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Choosing Vegetable Varieties: Peas

Peas are my favourite thing to grow. I grow all kinds – traditional shelling peas (some of them get frozen for winter use), crisp and crunchy snap peas, delicate thin snow peas, and soup peas to dry for the winter. All of them grow well here, though there are a few pests and diseases, and dry peas are far more reliable than dry beans if you’re growing them for winter protein.

Read on for my favorite varieties of the different kinds:

sugar snap peas on trellis

Shelling Peas

  • Meteor – a UK variety that grows small pods on small plants but is the fastest pea I’ve ever tried. Always the first shelling pea to be picked, this is always part of the first early batch of peas I plant.
  • Green Arrow – a tallish bush that is super-reliable and a  good cropper. My standard for any planting date.
  • Tall Telephone – takes longer than bush peas to crop, but then keeps on growing and setting new pods until it succumbs to powdery mildew. I’ve been selecting these for longer pods and more pods per vine, from a rather raggedy initial commercial batch from a cheap seed company.

Snap Peas

  • Sugar Snap – a vine that just keeps going and going
  • Cascadia – bush pea that’s very reliable

Snow Peas

  • Oregon sugar pod – big pods, bush plants, long season
  • Purple podded snow pea – this is an old variety that doesn’t have the tenderest pods but it’s worth it for the bright purple colour!

Soup Peas

  • Carlin – this has been my standard for many years. It’s strong-growing vine that dries down very reliably by the first week in August, thus avoiding the September rains that ruin so many dry bean crops here. Again, I am doing some selecting on this for more pods, bigger pods, and stronger vines.

This year I’ll be trying several new-to-me soup peas:  Swedish Red, Ancient Peas, Gold Harvest and Golden Edible Pod (which can be used as a snow pea or dried for a soup pea). I’ll probably have seed to share at Seedy Saturday in 2015.


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Peat vs Coir vs Leaf Mould

Many people feel that using peat in the garden  is environmentally irresponsible, and are looking for alternatives. This article describes coir and leaf mould as alternatives to peat.

Coir is now widely available locally. It comes from coconut husks (a by-product of coconut processing for food)  and you can get it in various textures ranging from coarse chunks to quite fine fibres. It soaks up and holds water well. One big advantage over peat when used in potting soil is that it doesn’t shrink and pull away from the side of the pot if it dries out. The biggest downside to coir for us in Canada is that it has to be transported long distances from its source in India, Sri Lanka and the Pacific.

Leaf mould is not something you buy, it’s something you make in your own garden from local leaves. As such, it’s free in terms of dollars, but it takes time – a little of your time to gather the leaves and store them in a way that will allow them to transform themselves, and several years for the transformation to happen. It’s a long term project but one which can become part of your garden schedule.

Leaf mould contains a range of micronutrients for plants, and is normally about pH neutral. It holds water very well. You make it by stacking leaves in a big pile and leaving it to rot, or by filling plastic garbage bags with leaves and letting them rot. Because leaves are decomposed mostly by fungi, oxygen isn’t needed as much as with a compost pile, but moisture definitely is. Some kind of enclosure is useful to keep the leaves from blowing away. Shredding them before storing will speed up decomposition, but unshredded leaves will work fine, just take longer. A mix of leaves will rot better  than all one kind, and adding a bit of compost or soil to the pile will get things started more quickly.


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New Year’s Resolutions for Gardeners

I’m not big on making resolutions for the New Year, but maybe I should be! There are a few things I could do that would make gardening more productive, and maybe even more fun…

  • Keep better records. I do keep some, especially to do with seeding and transplanting dates, but I rely on (fallible) memory for a lot of other things. It would be especially interesting to have a record of harvest amounts and dates, something I did when I was market gardening and selling my produce, but not since.
  • Rebuild the hoophouse! The poor thing has been sitting there uncovered for 18 months now, and it’s not doing us any good that way. Plus, it looks messy.
  • Make a place to relax in the garden, and then relax in it. Without getting up to “just pull a few weeds over there…”
  • Build surrounds around some of our heaped-up raised beds. We’ve got the wood, and it needs doing… I just get overtaken by the need to Plant Something In That Bed and before you know it, building a surround round  the planted bed would cause too much disturbance.

I could keep going, there are so many plans and ideas that would be great to turn into reality, but there’s only so much time and energy in one year!

What are your gardening resolutions this year?


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A Gardener’s Christmas

So what does a keen gardener do over Christmas, when the garden is soaking wet or snowy, the weather is freezing cold, and working outside seems like a game for crazy people…?

This is what this gardener is planning 🙂

  • Read new gardening books. Dead-tree books from our local indie bookstore, Breakwater Books, and Kindle books on my tablet. It’s amazing that there are still new things to say about gardening, but people still  manage to do so. This year there are plenty of Permaculture books in the mix.
  • Plant seeds! In my previous post I told you about Winter Sowing, and that’s what I’ll be doing. One of the nice things about winter sowing is that you can cheerfully sow old seed without a big investment in fuss or containers: if it comes up, great, but if not, no big loss.
  • Read seed catalogs. Can get lost in these for hours on end 🙂
  • Eat homegrown food. This does require going outside in the wet if I want to harvest parsnips and brussels sprouts, but it’s worth it. And there are potatoes, squash, garlic and other stored veggies to choose from inside.
  • Dream and plan next year’s garden. With all the factors of crop rotation, shade, soil, deerproof-ness, timing, etc this can take a while, so it’s best to start early.

Whatever your Christmas gardening plans, I hope you have a pleasant and peaceful holiday.

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Winter Sowing – easy way to start lots of plants for your garden

Winter sown milk jugs
Winter sown milk jugs

Starting seeds indoors can take up a lot of space. Outdoors, things take a long time and can get destroyed by weather and animals.

Winter Sowing is a method which lets you sow your seeds indoors, then set them outdoors but protected, so they get started sooner and are less likely to be damaged. And no, you don’t need a greenhouse!

One of the best parts is that you get to play in the dirt in the winter – I usually start in December. All that pent-up gardening energy from reading the seed catalogs can be put to good use right away!

Here are a couple of links to get you started:

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Different kinds of Lime for the Garden

Most people in our area lime their gardens because of the acid soil we have. The most common kind to find locally is dolomite lime, which contains magnesium carbonate as well as the calcium carbonate which forms regular, or “Agricultural” lime.

Magnesium is a soil nutrient that is needed along with the usual NPK macro nutrients we pay attention to, but if you add it every year in the form of dolomite lime you may end up adding too much, unbalancing the Calcium/Magnesium ratio in your soil. In clay soils particularly, this can “tighten up” the soil and make it hard to dig and hard to form a good “tilth”.

How do you know if your soil has too much magnesium? You’d need to get a soil test from a lab to be sure. Personally I’ll be alternating aglime and dolomite lime in the garden from now on, while I get a soil test done.