Mar 11, 2022

Family Traditions – Planting Peas

March 11, 2022

It’s time to plant peas. My father, grandfather and great grandfather all planted acres of peas for the local cannery. According to them, the optimal date for planting was March 10.


Once in a while, if the weather cooperated, the peas made it into the ground in late February. Other years late snows meant that late March was the planting date. Whatever the exact day, it always meant the start of another year. It might still be cold and blustery, but spring was officially here when the peas were planted.


Peas were an important crop for my family. They were one of the cash crops that their families depended on. Some years the peas did especially well. 1952 was one such year. My dad and grandfather made enough money that my grandmother was able to take a long-awaited trip back to her home in Norway. It was a once in a lifetime trip, and we always referred to it as the trip the peas paid for.


It’s been at least sixty years since my dad last grew peas for the factory, and my dad, grandpa and great grandfather are all long gone, too. This time of year I think of them as I make my miniature pea patch. It might not be acres, but it’s a large square of peas planted so they’ll lean on each other, just like my childhood memories of my dad’s acreage. Here in Colorado, the weather is often less settled in March than it was in Utah, so my peas sometimes don’t make it into the ground until April. No matter. I always announce on March 10, “It’s time to plant the peas.”


My local nursery doesn’t carry bulk pea seeds. Most people now don’t bother with shelling peas. If they grow anything, it will be snow peas or sugar snap, non-shelling peas. My dad always grew a variety of peas called Perfection. When he transitioned to planting in a garden, he changed to the newer Green Arrow variety. The shortish plants, produce loads of long, green pods with small, sweet peas.


I’ve found an online nursery that still sells Green Arrow seeds. I order my seeds in January, just after the holidays. You never know when you’ll get an unusual year that allows you to plant in February!


Like my mother and grandmothers, I freeze the tender young peas in late June or early July. I’ll admit that picking, shelling and freezing is a lot of work, Probably that’s why no one else bothers any more. As I sit in my rocking chair on the front porch shelling, I always think about my ancestors doing the same thing. For them, doing the work was the only way to have peas in the winter.


I know I could buy peas either frozen or canned in the grocery store. People remind me of that every time I mention peas. Those folks have obviously never tasted baby peas fresh from the garden. Peas and new potatoes are one of the quintessential tastes of summer. I know exactly how my ancestors felt when the peas were ripe. That sense of accomplishment, not to mention the taste of spring must have been wonderful. All their work had paid off for another year. I still feel the same way.  Today is March 10. It’s time to plant the peas for another season.


Carol Stetser