Every vegetable gardener anxiously waits for the day when she can plant the traditional first crop of the season: peas. As soon as the soil temperature reaches about 40 degrees -- about mid-March in Martha's Connecticut garden -- it is time to start sowing this year's harvest.
Peas, with their easy-to-handle seeds and fast growth rate, are among the most satisfying and delicious vegetables to grow. In fact, peas have been cultivated for thousands of years, first in the Near East and southern Europe, which accounts for the hundreds of varieties that suit nearly every taste. Each year, Martha likes to plant several types: sugar peas, snow peas in their edible pods, petit pois, and peas for using dry in dishes such as pea soup.
Treating peas with a dose of inoculant powder before planting will increase the crop's yield. You won't need to use much inoculant powder for it to be effective, but you can't use too much -- it's harmless. Plant peas in a sunny spot and in compost-enriched soil with good drainage. (Be aware though, that too much nitrogen in the soil yields viney plants with few pods.)
Erect slatted folding trellises about four feet high to support the plants while they grow. You can also make trellises from netting stretched between posts, or twiggy tree branches saved from pruning. Use a garden reel to mark the rows with string. Then use a hoe to make trenches for planting. Sow the seeds thickly (about an inch apart). Water well, and keep the soil moist throughout the growing season.
Once the plants mature, pick the pods every day to prolong the harvest. Expect your first crop in mid-June to early July. Eat them fresh from the garden or refrigerate them immediately.