Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
August, 2000
Regional Report

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The last sweet pea flowering in my garden.

Sweet Peas

Most of my gardening is done behind a keyboard these days. However, once a gardener, always a gardener, so even though my husband and I live on a sailboat in San Francisco Bay, I keep a small plot at the local community garden. I find that gardening keeps me connected with the earth. When my hands are dirty, I'm happy. Sometimes when I have been sitting at the computer for too many hours, I get stiff and miserable. I shut the darned thing down and drive over to my little garden for a few minutes or hours of pure joy.

This Year's Sweet Peas

A few weeks ago it had been hotter than the dickens, and my office was comparable to an oven. I watered and misted all of my indoor plants, shut down the computer, and drove off to visit the sweet peas in my garden. The poor things were done for the year. They're like me - they don't care for the heat. Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are cool-season annuals that require full sun and ample water.

Outnumbering the Slugs

I had to fight the slugs early in the season when the sweet peas were first coming up. It was nip and tuck there for a while, but I out-maneuvered the slugs with shear numbers. Every time I visited the garden, I planted more presoaked seeds (seeds soaked in warm water the overnight before planting). Eventually, they grew into a beautiful crop of colorful and fragrant blossoms. I thoroughly enjoyed them and collected bunches of flowers, not only to prolong the blooms, but also to share with friends. I even put a sign on the trellises inviting other residents of the garden to help themselves to the flowers. But now the party's over. It's time to pull them up and plant something else.

Cleaning Up the Pea Patch

I cut the sweet peas down and left their roots in the soil to provide nitrogen - an essential nutrient - for the next crop. Sweet peas are a legume and collect and store nitrogen from the atmosphere in nodules on their roots. Because I had used a straw mulch, the soil was light and fluffy in texture and moist, even though I hadn't watered since the previous week. I untangled the sweet pea vines from their trellises, cut them into smaller pieces, and carried them to the compost pile. Next, I raked up the surface of the plot to remove any large pea debris and carried that over to the pile as well.

Using Landscape Fabric

I then laid down some landscape fabric. Admittedly, I am a bit of an experimenter. My garden doesn't have straight rows, and it never looks like anybody else's, but the results are good. I like the landscape fabric because it acts like a mulch, keeping weeds from growing and the soil moist. The problem is that last time I used it, it blew away in the strong afternoon breeze. My solution this time was to lay the metal sweet pea cages on top of the fabric, then use a staple gun to fasten the edges of the material to the wooden header board along the sides of the plot. I ended up with what looks like a planting grid made of the square metal trellises over the black landscape fabric. I was ready to plant another crop.

Planting Cukes

Even though it is late in the season, I planted some cucumber plants in holes poked in the fabric about 1 foot apart. I think I have enough summer left to enjoy one crop of home-grown cucumbers before the end of the growing season.

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