Ron Kujawski: Extending pea-picking season
Since the beginning of July, we've been enjoying fresh peas from the garden almost every day. That may seem boring to some people, most likely those who have only tasted the mush known as canned peas, but fresh peas adapt to a myriad of recipes to sustain even the most educated palate. (How does one educate a palate -- home schooling?)
My wife, CEO of food preservation in our household, does freeze the surplus for off-season consumption, but, because they lose their texture in the freezing process, they never taste as good as peas cooked the same day as harvested.
Sadly, pea picking has about ended for this year, or has it? I'm doing two things to extend the pea season. First, I'm planting some of my left-over pea seed in anticipation of a fall harvest. Because peas prefer a cool growing season, mid-summer sowing of peas is a bit tricky. For best results, plant only bush varieties and sow seeds two inches deep rather than the usual one-inch deep. The seeds will germinate quicker than in spring, but growth will be slowed by summer heat. To help peas deal with the heat, shade them and keep the soil moist with frequent watering. Shade can be provided by growing peas among taller plants such as corn, or by using a covering of lattice or shade cloth. Though peas are frost tolerant, cover the mature plants with protective row covers when hard freezes are predicted in fall.
The second thing I'm going to try is entirely experimental. You may have noticed that new shoots are sprouting at the base of spent pea plants. Some of these even have flowers on them. Instead of pulling up all the spent plants (as I suggested last week), I'll cut back old stems on one row of peas to just above the sprouts. Then, I'll side-dress the plants with fertilizer, provide shade and water, and see what happens.
Tune your attention to these tasks:
n Prop up bean plants to keep bean pods from contacting wet soil. Mature bean plants have a tendency to flop over, often with the aid of strong winds that accompany summer thunderstorms. Bean pods in contact with wet soil tend to rot. To prop up beans plants, place stakes at the ends of each row and run string from the stakes along each side of the row about one foot above ground.
n Apply an insecticide containing B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis) or spinosad to the silks on ears of corn at one week intervals to control corn earworm. Continue applications until the silks have turned brown.
n Harvest garlic when one third to one half of the leaves have turned yellow or brown. If you wait too long, the skin, which is normally tightly wrapped around the bulb, will break and the cloves will separate. The separated and skinless cloves easily blemish and do not store well. When harvesting, pull up the entire plant. Tie plants in bunches and hang them from the rafters in a well-ventilated garage or garden shed for about a month to cure. The plants may also be spread out on the floor in a dark, airy location.
n Give your lawn mower a mid-summer tune up. Sharpen the blade, change the oil, clean the air filter and remove caked-on grass beneath the mower deck. Always disconnect the spark plug before working on power equipment.
n Divide daylilies soon after they have completed their flowering. Daylilies need to be divided about every four or five years; otherwise they get too crowded and flowering is reduced. Don't be too fussy about dividing these plants. They are tough. I once left a division on the surface of the ground and it took root and has been growing well and flowering for five years.