Cool Beans

When we think of legumes, we think of peas and beans, but those common foods are just the beginning. The pea family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) is the third largest family of plants, with somewhere between 13,000 and 19,000 species (botanists disagree) that range from large trees to sprawling vines to shrubs and small forbs. They may look quite different from one another, but a careful examination will reveal a number of similarities, making the members of this fascinating family fairly easy to identify.

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Timing Peas

pea-vines-home-lahIt’s almost Saint Patrick’s Day, the traditional planting date for peas. Should you sow on March 17?

Not if you live along the Front Range! While St. Patty’s Day may work fine for New England, it’s probably the wrong day to plant for much of the country.

If you live in a warm climate (E.g., parts of California, Florida, and Arizona), you are far too late. Peas should be planted as a winter crop, so they can grow while the weather is cool and humidity is higher.

And if you live here in the Pikes Peak area, mid-March is much too early. Sure, peas planted now may survive and grow and produce a crop. But they may also rot in too-cold soil, waiting for temperatures at which they can germinate.

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Cool Crops

misting-lettuce-seedlings-lahAt last! After a long winter wait, it’s finally time to get outside, crumble some soil in our fingers, and dig in. Yes, it’s finally time to plant our vegetable gardens—or at least the first crops. While we need to wait a bit longer for frost-tender plants, there are many cool season vegetables that can handle cold nights and a bit of frost. Here are some crops that you can transplant or direct seed into the garden right now.

There are three types of peas, and this is a great time to plant all of them. They prefer cool weather, and need to mature before the heat of summer stunts their growth. Select varieties that mature quickly. Most grow on dwarf vines, two to three feet tall. They will need some support—try some chicken wire or netting stretched along a fence or between two posts.

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Peas & Carrots

Peas and carrots are a classic couple in the kitchen, but what about the garden?

Normally, peas are sown in early spring. The traditional date is St. Patrick’s Day. While that may work in gentler climes, at 7,000 ft. elevation I would need a drill to create holes in my frozen ground. I usually plant a month later, on Tax Day. At least it gives me something to enjoy on that date.

This year, weekly snowstorms have delayed all my gardening chores. I finally got my peas into the ground on May 6. I don’t have great expectations for the harvest. Maybe we’ll have a cool start to the summer, and my husband will get to enjoy his Sugar Snaps. Maybe not. That’s the gamble of gardening in Colorado.

carrots-csu-lah-058Carrots, on the other hand, are usually planted a week or two before the average last frost date. The cool temperatures and snow-damp soil help keep the seeds from drying out during the three weeks it takes them to germinate.

This year, I sowed carrots on the same day as the peas. At least they’re right on schedule. I took the time to arrange the seeds in blocks of 16 per square foot, so I won’t have much thinning to do later. In my 4 x 4 foot carrot bed, that gives me 256 carrots—plenty for our needs.

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