I have already written (Feb. 13, 2011 Pea Sprout Shout Out) about the practice of pre-sprouting peas, and indeed I still heartily endorse the practice, but I have noticed something. Even though pre-sprouted peas have given an end-around to the cold soils of spring and gotten quite a jump on their germination, they still have to pay the piper when in fact they get planted. From their warm, nurturing beginning, they rather suddenly meet the harsh, cruel, cold furrow, and it often seems to me that they slam to a halt. Though that makes it sound like an emotional reaction, I’m pretty sure it’s enzymatic…biological processes are driven by enzymes, and enzymes are temperature sensitive. I liken it to being on one of those people-mover belts in airports. Know the jarring feeling that comes from whizzing along on those things then finally taking that step off onto non-moving terra firma? It’s a real stumble inducer, and I think the pre-sprouted peas are experiencing the same stumbling phenomenon. So how to keep them moving? Clearly, keep them indoors, but if you’ve tried sprouting peas, you know that as soon as that little radicle starts to poke through the seed coat, you’d better be getting them in the earth or your going to have a tangled mess on your hands, and pretty soon some root systems are going to break as you work to extricate each individual pea from the root web.
My answer is to plant them in pots or trays and give them a few weeks under light to continue their powerful start, and I plant a bunch of seeds together in the same cell or pot. Peas are big seeds as far as vegetables go, so one might be tempted to put only one seed per cell or pot…big mistake. Peas don’t generate a very fibrous root system and all the soil from the pot or cell will basically come cascading off at planting time, leaving you with essentially a bare root pea, a very fragile creature easily damaged by transplanting. With many peas all crammed in a cell or pot, their weak roots join together in Lincolnesque unity, and they become a house united, transplanting brilliantly. Plus, as nitrogen fixers (help them out with some pea inoculant at seeding or transplanting time), I’ve never seen peas really outcompete each other, even when planted densely. They seem to like the flock, herd, or crowd mentality. After a few weeks under lights, my peas are ready for a conditioning week in the greenhouse – a kind of kinder, gentler toughening – and then out into the garden, where I may continue to pamper them with a cloche of plastic or reemay. By then they have their solar panels up and out and are busy making food – first food for their own growth, then food for us!