Peas, seeds and variety

The peas we planted on March 17th are up!  Peeking under the row covers just a few days ago, we saw beautiful rows of little green plants, looking happy and hardy.

Over the next two days, the row covers were removed and pea fences were inserted in between the rows, to give the peas a trellis-like structure onto which to grow.

When we first looked under the row covers, I felt an enormous sense of relief.

You see, my job that day was to do the actual seeding of the rows--Sister Carol Bernice had raked away the mulch to create neat, orderly beds, and Sister Emmanuel and Sister Carol Bernice followed after the seeding, covering each bed with bamboo hoops and lightweight cloth row covers, to give the beds a little protection from the elements (and hopefully, from pests).  I ran around with a manual push-seeder, that has a little wheel with holes 1 inch apart, through which the peas drop out and into the soil, as you push it along.  That would seem pretty easy, right?  And it is.  But not having your fingers in the dirt means that it's harder to tell if the seeds are dropping down at the right intervals, if they are getting buried at the right depth...

And it would be one thing if this was just a hobby garden.  But it's our food, for the next year.  We still have a couple packages of peas in the freezer from last spring, and a few quarts of dry soup peas on the shelf.  These are an important crop--the shell peas, like Eclipse and Lincoln, are eaten fresh and also frozen, so we can enjoy them throughout the year.  The Amplissimo Viktoria (a dry pea, and rare variety originally from Ukraine) are left on the vine to dry as long as possible, and then shelled and packed away into quart jars, providing us protein and healthy starches throughout the winter.  We use them like a chickpea to make more than just soup, too: we've made them into hummus, falafel, and fritters, too.

So it's a little nervewracking, realizing how important these little seeds are.  In fact, one of the Sisters learned that the Amplissimo Viktoria had failed as a crop one year for many of the seed retailers, and she grabbed the one remaining jar from our kitchen just in time, to save it and send it back to the seed company.  These seeds are the manifestation of life's creativity, of the amazing diversity that surrounds and supports us.  We try to patronize a few different seed companies, in order to support as many as possible.  We order from Fedco, Johnny's, Vermont Bean, and Pinetree for seeds, and Fedco, Raintree and Miller's for trees.  And we love to get our potatoes from the Maine Potato Lady.  Next year, we're going to look at a few other seed companies dedicated only to heritage varieties, as well.  As it is, we already order many "heritage" varieties, to keep those varieties going, and for fun experimentation.  And we say little prayers, every time we plant, for the health of each individual plant--and for the longevity of those varieties in the future.

If you're planning on doing any gardening this summer, try starting them yourself from seed, or try buying "starts" (baby plants) from local independent greenhouses.  The big box stores may have plants for sale, but they're not the best in the long term.  Those of you in the Northeast may realize how hard we were hit with the "late blight," a plant disease that wiped out tomato and potato crops in the region.  The big box stores--Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe's and KMart--had gotten their tomato plants from one supplier, and effectively spread the disease throughout the area.  This is where centralization of commercial activity is downright dangerous--we need more types of plants, more diversity in seeds, and more local growers and distributors to be able to withstand the emergence of a plant disease, or an unusually wet, cold, season.

Being "close to the ground"--literally and figuratively--I understand how important it is that we see the potential for life that exists in seeds.  Not just the potential for a single plant to grow and flourish, or for it to sustain us, but for it to create more seeds for planting in the future.  I want to choose varieties carefully, sow seeds carefully, and tend plants carefully.  More than just our next meal is at stake.