My Precious Purple Hull Peas

A dollar a seed? They were worth it.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY RUSSELL THORNTON

Last Fall my sister and I decided to travel to South Carolina to visit her son and his family. I drove from western Arkansas to her home near Springfield, Missouri, and we headed out. We are both history buffs and took our time on the way, stopping to visit any historical home we could get to. Somewhere in Tennessee, we stopped at an antebellum two-story stone dwelling that had wonderful gardens. When we finished the tour and were back at the visitor center, I noticed they had little brown packets of heirloom seeds for sale. They were fairly expensive at $6 per packet, but I decided to purchase a packet of purple hull peas.

It was time to open my packet of heirloom peas. To my surprise, there were only six seeds!

I was very proud of my seeds and carefully packed them in my luggage. When I arrived back home, I stored them with my other seeds, saved from previous seasons. I looked forward to Spring when I could plant them in my garden.

Spring finally arrived. My husband brought in some good compost which we spread over the garden. He tilled the soil to a perfect condition for planting. I was so excited: it was time to open my little brown packet of heirloom purple hull pea seeds. To my surprise, there were only six seeds. Wow, a dollar a seed. What a disappointment. I usually plant two or three seeds to a hill, but with just six seeds, I planted one every six inches. I decided that if even half of them came up, maybe I could harvest enough seeds for the next year and have a real row of peas.

I was really surprised when every seed germinated. I very carefully hand weeded around each precious plant, and they grew well. I could see that they wanted to vine, so I put stakes in and strung twine back-and-forth for the vines to climb on.

The early Spring was especially cool, and there were very few blossoms on the vines. They did make a few nice pods, which I let dry on the vine and harvested for seeds. I got 30 seeds. Then, starting in June, we experienced extremely hot, dry weather.

The peas continued to bloom, but it was too hot for them to fruit. Hummingbirds and bees worked them vigorously, but there were no more seeds. We pulled up a lot of the garden plants as they were not producing. I considered pulling out those precious peas, but my husband said, “They’re still blooming and trying. Let’s give them a chance and wait a little longer.”

We continued to water them and when the high temperatures dropped below 100 degrees, the peas started setting on. They continued to produce peas through the middle of September. I couldn’t believe how many pods could grow from six plants. At first I saved seed, then we ate peas—which were very good—and dried peas for later on. We’d had several meals, have more meals to come, and have over 200 seeds to plant and share.

All of that from six heirloom purple hull pea seeds in a little brown packet! I can hardly wait until next year to see what an entire row will produce.

If only I could sell them for a dollar a seed! I could take another road trip. Who knows what kinds of seed I could find?


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