In southern Australia peas are a winter crop. So one of the jobs to be done in late Spring is to gather-in the dried pea plants, pluck off the full seedpods and to set aside pea seed for planting next autumn.
This is a simple and pleasant task consuming a few hours of the gardener’s time and well-worth the effort in the never-ending business of off-setting the high-costs of water and mulch by saving one’s own seed stocks year after year.
I’d run low on pea seed and so had purchased several commercial packets of pea seeds last autumn, planting these in a secluded corner out of sight of the cook and growing them only to produce bulk seed. This is part of a plan to take advantage of that special skill that all the members of the legume family exhibit; the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil from the air through a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria. Bulk-planting of peas over the winter growing season will thus provide both mulch and nitrogen fertilizer for summer crops.
To harvest pea seed, wait until the whole plant has dried out to a pale brown colour after a spell of hot weather. The dried pea pods are ‘spring-loaded’; they will ‘pop’ open along the sides if left too long, ejecting the seeds onto the ground after this mini-explosion. So timing the collection of the plants needs some care. I just pull up the pea plants by the roots and put them in the wheelbarrow. Inevitably, handling the plants causes seed spillage; all those extra and over-enthusiastic pea seeds can be collected from the bottom of the barrow later.
I first strip the seed pods from the old plants - the latter will go onto the working beds as additional mulch – placing the dried pods into a seed tray that acts as a sieve to separate the fine dust and twigs from the seed. I like to do this job in the shed, on the bench, after dark, and with Tuba Skinny playing on the stereo.
For a time I simply open each seedcase by pressing on the seams to pop them open then brushing the dried pea seeds out with my thumb. After a while, hunger or the need for speed find me looking for faster methods; rubbing a fistful of the pods together also releases the seeds and allows some small increase in speed. The seed is dry enough to place them directly in the seed tins, but I cover them for a week with another seed tray (against marauding mice) to make sure that all the moisture is gone. It would be a sad end to all this effort to open up the collection next year to be presented with mould and fungus.
So is the job now done?
These seed peas have been hidden behind a magnificent display of ‘sweet peas’ that are still blooming profusely and giving off a delicate and pleasant scent (I’m told); I take a bunch up to the kitchen for the cook, busy in her own world roasting parsnips, carrots, garlic and onion for some recipe which will provide our Sunday family dinner the next day. Those flowering pea seeds will also need to be harvested, but nearer to Christmas.