Got yer peas in yet?

February 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm 2 comments

By Dee Reid

It won't be too long....

When I moved from Washington DC to Chatham County in 1978 there was plenty of culture shock. But the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise of all was to find that nearly everyone grew their own food. I mean everyone.

Chatham is an agricultural county and three decades ago it was even more so. That was before so many mid-size family farms went out of business thanks to ‘”get big or get out” federal farm policies. Back then the farmers all had big vegetable gardens, even though their main commodities — chickens, turkeys, beef, eggs and milk — were shipped out of the county to be processed, sold and consumed elsewhere.

Chatham had no farmer’s markets then and the Carrboro Market was just getting underway. No whole food stores or cooperative groceries either. You had to drive to Chapel Hill to find decent cheese and whole wheat bread, and you couldn’t find a ripe tomato or peach in the local supermarkets if your life depended on it, even at the height of the growing season.

But if you were not a farmer, there still was plenty of real, home-grown food if you knew where to look.

Perhaps that was because our teachers, police officers, feed and seed dealers, bankers, carpenters, nurses, doctors and lawyers were often the sons and daughters of farmers. They knew how and when to sow and harvest.  Regardless of what your day job was, you had a gigantic garden out back and you grew more than you could possibly eat or put up.

And the “back to the land” crowd arrived in the 1960s and ’70s to grow their own food, as a way of becoming more self-reliant. Some of them were early pioneers of Chatham’s small-scale sustainable agriculture movement.

Long before the word locavore had entered our lexicon, my Chatham neighbors and I were gorging on fresh local produce.

This means growing food was a primary topic of conversation. Heaven help you if you launched immediately into an inquiry about the latest gossip without first asking about one’s garden. Never mind, “How’s the family?” At this time of year, the big question always was, “Got yer peas in yet?”

It was a contest of sorts, a race against one’s neighbors, and, more importantly, a race against Winter.  Around here, peas can go in the ground directly from seed in February, just about the time you’re completely fed up with the cold.  For most folks, planting peas was the first official sign that winter would soon be over. Finally.

You can get your garden bed good and ready in January. Once you get a five-day snap of spring weather, you can press your pea seeds directly into the soil and expect them to germinate within a week. Getting your peas in early is what gets you through the rest of the winter doldrums.

So that’s exactly what I did this week-end. Got my sugar-snap peas in the ground and officially opened my backyard gardening season once again.

First I consulted Debbie and Doug’s Piedmont Planting and Harvesting  Guide to make sure I wasn’t acting prematurely.

They advise that trellis peas, like my sugar snaps, can be stuck in the soil anytime after Feb. 15 (and dwarf peas even earlier). If the soil hasn’t warmed up yet, just cover it with plastic until the seeds germinate.

Once the peas germinate, it hardly matters how cold it gets (and yes, we know it will probably freeze again before spring really arrives for good). Not to worry; peas love a good chill.

Same goes for arugula, something we never heard of thirty years ago. Doug and Debbie advise that you can plant argula seeds directly in the soil anytime after Feb. 15.  Once they germinate, they too love the cold.

“Yep, got my peas in, and my arugula,” I can say now, with pride.  “But I sure do wish it would rain.”

Entry filed under: Commentary, Sustainable Food, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Camille  |  February 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Nice one, Dee! I love that you point out how self reliant people were just a couple generations ago and am pleased to share those values with you and many other wonderful people. The seed saving and garden planting we do is a breath of fresh air in a culture largely dependent on processed food and manufactured products.

    Bob’s got our peas in, too. And onions and leeks. Today he started peppers under grow lights from seeds he saved last summer out of Shishitos and Pimentos from Edible Earthscapes and from Doug’s Sweet Jemison’s and Tobagos.

    • 2. Dee  |  February 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm

      Onion and leeks already? I’m impressed, and feeling already behind!


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