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March Madness in the Garden

Cleanup, classes, most Importantly — peas

Let me tell you about my favorite March madness: planting peas.

Why peas? Because garden-fresh peas are something you can't get anywhere else. Even morning-picked peas from the farmer's market don't compare to the crisp, sweet, snappy goodness of a peapod straight from the vine.

If you haven't planted a spring crop before, peas are a great way to break into four-season gardening. Peas are easy to plant, grow, pick and eat. They don't take up much room since they grow up on supports. Pea vines will produce all spring and then politely die back to brown husks before the summer heat hits, just in time to make room for green beans.

The traditional planting day for our region is St. Patrick's Day. The past two years I was able to move that date up a week. This year, the first day of pea planting will depend on how quickly the ground dries out and warms up.

Peas are fun to plant because the seeds are big enough for kids (and adults) to handle and feel a sense of accomplishment. By contrast, scattering lettuce seeds feels more like sprinkling fairy dust than actual planting.

Planting peas is as easy as following the directions on the packet. Wait until your garden soil feels warmed (about 50 degrees) and is dry enough to crumble easily in your fist. A generously sized container with fresh potting soil (not garden dirt) will work fine too. Buy new seeds, as last year's seeds might not germinate. (Metropolitan Plant & Flower Exchange is well-stocked and offers instant gratification.) Plant in full sun. Sow a row or square weekly for a few weeks to ensure weeks of harvest. Mark the rows with a string or sticks to keep track of where you've planted. Be warned, chipmunks and groundhogs love pea shoots so you'll need to protect your plants.

Peas need support. You can use sticks, strings, trellis, or an existing fence. Make your support sturdier and taller than you think you'll need. I use nylon reach-through netting attached to eight-foot-tall metal poles set five feet apart and buried a foot deep into the ground.

If you don't get around to planting seeds, both West Orange garden centers usually carry ready-to-transplant pea plants later on in the spring. Pea plants are known for complaining about being having their roots jostled by keeling over dead. I've had good luck by being extra-gentle during planting into the ground and containers.

As well as pea planting, March is the perfect time to get the yard neatened up. This past Sunday I cleaned up a side bed and trimmed back last year's stalks and grasses that I had left for the birds. Tread lightly on muddy ground so as not to disturb emerging plantings.

March is also a good time to learn more or take a class before the garden game goes full-tilt in April. See below for upcoming March events.

Here's wishing you a "peas-full" start to a productive March. Next up on the March madness list is starting seeds indoors, which I'll talk about next week.

Mar. 6

Bnai Keshet, 99 South Fullerton Ave., Montclair
Free.
3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Speakers, crafts, composting, non-toxic lawn care, waste-free lunches, zero-waste solutions, and a bake-sale fundraiser for Human Needs Food Pantry.

Mar. 8
Montclair Adult School: Organic Vegetable Gardening: Seed Starting in the Greenhouse
Van Vleck House & Gardens, Montclair
$20.00
10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Mar. 11
Montclair Adult School: Pruning Basics
Van Vleck House & Gardens, Montclair
$20.00
10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Mar. 19
Rutgers Cooperative Extension — 35th Annual Home Gardeners School
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Rutgers New Brunswick Campus
Thirty-five sessions offered by garden and landscape experts.
Register before March 5 to receive the early-bird discount price of $55.

Mar. 22
Montclair Adult School:
Organic Vegetable Gardening: Spring Activities in Your Garden
Van Vleck House & Gardens, Montclair
$20
10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Mar. 30
Montclair Adult School: Dividing Perennials
Van Vleck House & Gardens, Montclair
$20
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Jennifer Larsen March 02, 2011 at 11:22 PM
Claire, Thanks for the practical, timely advice. As a new vegetable gardener, I need specific and simple instructions on what and when to plant. So peas it is! Thanks.

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