Last year, I had a terrible time with peas. Very low germination. And, of the plants that came up, at least half mysteriously withered within a couple of weeks. All in all, I got about ten pods for fifteen feet of row. Meaning I would have had better results if I had just left the seeds in the fridge. Epic fail.
I tried again this year, planting my peas February 22. And I got a lot of encouragement from all of you that peas are easy to grow, last year must have been a fluke, and this year would certainly be my year for a bumper crop. So I went a week without worrying. But the second week after planting, I started getting nervous. I mean, what could they possibly be doing down there for fourteen days? By Day 16, I was sure that, once again, my peas had decided they would rather die early deaths than ever be seen in my garden.
Then, just a few days ago, as I was bending down to check out some new growth on the neighboring strawberries, I saw it: a tiny, hunched-over sheaf of green poking up through the now-crusty soil. A tiny, solitary hero! Even if I had unintentionally killed the rest, this one was bravely soldiering on!
And, as it turns out, over the next three days, that little sprout was joined by a whole company of friends, as they one by one heaved aside soil that was caked hard by last week’s rains and this week’s baking sun. The strength of these little guys is prodigious! My Mammoth Melting Sugar snow peas, Amish Snap peas, and even the three-year-old Burpeeana Early peas all beautifully unfurled into the sun.
Which meant I needed to make a pea trellis. I’d put it off because…well, because frankly I was skeptical that there would be anything to grow on it. But two of my three varieties are climbers, and the seed catalog says Amish Snap is “extra tall.” So, motivated by newly renewed visions of gorgeous clambering vines, I marched back into the woods behind our house and sawed off some not-too-crooked saplings of ailanthus, a so-called “weed tree” that’s very useful for garden supports. And since it grows incredibly fast, I don’t have to feel at all guilty about cutting it down. I have read that ailanthus produces chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants, but I used it for all sorts of things last year and didn’t notice any negative effects. Maybe once the wood is dead it’s not such a big deal? Does anyone else use this tree for this kind of thing?
Anyway, I pushed several of the poles into the ground around my row of peas, put an extra long one across the top, and lashed everything together with cotton string. (Something heavier-duty probably would have been better, but, well, that’s what I had. If it falls apart in the next couple of days, I’ll just put it back together.) Then I wrapped string around the bottoms of the poles and ran it from this base up and over the crosspiece at the top, for the peas to wrap their tendrils around and climb. I’m not absolutely sure it’s strong enough–I don’t know how heavy mature pea vines are, and we do get some pretty high winds around here–but the ailanthus trees are very flexible, and I’m hoping that that, along with the bracing you can see in the photo, will keep the whole thing standing.