It’s Friday night in the middle of summer, and Darren Wright and Janine Klingele have harvested everything they’ll take to the farmers market early Saturday morning—except peas. These they save for last—but not many peas are actually going to make it to market. The pair of farmers are standing in the light of the full moon eating the irresistible fresh sugar snap peas as fast as they can pick them.
“Peas are best just eating them fresh!” says Klingele. “A quick stir fry is great but they are so sweet fresh.”
Longtime farmer Wright and former Master Gardener Klingele grow about 20 different row crops on their Gypsy Rows farm in Silvana, a tiny town situated between Everett and Mount Vernon within spitting distance of Camano Island.
“We grow a lot of different vegetables,” Klingele says. “We like to bring peas to market, but they take a lot of time to grow and harvest.”
WSU Extension’s Kate Ryan has a tried and true suggestion to get peas going early. Try taking a length of roofing gutter, filling it with potting mix, plant pea seeds about one inch deep and an inch apart. Once they are up two or three inches, you can slide everything into a pre-dug row in your garden.
“You can even keep them in the gutter all season, so you can grow them on your deck—but don’t overwater, as they are shallow-rooted,” Ryan says. “This is also a good way to keep peas going all season, because you can put one gutter’s worth in the ground and then immediately start the next batch.”
If started indoors, the gutter method gives gardeners a couple weeks jump on the season, Ryan adds, and also “protects them from critters.”
Wright and Klingele prefer sugar snaps over other varieties. “We end up taking home a lot of snow peas, but sugar snaps move pretty fast. That’s what everybody seems to want.”
Only developed in the early 1970s, sugar snaps don’t have to be split and shelled. They’re fun, tasty, and kids love them. Plus, there’s a self-twining variety that only gets 18–24 inches tall, meaning Wright doesn’t have to spend time staking them.
“Stringing those things up, that’s a hassle,” Wright says. “I try to keep maintenance as close to zero as possible. I like those self-supporting varieties. It gives you a concentrated fruit set.”
At farmers markets, Klingele says she is always talking recipes with customers. With peas, though, not so much, as they are simply so delicious fresh. Ryan agrees, as does her partner in the Snohomish County Extension Growing Groceries program, Diane Decker-Ihle ’76.
A Master Gardener since 1990, Decker-Ihle specializes in growing vegetables. She and Ryan started Growing Groceries in 2008, at the onset of the great recession when, at the same time, eating locally was growing in popularity. “People were having trouble growing food,” Decker-Ihle says, “because it’s very different than ornamental gardening.” The program offers classes throughout the spring on soils, starting seeds, and growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
There are great pea varieties, she says, developed specifically for the Pacific Northwest. Cascadia, Oregon Giant, and others developed by Oregon State University are disease-resistant and, especially with sugar snaps, don’t get tough even when they get big.
“Last year I grew a 20-foot row of Cascadia,” Decker-Ihle says. “We ate on those from May through July. I even had enough to share with my in-laws!”
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