Valley Bounty: Pea time is upon us: Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby grows a variety of the seasonal favorite

Sugar snap peas growing at Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby.

Sugar snap peas growing at Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Sugar snap peas growing at Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby.

Sugar snap peas growing at Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Meghan Hastings, owner and farm manager of Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby, says it is peas — not strawberries or asparagus — that declare the arrival of spring. 

Meghan Hastings, owner and farm manager of Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby, says it is peas — not strawberries or asparagus — that declare the arrival of spring.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Meghan Hastings, owner and farm manager of Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby, says it is peas — not strawberries or asparagus — that declare the arrival of spring.

Meghan Hastings, owner and farm manager of Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby, says it is peas — not strawberries or asparagus — that declare the arrival of spring. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By LISA GOODRICH

For the Gazette

Published: 06-14-2024 11:32 AM

After the cold of winter in New England, spring on our region’s farms is a treat for the senses. While locals may argue over whether asparagus or strawberries declare the arrival of spring, Meghan Hastings, owner and farm manager of Dave’s Natural Garden in Granby, votes for peas.

“A good sugar snap pea is unbeatable. For a snack, peas are my hands-down favorite. I think of peas as the signature spring crop because we start the plants from seeds,” says Hastings.

As harvesting of the first sugar snap peas begins, asparagus and strawberries are already on the farm stands. Asparagus is a perennial planted years in advance, and strawberry plants are in the ground one to two years before harvesting berries. “Peas are one of the first things you can seed and one of the earliest crops we get,” Hastings says, “it’s delightful.”

Peas get their start as seeds, and Dave’s Natural Garden purchases seeds through Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. Out of concern for disease and efficiency, Hastings shares that growers producing food in a non-hobby setting rarely save seeds to plant the next season. For home gardeners, peas grow better from seeds than starts. She suggests that many peas benefit from growing on a trellis.

The crew at Dave’s plants their first crop of pea seeds in heated high tunnels in the last week of February. The tunnels are heated to a cool temperature to keep the ground a little warmer, offering an earlier start than nature gives. The farm grows sugar snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas.

The last planting of peas is outside. Seeds go directly into the ground, no later than the first week in April. For home gardeners, Hastings shares that “the conventional wisdom is to plant seeds when the ground is workable and no later than the first week of a month that starts with [the letter] ‘a.’” For spring pea crops, that translates into planting the first week of April, and planting the first week of August for fall, expecting a lower yield.

English shelling peas are the largest and latest planting of peas at Dave’s Natural Garden. They plant one crop per year. There is an old New England tradition to have shelling peas, or English peas, on the Fourth of July.

Around the end of June, the farm sells shelling peas by the half bushel for home cooks who want to freeze them. The cool weather crop freezes well: simply shell, blanch quickly, and bag for the freezer. To keep the peas separate instead of clumping, freeze on a cookie sheet and then move them to a bag. (This process works for berries too.) Frozen peas will keep all winter. The farm shares availability on their social media pages.

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Peas are well suited to growing in our area, and peas are still following their traditional schedule for now. Climate warming may mean that peas will have an earlier season or grow only during spring in the future. The United States Department of Agriculture recently changed its growing zones, which suggests planting could be a week earlier. As climate change brings increased precipitation, Hastings and her team are figuring out how to adapt. While they are not at risk of river flooding, heavy rains can impact the crops grown on Dave’s hilly landscape.

Hastings explains the fervor some locals have for their favorite crops. She says, “For people in their 40s and older, we did not grow up buying strawberries in a grocery store. When strawberries were ready, it was an event. We ate peaches or strawberries seasonally, and we did not eat those foods out of season — ever. For those who grew up attuned to the region’s growing seasons, crops can carry the same excitement as holidays.”

The moment when the sugar snap peas, tomatoes, corn, or other favorites arrive on the farm stand is exciting. Hastings explains, “Local, fresh produce tastes better. It’s grown better. It’s grown differently. Even if it’s grown in a tunnel, it’s grown in dirt, not coconut fiber. The quality is higher.”

For people who love asparagus, strawberries, peas, or peaches, the first taste of the season tastes better than anything found in a grocery store. Occasionally parents call the farm stand, watching for certain crops because they are the only tomatoes or peas their children will eat.

“Kids know food tastes better when it’s grown locally,” Hastings says. “They are sensitive enough to notice the difference. They might not understand all that happens to get produce into a grocery store, but kids know they just don’t like it as much.”

Hastings favors eating raw vegetables with her hands and finds that approach successful when introducing peas or other vegetables to children. The farm does not have pick-your-own peas, but they are growing purple and yellow sugar snap peas this season. With experience that comes from motherhood, Hastings notes that children love eating peas off the vine. She recommends cutting up snap peas into salads with greens and strawberries or adding to a pasta salad for a spring dish that is child friendly.

Sharing spring crops and growing food for our community is a joy for Hastings.

“This is what we love doing. In spring, everything is coming back to life: things are colorful, the days are longer, and everything smells better. I like talking to people and introducing them to new things. I like growing stuff and being outside. Farming is very satisfying.”

Hastings will offer a taste test of peas for children at CISA’s Making Food Fun, on Wednesday, June 19 at the South Hadley Farmers Market at Buttery Brook Park. This free family event features fun and education about local food and local farms. Children can try sprouts from Love Leaf Farm, strawberries from Sapowsky Farms, and meet tortoises Tortilla and Tortellini, ambassadors from Flora and Fauna Farm.

Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, (CISA). To learn more about Dave’s Natural Garden, check out their social media or website at www.davesnaturalgarden.com. For more information on Making Food Fun, see www.buylocalfood.org.