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March 18, 1995

According to my personal gardening calendar, today must be the first day of spring. For this morning, the soil in the west side of my garden was workable enough that I could rake it out, draw my hoe through it, kneel down beside the furrow, and plant a double row of snow peas--usually, the first thing I plant outside each spring. The sky was overcast during the entire process, so the sun never shone on my right cheek, as I like it to do when I'm planting the peas. But it did come out briefly after lunch when I was admiring the finished project. And the temperature was in the low-to mid-fifties, typical of early spring.

Peas. Their seeds are so large that planting them seems like kid's stuff compared to the smaller seeds of most other vegetables. But from start to finish, the process of planting and tending them is a labor of love that yields abundance and sweetness only to those who are willing to give them the ardent care they demand. During my first few years of growing peas, I discovered they can easily rot before they germinate if sown too deep in a clayey soil such as ours, especially during the cold and damp period of early spring. Or they can break their necks trying to get through the hardened surface that forms on a clayey soil after a spring rain. Peas are by no means so tough as they seem from the hardened exterior of their dried seeds. So, I now plant them no more than one inch deep and cover them with lightweight compost. Before adding the compost, I dust them lightly with a powdered bacterium to help them draw nitrogen from the soil. And when the planting is done, I protect the entire double row with a polye row cover to raise the inside temperature a few degrees, keep the soil from being pummeled during a hard rain, and prevent the sparrows from pecking at the sweet and tender seedlings when they emerge.

But that's only the beginning of the process. After the seedlings have grown a few inches tall, I build a vertical structure of twigs and brush that arches over the plants on both sides, so their vines can climb up it to a height of about three or four feet tall and remain erect even in winds of sixty or seventy miles an hour. Also so their blossoms and pods are exposed to the air and the sunlight, rather than falling over and rotting on the ground. I learned this structure from observing the garden of my old neighbor Herman, who evidently learned it from his ancestors in Germany before he emigrated to the United States. And as I discovered from an illustration in one of Kate's medieval books of hours, the twig and brush structure for supporting peas is at least five-hundred years old. Domesticated peas themselves have been dated as far back as 9750 B. C. to a "Spirit Cave" on the border between Burma and Thailand.

So, in the slightly chill air of an overcast morning, I felt as if I were taking part in an enduring primeval ritual, befitting the advent of spring.

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