Cool spring weather is just right for growing peas

Many years, I don’t even bother planting peas.  More often than not,  the spring weather around here is just too warm to grow much of a crop.

Peas need cool growing temperatures to grow, otherwise, if the temperature gets too high, they just quit growing and never produce. That goes for all types of peas: shelling peas, snow peas and snap peas.

Shell peas are the type of peas we buy in the frozen food department. Those have already been shelled from their pea pods and quick frozen.

Snow peas are the flat-podded peas used in Chinese cooking. Snow peas are harvested while the pods are still quite flat and the peas inside are just beginning to swell.  I like to plant snow peas. I use them in stir fry dishes.

Snap peas have edible pods too but they are not snow peas. They are harvested and eaten much like a green bean, when the peas are larger but still tender. ‘Sugar Snap’ was one of the first snap pea varieties on the market.

This spring is shaping up to be a good pea growing year. I plan to get an extra large spot planted just as soon as the soil temperature warms up to 45 degrees F.

Treated seeds are dyed a bright color. The chemical treatment keeps the seeds from rotting in cold, moist soil. Most pea seeds sold in small packets are untreated.
Treated seeds are dyed a bright color. The chemical treatment keeps the seeds from rotting in cold, moist soil. Most pea seeds sold in small packets are untreated.

You might want to try planting peas too. You just might end up with enough peas to make a meal or two with some left over for freezing.

By the way, the flowering plant called “sweet peas” are not edible. They belong to an entirely different genus.

Bob

Seedling heat mats speed up germination

For many years I started seeds without using a seedling heat mat.There never seemed to be any problems doing it that way as long as I was able to find a warm spot for my seed trays. Those were the days when the tops of refrigerators radiated heat and were nice and warm. That was the best place to germinate small amounts of seeds because the constant heat warmed up the seed starting containers to the ideal temperature. Small heat mats for home use were not readily available back then.

It wasn’t until I worked in a large private greenhouse that I really found out the advantages to using bottom heat. I needed to grow thousands of flower and vegetable plants from seed. Time was, and still is, a valuable commodity, I couldn’t afford to wait for seeds to sprout.

Seeds I grew on heat mats seemed to jump up through the soil surface compared to their unheated brethren — germination percentage went up too. After the first transplant growing season, I invested in a few large commercial heat mats.

These days, nearly all garden centers sell small heat mats. They are usually preset at a specific temperature and are not adjustable, unlike the commercial mats.

Heat mats last a long time if used properly and are carefully stored.
Heat mats last a long time if used properly and are carefully stored.

The small mats work just fine for small amounts of seeds. By small amounts, I mean you can still germinate enough seeds to grow hundreds of plants. That’s more than enough for an average home garden.

If you are even a little bit serious about growing plants from seed, a seedling heat mat is an essential investment, especially now that refrigerators aren’t warm anymore.

Bob

Artificial light for growing seedlings

Plants need light for photosynthesis and without light they can’t grow. But not all light is equal.

If you remember from your middle school science class, sunlight contains many colors or wave lengths of light. Plants mainly use the blue and red part of the light spectrum and not much else.

Seedlings need good quality light to thrive. The ideal place to grow seedlings of course,  is in a greenhouse or sun-room where there is plenty of natural sunlight. However, not everyone has access to a space like a greenhouse. A south window can help, but even in that case, supplemental lighting may be needed.

An adequate substitute for natural sunlight is light from fluorescent bulbs. Special “grow lights” are available but are quite a bit more expensive than standard fluorescent tubes and they don’t last as long. Research has shown that plants do as well or even better under “cool white” bulbs. Cool white bulbs provide plenty of blue light.

Even with the most recent research, some gardeners still feel that seedlings grow better if the light is “blended”. So, they’ll add a “soft white” bulb to a florescent fixture to provide some red light for their seedlings. Shining light from an incandescent bulb onto the seedlings will also add some red light.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on light fixtures. I bought this on at a garage sale for less than a buck.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on light fixtures. I bought this one at a garage sale for less than a buck.

Most vegetable and flower garden seedlings need bright light, at least 500 to 1,000 foot candles. Placing the light fixture within six inches or so will provide them with that amount of light. Still, that is not a bright as a sunny day where there can be 10,000 foot candles shining on a plant.

Plants require some darkness every day so lamps must be on a timer. Six to eight hours of darkness is sufficient for most plants — just about the same number of hours as a good night’s sleep.

If you are really serious about growing a large number of plants under artificial light, special high output light fixtures are available starting at around $300 each.

Bob

Grow mushrooms at home in your fridge

There’s a new product out on the market that make’s you want to say:  “Why didn’t I think of that!”

The scientists at a bio-tech company called Genetic Dynamics, have come up with an easy way to grow mushrooms from seed at home.

Head researcher, Dr. Fred Kim, said: “Nearly everyone I know already has some kind of fungus growing in their refrigerator. Our research team  decided to take advantage of that fact”.

Using a combination of conventional plant breeding and cutting edge DNA technology, the scientists created a mushroom that will grow under conditions found in a typical refrigerator.

The new variety called ‘Shrooms’ uses any leftover food as a substrate to grow on. Dr. Kim noted: “The older and more forgotten the leftovers are, the better the mushrooms grow”.

Here are the Shrooms I grew on what I think is leftover mashed potatoes.
Here are the Shrooms I grew on what I think is leftover mashed potatoes.

Walter Tupper, the Executive Chef at Top O’ the Cave Restaurant in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan, uses them almost exclusively in dishes calling for mushrooms. “They have a taste reminiscent of baby portabellas. We obtain ours from a local grower.” he says.

I was able to get a hold of a packet of seeds to try out. I have to admit they are very easy to grow and tasty too!

To order seeds visit the Genetic Dynamics website.

Bob