Category Archives: Vegetables

No-Till (For Real!) Field Peas

Purple Hull Pea Blossom
Six weeks after planting, the no-till Purple Hull peas are in bloom.

Growing no-till field peas is embarrassingly easy.  It’s so easy, I never would have thought of it myself because I like to dream up complicated scenarios that involve a lot of steps. Having hatched such a plan, I become so overwhelmed by its intricacies that I become discouraged and talk myself out of doing anything before I can even get started.  Thus it’s a miracle that I stumbled across a garden plan that was so simple and appealing, I was actually able to follow through and do it.

I already knew about Purple Hull peas because I’m from southern Arkansas and my mother grew them every year.  Back then, the old country folks did not know anything about environmentalism or sustainability; the earth was something to be plowed, poisoned, and pounded into submission.  It was the only way they knew, and they did the best they could.

Doing the best you can with what you’ve got:  that’s what they did back then, and that’s what I’m doing now.  I don’t have land to speak of; just a quarter-acre city lot, and the part of it that gets full sun is in my front yard.  I don’t own any equipment nor do I want to, as I cannot bear the sound of the gasoline engines that give yard equipment its jaw-clenching, grinding whine. (Even some of the electric equipment is pure noise pollution:  if it’s a leaf blower or sounds anything like one, get it the heck away from me!)  And I don’t have a lot of energy: I get up with the chickens and by lunchtime, I’m exhausted and get nothing else done that day.

3 rows of purple hull peas in the front yard have grown to make a solid patch.
3 rows of purple hull peas in the front yard have grown to make a solid patch.

Nevertheless, despite limited resources and energy, and armed only with a butter knife and some pea seed, I produced 13 quarts of purple hull peas from my front yard last year.  This is good news for anyone who thinks they don’t have the time, the money, or the skill to grow some of their own food.  Turns out, you can start out with almost nothing and still succeed at growing a crop of field peas. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t have dreamed this up entirely on my own. I surfed around and found an article by a man who has done something similar; I’m grateful to him for sharing with the rest of us. Check out Jack Guidry’s article on No-Till Peas.

I did a couple of minor things differently, such as physically planting each pea seed and marking it with a small stick, because I’m so anal I have to know exactly where the seeds are; and I’m so hungry for gratification that I have to see the seedlings coming up in three days. So here’s the slideshow demonstrating my version of no-till field peas, and I will follow up with some extra detail. 

  • The peas are being planted directly into turf grass by making a half-inch deep slit in the ground with a butter knife, dropping in the pea, then smoothing a bit of dirt over the slit to seal it.
    The peas are being planted directly into turf grass by making a half-inch deep slit in the ground with a butter knife, dropping in the pea, then smoothing a bit of dirt over the slit to seal it.

What You Need:

  1.  A section of yard that gets full sun, drains well, and preferably is growing some kind of plain old turf grass.  Or even weeds and stickers.  It’s good to have some kind of vegetation already growing to serve as living mulch for the seeds while they’re germinating and for the young seedlings while they’re getting established. (I only know this because I did it, and it worked.)
  2. A lawnmower.  Yeah, sorry.  I’m anti-equipment but some tasks cannot be avoided; yards have to be mowed to be in compliance with city codes. Leave enough space between rows that you can mow between them until the pea vines get established.  I suggest three feet, but this will vary based on the width of your lawnmower. Fortunately, my husband bought a very quiet electric lawnmower, so nothing disturbs my pastoral tranquility but the sound of eighteen wheelers on the nearby interstate.
  3. Field pea seed.  Local feed stores are good places to buy seed cheaply in bulk. I bought a half-pound of purple hull pea seed last year, planted 100 feet of row, and had seed left over for this year.  All for less than two bucks.
  4. A butter knife.  Just raid your silverware drawer.  Surely you have some cheap stainless that you can press into service as a yard implement.
  5. A water hose.  Soaker hoses are nice but not necessary.  Just be sure to water your rows thoroughly right after planting, and for a couple of weeks after the seedlings are up (if you’re like we are in Texas and never get enough rain.) After that, keep an eye on the plants and water if they look like they need a drink.
  6. Elbow grease and patience. The plants will do better if you keep the grass around them short–although, again, that’s not strictly necessary. I yank off the long ends of surrounding grass by hand, and my husband mows between rows.  The peas should start blooming about 6 weeks after they come up, and a couple of weeks after that, you’ll get to pick peas!

I know I’ve left out some details; I will go back through and expand this post later.  A good resource for more information is .  It includes links to publications produced by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service that go into depth about conventional methods to raise field peas; it also contains the article by Jack Guidry which inspired me to start this project.



Forgive me for I have thinned

Buttercup squash, a closeup of 2 plants prior to thinning.
Buttercup squash before thinning. The plant on the right will be removed, sadly.

