Thursday, April 18, 2013 • 9:56 AM Post a Comment

Pile 'o hoes

posted by Caleb Rounds

The starlings have begun nesting in the maple tree next door and some robins have hatched up the street, so that’s as springy as I need: time to plant peas. With the exception of the short rows I planted in honor of Easter, peas are the first seeds I sow. If his noodliness is willing, we’ll be eating delicious snow peas every night by June, but last year my chickens and some of their avian allies decimated my crop. Every time a little seedling came up some monster plucked it out (probably to feed their aforementioned atrocious little offspring).

This year I’ve protected the entire crop in a low hoop-house of agricultural fabric. It’s harder to water, but I soaked the peas overnight before planting so that should get them going. I’m growing both snow peas and snap peas in dwarf varieties.

Dwarf peas are mutants. That is, one of their genes doesn’t make a functioning enzyme. As a result they don’t produce the proper version of an important hormone called Gibberellin (GA). In a lot of first year biology classes students add a little GA to dwarf shoots and show that they can get the plants to grow taller -- they can “rescue” the mutation. Please note: this will not work on Chihuahuas or other snack dogs; they can’t be helped.

The “father” of genetics, Gregor Mendel an Augustinian friar studied the inheritance of seven traits in peas, including dwarfism. The GA mutants are “recessive.” That is, if you cross a normal plant with a dwarf plant the offspring will be normal. In the next generation (assuming you let the peas pollinate themselves) things will get interesting: one out of four plants will be dwarf. Peas are a good model for this work because they pollinate themselves if you leave them alone. In the church’s eyes self-pollination is a sin. Gregor apparently was given some sort of absolution by the pope. Maybe the pope just doesn’t care about peas. Typical.

It gets worse for our “celibate” German. To cross peas Gregor or his subordinates had to emasculate one flower then use the pollen from another flower to fertilize it. That doesn’t sound consensual to me buddy. Luckily the church higher ups didn’t pay any attention to this either. Actually nobody really paid any attention to Fra. Mendel for about fifty years. By that time he’d stopped messing with the peas.

So that’s all good history, but I like dwarf peas because they don’t require much support. You’d think after all that molestation they would, but I just grow them on a short trellis and as long as the birds don’t eat them I get away with.

Peas are legumes. This means if a certain type of bacteria lives in the soil, the peas give them little nodules to live in. The bacteria then take nitrogen from the air and turn it into usable nitrogen for plants. Ain’t that just the sweetest?

Peas then are good to eat, get planted really early, and help to fix nitrogen. Oh, and one more thing, as they are the first seeds I got to plant this year, I got to take out all my hoes (pictured). I’m sure Mendel would be proud.

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