An early spring vegetable, peas generally
grow best in cooler climates. However, Southern
gardeners can enjoy fresh spring peas by choosing the
correct variety and planting them at the right time.
Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.
UT Gardens' Plant of the Month:
by Terumi Watson
Tom Thumb Pea, or Pisum
sativum, is a rare heirloom pea that was introduced in
the 1850s by a Philadelphia seed company. As the name
indicates, this pea has an extreme dwarf growth habit, yet it
produces an abundance of full-sized pea pods in limited
one of the oldest garden vegetables. They have been cultivated
since around 7,800 B.C. They are valued for their high vitamin
E content for a balanced diet. Historically peas have been
served at tables in royal or wealthy households in early
spring as the first crop from the garden. In the United
States, Thomas Jefferson was known for his passion for peas.
He liked serving an assortment at the beginning of the season,
which marked his great wealth and excellent knowledge of
spring vegetable, peas generally grow best in cooler climates.
However, Southern gardeners can enjoy fresh spring peas by
choosing the correct variety and planting them at the right
time. Nothing brings the joyful news of spring's arrival
better than a tasty crop of sweet, delicate peas fresh from
Pea is a true miniature plant that only grows to 12 inches
tall. It does not require staking like other pea varieties.
This is one of the best peas for the Southern gardeners to
grow in containers and on cold frames because of its compact
size and frost hardiness. It can also make a refreshing spring
centerpiece for indoor or outdoor tables or a great addition
to a child's container garden. Plants set in rich soil and
larger areas produce more pea pods than those grown in
should be planted outside in March as soon as the soil is warm
because the plants can withstand hard frost down to 20
degrees. They can also be sown indoors and transplanted after
the last frost or directly sown in containers during the
winter months with adequate lighting. These peas mature in
just 50 to 55 days.
produces very small white flowers with a hint of green. Its
young shoots, leaves and flowers are all edible and perfect
for salad. These tender parts of the plant tend to attract
birds, rabbits and other garden rodents. You can protect young
sprouts by covering them with row covers, clear plastic, or
chicken wire until the plants are about 4 to 5 inches tall.
Tom Thumb Peas can be a cure for gardeners with spring fever
who have been anxiously waiting to start gardening after a
Watson is a graduate student in the University of Tennessee Department of Plant
Sciences. She works under the guidance of Dr. Susan
Hamilton, director of the UT
Gardens. The UT Gardens are a project of the Tennessee Agricultural Experiment
Station. The original gardens are located in Knoxville
on Neyland Drive. Additional gardens are located in
Jackson on Airways Blvd. Admission is free, and the Gardens
are open to the public seven days a week during daylight
C. McDaniels, (865) 974-7141