The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
March 6, 2013The pea seeds were planted two weeks ago and we anticipate their emergence any day, so it is not too soon to gather the sticks needed for the trellising of them. There are several ways to support the peas depending on the variety and how vigorous their growth. For the smaller, earlier varieties such as the Prince Albert and the Sickle pea we use a method recommended by John Rutter in Modern Eden published in England in 1767. Plant the seeds in two rows, approximately one foot apart, setting the peas with a dibble at two inches one from the other. “When they are half a foot high,” Mr. Rutter advised, “some boughs with all the twigs upon them should be stuck into the ground between the rows for them to climb upon.” In this manner, two rows of peas are trellised by a single row of twigs. Once the pea season is over, the entire row of sticks and pea vines can be rolled up and easily disposed. For the larger, later varieties such as the Marrowfat and Blue Prussian peas we use a somewhat more substantial system. As these types of peas will often grow six to eight feet tall we find they are better grown in an elongated teepee-like structure. To construct this trellis, begin by placing paired rows of six- to eight-foot sticks in the ground, one on either side of the row of peas. Tie the paired sticks together over the center of the row and then add long horizontal sticks across the top and at intervals along the sides to bind them together. This trellis provides a form for the peas to climb upon as well as a structure around which to wrap cheesecloth that will effectively exclude the rabbits, which can be a particularly pernicious pest in the early spring garden. If well constructed, this trellis can be re-used to grow pole beans on after the peas have been harvested.
Once the peas begin to flower, they are greatly annoyed by any disturbance to their roots, so any weeding should be done with great care and with as little disruption to the pea roots as possible. It will serve the gardener well to conduct a thorough weeding while the peas are young and the weeds are small.
For a fuller discussion of the culture of peas you are invited to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners (Rodale Press)