It has been one to two weeks since I transplanted several varieties of winter squash seedlings to the in-ground clay planters that I dug for them.  It’s time for what I consider to be the most odious task required in gardening:  thinning out the plants.  It feels so unfair, choosing who will live and who will die, when all the seedlings have grown to be so healthy and robust.

I’ve tried various tactics in the past to avoid this step, such as only planting a small number of seedlings with a lot of space between them so that thinning would not be necessary.  When I do this, invariably something happens to my small group: they are eaten by animals or bugs, or I clumsily step on some of them, or they simply fail to thrive. Thus, grudgingly, I have come to accept thinning as a necessity.  To make the task more palatable, I thank each plant that I have to pull up, telling it I’m grateful that it has lived and been of service, making the world a greener place.  I thank it for supporting its fellow plants.

At this point, I should be saying that I put the plant in my compost pile so it can become food for the next generation, but I don’t.  Here I must confess one of my failings as an amateur gardener: I can’t make myself follow through on composting.  Yes, I bought a compost bin, a Soil Saver, last year; yes, I tried to compost my vegetable garden last year, chopping up a bunch of my purple-hull pea vines when they were through producing and putting them in the bin along with layers of brown; yes, I read that the carbon-to-nitrogen mix should be 25:1 or 30:1.  What happens is, I can’t remember to keep it wet, and I’m not strong enough to turn over the pile.  Therefore, senior moments plus a lack of upper-body strength have resulted in me wasting a lot of beautiful plant debris.

Hopefully, now that I’ve confessed, I’ll forgive myself and solutions will begin to present themselves; so that in the future, I can do something constructive with my thinned-out plants and not feel so sorry for them.

Here’s the latest slideshow on the winter squash project:

  • Young Waltham Butternut squash 12 days after transplant.
    Young Waltham Butternut squash prior to being thinned out. There are 11 plants in a 4-foot by 1-foot area, which is too many. I will be thinning these by half, though it saddens me to do so.

Awash in Squash, Hopefully

Garden terrace one-south, being planted with winter squash seedlings
Terrace one-south is being cleared out for winter squash seedlings.

Oh, the unbridled enthusiasm I feel with each new batch of seedlings! I started a half-dozen varieties of winter squash in small pots filled with peat moss;  I planted some Waltham Butternut, Buttercup, Bush Buttercup, Spaghetti squash, Jack-Be-Little pumpkins, and I’m gambling on some yellow straight-neck squash also–vine borers typically wipe these out, but perhaps they won’t since I’m planting this late in the season. I was thrilled to have a nearly 100% germination rate, even though the packet expiration dates were in October 2013.   That means more work, of course, as I have had to prepare more of my “in-ground clay planters”  for the seedlings to grow in.  I actually had success using this method last year, (see Fun With Bad Clay) so stay tuned as we walk through the production of (hopefully) a bumper squash crop!

I wasn’t quite done transplanting all the seedlings when I strained my back badly enough that I will be sidelined for a couple of days.  While I am resting, icing my back, and twiddling my thumbs, I might as well start documenting this project.  The following slideshow shows what I’ve done and how I’ve done it thus far.

  • Waltham Butternut Seeds Germinating
    Waltham butternut squash seeds are germinating only 3 days after being planted in damp peat moss. The pots are on the back patio, receiving about 4 hours of sun per day.

Fun With Bad Clay

Bad Clay Doing Its Thing.
Bad clay doing its thing: here’s a section of unamended, unplanted clay during a long dry spell.

I live on a hill covered with bad clay, and have read that a whole lot of work must be put into soil amendment to grow anything in it.  That’s not necessarily true; field peas and wildflowers will grow in anything, even if mixed in with a lot of weeds and grass.  As for growing anything else, I like to think I’ve been given an endless supply of in-ground clay planters.  I dig out sections of clay about eight inches deep, a foot wide, and three or four feet long; add several inches of water, then fill with a mixture of potting mix and peat moss, as well as adding a buried fertilizer strip (reminiscent of planting an EarthBox).  I add my plants, keep them watered, and they grow like crazy. I also use my bad clay as a sculpting medium; with it, I shape “pseudo-terraces” shored up with paving stones set in a clay channel. The stones dry in place, giving me terraces that help with the conservation and channeling of water.  Here’s the slideshow showing how I do it:

The next slideshow shows steps involved in setting up an extension between terrace one-east and terrace one-west.

  • Doing the layout for linking terrace one east and terrace one west
    I'm linking the east and west sections of terrace one. I have placed paving stones flat on the ground to mark off where the terrace border will be.




No-Till Field Peas

No-till purple hull peas are thriving in the midst of turf grass.
Three rows of purple hull peas planted directly into turf grass.

Coming in the next few days:  documentation of this wonderful, minimally-invasive way to start gardening with whatever ground you have, and to improve the soil in the process.

I got the idea by reading Jack Guidry’s article on No-Till Peas. I’ve modified his method a little bit due to having a rather small yard, as well as being far too detail-oriented for my own good.  The above photo is from my first front-yard garden, planted in 2013.