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.

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UT Gardens' Plant of the Month:
Tom Thumb Pea


Submitted 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 space.

Peas are 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 horticulture.

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. Nothing brings the joyful news of spring's arrival better than a tasty crop of sweet, delicate peas fresh from the vine.

Tom Thumb 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 containers.

Peas 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.

The vine 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.

Growing Tom Thumb Peas can be a cure for gardeners with spring fever who have been anxiously waiting to start gardening after a long winter.

Terumi 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 hours.

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Contact:

Patricia C. McDaniels, (865) 974-7141

 

 
     
 

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