Those first vegetables of early Spring are like an oasis in the desert. Sunshine on a cloudy day. A smile when you’re feeling down. I think that’s why so many gardeners like to plant snow peas, radishes, kale, and other early season veggies. Yes, the vegetables are delightful, but after a long Winter, they feed the spirit as much as they do the body.
The other nice thing about Spring vegetables is that many of them are pretty easy to grow, and they tend to mature quickly. So those grey skies and crisp winds can’t aren’t as big and bad as they feel in February. Something else enjoyable about snow peas is that you can eat the whole thing, shell and all.
In Mike McGrath’s case, though, things didn’t “shell out” quite like that. Yes, he did plant snow peas. And yes, they started out just fine. But as with most of Mike’s stories, things took a quite hilarious turn, beginning with “a package of seeds that I’ve had sitting around for a couple of years.”
It wasn’t that they didn’t grow. In fact, this variety grew, and grew, and grew, soon topping over four feet. Did the plant ever stop growing? Did Mike eventually get his snow peas? Get ready to laugh out loud as Mike takes us through the ups and downs of this story.
Find Out What It Means to Plant Snow Peas In Your Garden. GreenPrints Has The Stories Behind the Story.
This story comes from our archive that spans over 30 years and includes more than 130 magazine issues of GreenPrints. I love pieces like these that turn stories into comical moments of laughter, and I hope you enjoy this story as well.
Doing their unparalleled impression of Mutt & Jeff.
By Mike McGrath
Boy—I’m showing my age with the classic duo in that headline, eh? Hey, kids—go ask your parents (please God, don’t make them have to go ask their grandparents, oh please, please! I’m still a kid! Really—I’m just a little old for my age!) who Mutt & Jeff were and get back here.
OK. Now, as revealed by this reporter in a column that appears in a different publication (“seen on another network” as Ed and/or Johnny used to phrase it on the old “Tonight Show” when a TV star whose show wasn’t on NBC was so hot that they got to be on “The Tonight Show” anyway. But neither Ed nor Johnny would ever actually name the competing network. You either knew what station to find Mannix on or not, but you probably did or else he wouldn’t be on “The Tonight Show.”), I planted snow peas in the snow this year.
Well, not actually in the snow. I was able to push enough of that substance away to get them into some dirt, luckily. But it was snowing. Hard. I did this seemingly foolish thing because it was St. Patrick’s Day and:
- It is ‘lucky’ to do so then.
- It is the correct time of year to plant peas in our region.
- I consistently fail to learn from experience, however bitter and/or oft repeated.
- I have a constant need for material.
Now, before you guess, let me remind you that, just like on that hot nighttime game show, you do still have your “50/50” (a supposed aid that you realize is totally bogus if you’ve ever actually watched the show in question—everybody already knows which two obviously wrong answers are going to drop off and so it does you like NO good at all…), “ask the audience” (much more reliable—maybe it’s all those Frank Capra movies I saw in college, but I just trust ‘em, ya know?), and “phone a friend” (and hey—if you ever get to compete on ‘that show’ I sincerely hope you are not stteewww—ppiiddd enough to call your spouse [unless you were already planning the divorce]).
Well, you win no matter what, because the answer is “all of the above.” Hey, you were expecting a trick question, but in school, life, and especially gardening (OK, and “Jeopardy”), you should also be prepared for trick answers…
The question, of course, was for June peas—specifically VERY EARLY June peas (yes, we are finally back to talking about the snow peas that made a brief guest appearance at the beginning of this piece—come on, stop complaining and keep up with me or I’ll have to leave you here!). I presprouted two varieties, Snowbird (wasn’t that an Anne Murray song? Brrr—gives me the willies just thinking about it…) from Burpee and Norli from Shepherd’s (a package of seeds that I’ve had sitting around for a couple of years, so I’m not sure if they were produced “DR” (“During Renée”) or “PR” (“Post Renée”). Can we just settle for “RAR” (“Right Around…”)?
Anywho, about three weeks ago (I am typing this proofreader’s nightmare just on the Angel’s Side of the latest possible interpretation of peerless publisher Pat Stone’s deadline to me, “June in the teens,” which, come to think of it, conjures up a number of interesting images…), the Burpee peas stopped growing taller at a mere two feet (which would make them ‘Mutt’ in the famous comic strip, not to be confused with my favorite, “Mutts”, whose Sunday comics are the best thing in the newspaper…), flowered madly overnight, and started making peas.
