Each Spring, in the colonial U.S., founding father and extraordinary gardener Thomas Jefferson held a friendly contest with his neighbors to see who could grow the most peas. The first person to grow a bowl of peas was declared the contest's winner and hosted a dinner for the other neighbors.
Now a children's book and a school contest celebrates this tradition. First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden, by Susan Grigsby and Nicole Tadgell, illustrates the life cycle of peas, while taking readers through a friendly modern-day competition modeled on Jefferson's.
There is also an accompanying pea growing contest that encourages children in grades 1-4, growing individually or in teams, to be the first in their USDA Hardiness Zone to harvest 2 or more cups of peas. The contest began March 1, with different end dates, based on Hardiness Zone. The First Peas Contest web site has all the contest rules, as well as links to lots of growing tips and information. Winners in each gardening zone will receive a set of four garden-themed books and will be featured on the Albert Whitman Publishers web site.
Since my foggy Bay Area, CA, climate is uniquely suited for peas, and we've grown more than our share of them, we're eager to grow along with the contest and see how we do. (We usually grow peas in the Summer or Fall, so March planting is new for us.)
Before planting, we soaked our pea seeds in warm water for 24 hours, which should give them a good start on sprouting. (This works especially well with large, soft seeds like pea.) We planted both soaked and dry seeds, alternating every other one, to see if the soaking really makes a difference. We marked the two different types with stakes. We figured that, by planting every other seed rather than in bunches, we would account for any differences in sun or soil. You can see that the soaked seeds are much plumper than the others.
Let me know if you're growing, too, and we'll enjoy the contest, the tradition, and our spring pea harvests.
Until then, wishful thinking from a previous year's pea yield:
Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman