It’s officially early afternoon on Valentine’s Day, at this writing, but I have not gotten out, nor do I intend to get out to the fence row today and plant a row of sugar snap or mammoth melting sugar peas. I’ve been in touch with my brothers, Keeter and Steve, in Letcher County and they have, likewise, decided to call this coming Saturday Valentine’s Day so that they can say they planted their early peas on the traditionally prescribed garden season starting date.
I believe that Keeter has actually gone so far as to hide the heart-shaped box of Candy he intended to give Nancy this morning in an attempt to postpone pea planting day and still justify a claim that he got them planted on time.
I do know, for fact, however, that Keeter’s father-in-law, the late Dock Mitchell, more than once planted Valentine’s Day peas in weather conditions at least as bad, or much worse, than the overcast and hard-frozen conditions that are prevailing today. If the ground was frozen too hard to dig, Dock has been known to run out and buy a few sacks of top soil back when the big box stores first started selling it in 50 pound plastic bags. He’d put his pea seeds on top of the icy soil and cover them with a couple or three inches of the dirt he’d just purchased. Don’t laugh. It worked.
Keeter will vouch for the fact that Dock Mitchell was sometimes hoeing his peas before most people had even planted theirs.
When we very young school boys, Keeter and I sold garden seeds every spring for American Seed Company, based, at that time, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We started when I was in third-grade and he was in first and continued the enterprise until we had both completed the curriculum at Blair Branch Grade School. I’m guessing we walked at least 20 miles, maybe more, every spring and knocked on every door up and down the four hollers between the Jeremiah and Isom, Kentucky post offices.
We had regular, annual customers the entire lengths of Spring Branch, Doty Creek, Adams Branch and Blair Branch as well over a dozen families who lived out beside the main highway. We also learned, very early on, that we could sell far more seeds if there was a big snow on the ground, like the one that’s supposed to hit tonight. It’s a well-known fact that people are more apt to have gardening on their minds when they’re snowed in than they will when it’s warm and dry enough outdoors to actually do some l gardening.
Very early in our seed-selling careers we learned to accurately predict which households would purchase which varieties and how much they’d want. Darlene Blair and Vada Caudill, for example, had to have seven top turnips, as opposed to regular curly or Florida (flat leafed) mustard. To this day I still have no idea why seven top is called turnips when it doesn’t even produce an edible root. Seven top is grown solely for it leaves, hence the term “turnip greens” which, incidentally, do not taste much like the nearly identical-in-appearance leaves that grow on real turnips.
We also knew not to order pea, bean, sweet corn, tomato and several other common garden vegetable seeds because most people saved their own from last year’s crop or they wanted far more than the quantity than came in a little paper envelope.
Invariably, however, the company would stick half a dozen or more packs of peas in our order along with a note suggesting we must have overlooked them when we sent in our order. American Seed Company apparently believed that it was sacrilegious to have a garden that did not include a row of their Thomas Laxton and/or Alaskan Bounty peas. They would also include a postage paid envelope so that we could send back anything that didn’t sell.
Then, one year, they sent a bunch of peas along with a note telling us to simply throw them away if they didn’t sell.
If you had known our mom, you would also know that she did not throw anything away and, if you know anything about peas, you would know that she should, indeed, have thrown away the Thomas Laxtons and Alaskans. Mom didn’t realize that both varieties are strictly shell peas and that the hulls are inedible until after she’d grown them, broke up and cooked a big kettle full and discovered they were so tough the hogs couldn’t eat them.
“No wonder they didn’t want the seed back,” she told me. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves for putting something that bad out on the public to begin with.”
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.