Not the Norlis though—those overachievers continued “bill-ill-ill-dddiinnnggg a Stair-a-way to Heavunnnnnn…” And foolish me—I had only trellised for earth-sized plants! As all the other good little snow pea varieties have done when I’ve grown them in previous years, the Snowbirds had stopped nicely short of the top of the squared-off arching metal trellis system a reader/inventor sent me (at Organic Gardening—that “other network” Johnny and Ed wouldn’t tell you about) many years ago. But the Norlis quickly passed the observation deck of this Empire State Building. And it looked like they were carrying Ann Darrow.
When they topped the four-foot-high trellis (making them ‘Jeff’), still had not flower one upon them, and looked like they was just starting to get good with this climbing thing, I lashed a cool-looking old 40’s metal fence gate (pre-Cyclone Cyclone with a nifty emblem kinda thing that I think was actually once part of a trick handle) that I had salvaged from God-Knows-Where years ago to the back of it (the trellis, that is—gee, I’m being nice today; dropping breadcrumbs at hard turns and everything…) and then jammed a second trellis behind the old fence gate to support it, secured with those special oversized twist ties that lash giant robot toys safely to their cardboard backing to protect them during transit (trust me on this)…
And waited for flowers.
The Burpee flowers, by the way, were white—which was no surprise, because I had SWORN in print that they would certainly be purple, based on my memory of when I grew them before. (Don’t even bother commenting here—it’s too easy.) The flowers on the Norlis, of course, were purple, like the seed package had said they would be.
And, yes, that means they FINALLY did flower! But only seconds before I was ready to panic and pour SOMETHING onto the soil to try and coax these babies into bloom (What should I use? Bonemeal? Greensand? Kelp meal? Juicy Fruit gum? [no, that’s for moles…]), despite the fact they were growing in the exact same soil and, indeed, were only inches away from the Burpees, that seemed to be ONLY flowers. Yes, we were fast approaching one of those wonderful moments in gardening where common sense is politely asked to step aside so that blind naked panic can come running in to calm things down. Hey—I figured I’d have to do something soon! We had been eating peas off the Burpee plants for a good two weeks before the first flowers appeared on the Norlis! (And, of course, blind panic is often its own reward, as well; you get that same cleansing emotional catharsis as being in a car accident, but without the deductible…)
And snow peas are really a big deal in my garden—the first SUBSTANTIAL fresh eating of the new season. No, salad greens don’t count—you can harvest young ‘leaves’ so early, some people would claim what you’re putting in your salad is technically closer to sprouts. Radishes would probably count if I grew ’em, but I don’t. No reason; just don’t. And don’t give me a hard time about it, OK? I am growing corn. AND watermelons. So my life is full.
Anyway, I consider snow peas to be the true opening salvo of edibles because you plant them that year, they have to grow and then flower and then produce their fruit (don’t you just hate that stuff like peas and string beans are technically ‘fruit’? Conjures up images of really sad pies…)—just like tomatoes and such. But you get ‘em sooner. Unless you ONLY plant Norlis, that is; then you might be eating your sweet corn first…
OK—maybe that’s an exaggeration (and then again maybe it is only because I got my corn in late this year). But the peas that eventually did arrive were well worth the wait—they are, in fact, my new snow pea flavor favorites; super sweet and crunchy and so good I can only assume the variety will now cease being commercially available just to thwart me.
But I fear that the brave little Burpees may have suffered a bit of frostbite (or whatever it is peas get when they can’t feel their fingers anymore). After a nice early run of sleek, supple, ‘just a little bulge inside the pod to make things interesting thank you very much’ peas, the production has slowed down and the pods are beating the summer rush by looking like they had sat there unpicked for a week already upon emergence. Big fat peas in the pod. Pooh! In June, still!!!
Hey, wait a minute—didn’t I hear somebody say that the actual PEAS inside such sad-looking pods might be as sweet as the pod is all stringy and tirelike? Worth a try … here’s a nasty looking boy … I’ll just pop these out and…
Whoa! They’re delicious! Sweeter than berries (well, at least those pale winter ones you foolishly buy in the market because it’s February and you can’t afford a trip to the Bahamas)! Score! Saved from the compost pile!
Now I just have to make sure nobody catches me shelling the peas I tell everyone to grow because you never have to shell ’em. I do have SOME self-respect left, you know.
Course, this year’s corn’ll probably take care of THAT… ❖
A Mike McGrath classic from GP No.43, Autumn 2000, published in 2018, in GreenPrints Issue #114. Illustrated by Mary T. Ey
Let’s hear it! What is your most hilarious story about trying to grow vegetables a little too early? I’d love to read it in the comments.