March 11, 2013

Points East: Early bloomers

By Ike Adams

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — There’s a bunch of journalists and broadcast personality types who have been running around since Groundhog  Day trying to find people who have already planted their peas.  

I had two big city papers, two television stations and a woman from NPR ring me up in February to see if I’d planted mine.  And, to be honest, even I called my brother Keeter to check because I figured that if anybody was crazy enough to plant peas in February, it would be my little brother.

Keeter said he’d thought about it, but water was still running out of the dryland crawdad holes in his pea patch and he didn’t know when it might get dry enough to garden.  But he assured me that L.C. Adams had planted a big patch in the head of Blair Branch.

Keeter said, “You know L.C. goes to bed way before dark so I figure if I get to craving an early mess, I’ll just sneak up there and grade what he’s got growing.”

When Keeter and I and some other fellows on Blair Branch were growing up, we learned to “grade” certain watermelon patches by the light of the moon.  We got shot at a few times too.  

Anyway, if my Mom was still alive and well enough to crawl, you could bet your last nickel that she would have a row of snap peas planted on or before Valentine’s Day.   She simply thought it was good luck.  She’d usually have a lettuce bed sowed, too, with some onion sets stuck around its border because anybody knows that a pot of peas ain’t fit to eat unless you have some lettuce and green onions scalded with bacon grease to go with them.  

And we wonder why so many of us hillbillies die of strokes and heart attacks.

Keeter’s late father-in-law, Dock Mitchell, was another February gardener.  But with Dock, the obsession was precise.  There was no just before, just after or close as you could come to it.  Peas had to be planted on February, even if it fell on a Sunday.  

Keeter swears that on at least two occasions when the ground was frozen too hard to till on Valentine’s Day, he hauled Dock to the farm supply store where he bought a few bags of potting soil.

He then spread his seed on top of the frozen ground and covered them with a couple inches of his brought-on dirt.  

My Uncle Stevie Craft planted peas in the fence row between his yard and the road going up Blair Branch.  I’ve seen him use a red-hot fireplace poker to punch a few holes in frozen soil so he could drop in pea seed.  Uncle Stevie, however, harbored no superstitions about February 14.  His goal was to be the first one on the holler to claim that he’d planted his peas even if it was just a dozen hills or so.

When I was growing up, you did not buy pea seed.  They had to be saved from year to year.  What we call snow-peas today were called salad peas.  What we call Sugar Snaps today were called snap peas. You simply could not find them in the stores and nothing I could find to sell door to door had a tender hull.  And nobody, at least on Blair Branch, believed that shelling out peas was worth the effort when you could buy Jolly Green Giant’s 12 cans for a dollar.  

We thought canned shell peas were a big treat for special Sunday Dinners but I’ve heard my Mom say many a time, “I know they have to have a special machine because I wouldn’t shell out that many peas by hand for fifty cents a can.”     

Anyway, I have not planted my peas, but I spoke with Ralph King tonight.  Ralph and I used to grow snow peas commercially. We both plan to have peas in our gardens this year and we’ll probably have them in the ground before the end of April.