The Pleasure of Growing Semi-Leafless Peas: Guest Post by John Miller of The Old School House Plantery…

July 10th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Semi-leafless Peas – Photo ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

In this part of New England, peas are a traditional vegetable to serve with July 4th meals, as well as in various summertime bar-b-que and picnic salads. I am sitting here, having just picked my first pod of the year (the pea’s trip to my mouth was delayed only long enough to take the picture), knowing that I will enjoy fresh peas throughout early July. But I have more than that to appreciate. I take advantage of a quite revolution in pea growing that happened over 30 years ago. In the 1970s farmers were finding it increasingly difficult to find enough help to pick peas, one of the most labor intensive crops to harvest by hand. Unfortunately the peas grown at that time were not suited to machine harvesting so a whole new type of pea, but still recognisable as a pea, had to be developed. The end result was the “leafless” pea, although it is more correctly the semi-leafless pea.

The most noticeable characteristic of these peas is that they have very few leaves on them- hence (semi)-leafless. The upper leaves develop as tendrils, a trait that was bred into them from a particular wild type of pea cousin. The result is pods that hang in plain sight, at the top of the plant, making harvest really easy- no moving foliage around to discern green against green! An unintended benefit for me of having the pods so high is that the slugs can’t get to them first!

Pea Pods and Tendrils – Photo ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

Because all the pods mature together, another trait required for machine harvesting, I will pick the entire crop in about a ten day period (I tend to get a few pods in the first pick, the vast majority in the second, and then a few stragglers on a third pick). This fits perfectly with my busy life as I won’t be going out over an extended period to pick a few pods each time and the garden space becomes available very quickly. Like most people I imagine I will freeze the bulk of the crop and enjoy them over the coming year.

I stopped growing peas for a while because I found it very difficult to open the pods of the traditional varieties. Broken nails abounded and it was just too time consuming- dexterity and I have never been close acquaintances. With these semi-leafless peas, the pods are just –literally– bursting to be opened -and no more torn finger nails! This trait was acquired from yet another pea cousin- one that is actually a disadvantage in the wild (the plants with this genetic flaw cannot develop mature seed as a result). I would also venture that anyone with an arthritic condition in their hands would find it possible to open these pods. But –there has to be a but– you ask, “What of the flavor?” I certainly like it. I cannot speak for others but if you have ever eaten a frozen pea from the supermarket and liked it, your question is answered…

Flavor to Savor – Photo ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery

‘Leafless’ Survivor Pea from Burpee – Photo courtesy Burpee

* Direct sow peas again in mid to late summer for a fall crop. Burpee’s ‘Leafless’ Survivor Pea, linked above, matures in just 70 days*

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Article & Photos this post ⓒ John Miller of the Old School House Plantery
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