Shelling peas

After tearing back the stem end of pea pods, use thumb pressure to open the pods and expose the peas.

Last week, it was pest patrol; this week, it is pea patrol. Peas are ripening fast and need to be picked routinely, lest the peas become what my family refers to as “bowling balls.” Actually, my pea picking began almost two weeks ago, when the first of the several varieties planted began to ripen. This variety, called "Strike,", is noted for its short maturation time, taking only 52 days from germination to harvest ... and the resulting peas are oooh so sweet. Five days later, a second variety called "Topps" began taking its turn. There are three more varieties in the waiting line.

Pea plants

Pea plants, even the short ones, take up less garden space when grown on a fence or trellis.

Obviously, the reason for planting so many varieties, each with a different date to maturity, is to extend the harvest season for peas, one of this family’s favorite vegetables. I expect to be harvesting peas through June and well into July. Growing so many peas does not take up as much garden space as one might expect, since they are all grown on sections of fence adapted as trellis.

Regardless of variety, once the harvest for each begins, picking should be done no less often than at two-day intervals. The best time to pick peas is early morning because this is when their sugar content is highest. When picking peas, snip or break off those pods which are swelled to a cylindrical shape and the rounded peas within can be easily felt. Unless planning to have some peas for breakfast, the unshelled pods should be refrigerated since the sugars in the peas begin to convert to starch soon after harvest.

Relaxing task

Pea shelling is a relaxing task for evening enjoyment.

Besides the eating, one of the most enjoyable aspects of pea picking is the shelling. It has become a family affair. In the evening, we’ll all sit around the table on the back porch and shell the peas. There is a little bit of technique involved in shelling, so as to avoid crushing the tender peas within the pods. Start by grasping the stem end and tear it backwards along the length of the pod. Then, with gentle thumb pressure, the pods will easily open up revealing the peas which can now be popped into your mouth ... or placed in a bowl.

Peas which won’t be part of the evening meal should be refrigerated for the next day or be frozen. To freeze peas, blanch them in boiling water for two minutes and then cool them in ice water before packaging for freezing, preferably using a vacuum sealer.

When it comes to meals in this household, a common request is “peas please!”


Pick peas first and then address these other gardening pleasures:

Hilled potatoes

Hill up soil around the stems of potato plants to promote tuber development. 

  • Continue to hill up (mound) soil around potato plants. Since potato tubers form along the stem portion of the plant which is below ground, hilling soil will promote development of the tubers. Usually hilling must be done two or three times during the growing season. The same rule applies to potatoes which are growing with a deep layer of straw placed around the stems rather than soil.
  • Watch for vole activity in the garden. Voles love to dine on root crops and potatoes, including sweet potatoes. I’ve observed a large vole scooting from beneath rhubarb plants and into the straw mulch around some of our potato plants. I’ll use a live trap to capture and relocate the critter. With smaller voles and mice, regular mouse traps may be used, but cover each with a crate, such as those in which clementines are sold, in order to prevent birds from getting caught in the traps.
  • Thin carrots so as to leave about 2 inches between the seedlings. Save the young plants that have been pulled up and use the leaves in salads. Yes, they are edible.
  • Continue to harvest asparagus for another week and then stop for this year. Continuing to harvest beyond that time depletes the food reserves in the plants with the result of reduced yields next year.
  • Watch for plant sales at local nurseries and garden centers. Many stores reduce prices in order to reduce over-stocked plants. It’s not too late to plant annual flowers though some overgrown specimens may need a little support initially to remain upright. Be sure to water these at least once a week or more often if Mother Nature turns off the faucet.
  • Consider drought tolerance when shopping for trees to add to the landscape. Some examples of drought-tolerant trees include crabapple, paper bark maple (Acer griseum), golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata), American smoketree (Continus obovatus) and Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’).
  • Mow down the foliage of daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs that are growing in sections of lawn now that their leaves have dried and turned brown. It might be easier to mow these areas, which also include the tall grass, by first cutting down the grass and bulb foliage with a string trimmer. Also, cut back the dried leaves of spring bulbs growing in flower beds and borders. This would be a good time to dig up and divide those bulbs if desired. The individual bulbs may then be replanted or stored in a cool, dry location until fall.
  • Deadhead annuals which have bloomed earlier this month. This will encourage development of more flower buds. To encourage bushy growth, cut back some of the longer stems.

Garden Journal columnist Ron Kujawski began gardening at an early age on his family's onion farm in upstate New York. Although now retired, he spent most of his career teaching at the UMass Extension Service.