas and potatoes,” says Kathy, apparently speaking on behalf of my parents and grandparents. “Little Marvel is excellent creamed with new potatoes.”
Whether creamed or (ahem) not creamed, peas are without a doubt scrumptious with new potatoes. Or older potatoes. Or mashed potatoes. Or scalloped potatoes. Even non-potato food dishes.
What’s more, peas kick booty when it comes to good-for-you nutrition. According to “Nutrition Source,” a website hosted by Harvard School of Public Health, legumes (pea pods) and pulses (peas) cheer you on by offering gifts of protein, folate, fiber (both soluble and insoluble), iron, phosphorous and both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
A quick search of the web suggests pea plants take 60-70 days to begin producing the beloved pea. A not-so-quick, several-times-a-day check of my garden suggests my pea plants are taking their good, sweet, easy, no rush, enjoying-the-weather, what?-me-hurry? time. No flowers. No pea pods. No peas. No sneaky snacks. I will update as needed.
* Again, Minnesota.
^ Baker Creek Heirloom Seed company is planted in Mansfield. Visit them online at rareseeds.com to buy Little Marvel pea for next year’s garden or to learn about all sorts of vegetables and flowers.
++ I mean, I would if I worked at Baker Creek.
^^ I don’t follow proper seed-starting etiquette. I used a pre-mixed seed starting medium from a national company. You might check out a seed-starting video by Baker Creek here.
A couple days (May 3) after this original post, I went outside to find one bloomin’ pea. One week later, a pea pod was growing in the rain. Yesterday (May 14), I had several pea pods and many blooms.