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Thursday, March 18, 2004 10:35 pm

Peas’ time

art915

As a child, you probably didn't like eating your vegetables. Fortunately, my son will eat almost any vegetable (except beets, okra and Brussels sprouts). His love for fresh vegetables started with venturing out to his Grandma's vegetable garden and picking and eating snap peas right off the vine.

Peas are hardy, vigorous, and good for you. They're packed with flavor, crunch, vitamins, and minerals. And they're getting the recognition they deserve: 2004 has been designated the "Year of the Pea," according to the National Garden Bureau, an authoritative source of gardening information.

There are three types of peas that are popular with gardeners: English peas, snow peas, and snap peas.

English peas, also known as garden peas or shelling peas, have smooth or wrinkled edible seeds. Harvest English peas when pods are bright green and feel velvety. Look for nicely rounded pods with peas inside just beginning to swell. If the pod is dull green and peas are prominent, peas have passed their prime. Varieties with wrinkled seeds are supposedly sweeter than smooth seeds. A few varieties resistant to fusarium wilt include: 'Daybreak,' 'Little Marvel,' 'Mr. Big,' and 'Green Arrow.'

Snow peas and snap peas have edible pods. Snap peas have low-fiber pods that can be snapped and eaten along with the immature peas inside. Harvest snap peas just as the pods start to fatten. Eat them raw or cooked. Harvest snow peas when the pods are flat and tender, before the peas inside develop. A few varieties of edible peas to consider: 'Sugar Snap,' ' Sugar Ann,' 'Snowbird,' 'Mammoth Melting Sugar,' and 'Snowflake.' Snap peas eaten right out of the garden are my favorite.

Pea-planting time is just around the corner. A sign that spring has arrived, peas thrive in cool, moist weather and produce best in cool, moderate climates. Plant them when soil temperatures reach 45 degrees Fahrenheit, around mid-March. Plant seeds 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep; seeds will germinate in seven to ten days. Depending on the variety, most plants will have mature pea pods within 55 to 70 days.

Peas demand little attention after planting -- except to harvest the bounty every one to three days.

If you don't have a vegetable garden or lack backyard space, you can grow peas in a large container, 12 to 24 inches in diameter, or in a half-barrel. Sow peas one to two inches deep in good potting soil. The harvest will not be as bountiful but a few garden fresh peas are better than none.

To learn more, visit the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Corner, "Watch Your Garden Grow" Web site at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/veggies/index.html.


Divide and conquer

Check your ornamental grasses. If new growth only appears at the edges, it's time for action. The best time to divide ornamental grasses is during spring, just as they are coming out of dormancy.

To learn how to divide ornamental grasses the correct way, join the Master Gardeners at noon on Tuesday, March 23, at the University of Illinois Extension building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Maintenance and selection of ornamental grasses will also be discussed.

For more information, call 782-4617.

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