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July 1st 2015

The Trials of a Sweet Pea Addict

Written by
Floret

IMG_2383The sweet pea trial is in full swing here on the farm. I went hog wild with my seed ordering and am growing over 100 different varieties this season.  As part of the trial, I’m carefully observing and documenting what I love about each one and winnowing down the list of cultivars that will make the cut and be invited back onto the Floret farm next year.  I confess I’m a pretty tough critic:  I want abundant producing plants with long stems and unique color qualities.  Not all of the sweet peas make the grade, but there are a few that I’m already super excited, plus a couple more that are true showstoppers. I’ll be sharing more of my results later this year.

IMG_2470 IMG_2499In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few sneak peeks into my sweet pea patch.  We’ve got an entire hoophouse dedicated to early sweet peas in addition to seven rows out in the field.  The added heat and protection of the hoophouse means those plants had a six week jump on producing blooms before the field-grown rows started to put on their show.

This has been a tough late spring-early summer weather wise though. No rain and high temps have left us scrambling to keep ahead of the harvest. If it doesn’t cool down soon, we’ll be saying goodbye to them very shortly here since sweet peas really prefer cool weather.

IMG_2428 IMG_2433There is just something so magical about these delicate little blooms that have put a spell on me.  It was, after all, sweet peas that were the “gateway” flower that propelled me on this flower farm adventure.  I simply can’t get enough of them!

When I got serious about growing sweet peas, I scoured lots of websites and books searching for the secrets to producing healthy plants with the long stems needed for the floral trade. As part of that research, I came across some great historic images of growers whose love of sweet peas rivals mine.  Seeing some of the Peterkort’s historic photographs as part of my recent interview with them reminded me of some of the fun photos I uncovered during my original sweet pea research.

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14779048524_0a82dc6249_oI just love looking at these images and imagining what it must have been like growing sweet peas 100+ years ago.  Thinking about the amount of effort and labor involved  is pretty incredible, really.  My own patch doesn’t seem so impossible or crazy after looking at some of these fields back in the day….

The two images above are from the 1909 book, “Sweet peas and how to grow them” by H.H. Thomas that I found on the fabulous Flickr Commons project site which chronicles the world’s public photo archives. (Warning:  you can really get sucked into all the photos!)

Sweetpea

The Commons project also includes some of the captions from the historical texts, which also provide for some interesting reading.  For example:

“There is a layer of well-rotted-manure some eighteen inches or so below the surface, and when the roots get well hold of this and the three feet of cultivated soil it is little wonder that they rise! Deep digging, early sowing, careful watering in spring, thorough watering in summer, and the removal of all incipient seed pods, are the chief items to be taken note of and practised by the suburban grower, by every grower in fact who would be successful, but above all by the suburban grower.”

I wonder if these guys in suits standing in the field would consider my plot “suburban”…. Regardless, I’ve applied some of the growing techniques from back in the day and combined them with tricks I’ve developed over the decade or so I’ve been growing sweet peas and summarized the process in my “How to Grow Sweet Peas” tutorial (available in the RESOURCES Section) on how to grow beautiful long-stemmed sweet peas.  It was a labor of love, but just as these old guys inspired me, I hope my 21st century plot inspires even more people to plant this incredible flower.

Are you growing sweet peas?  Tell me your sweet pea story in the comments below  and be sure to join me in posting and tagging your sweet pea photos #sweetpea and #seasonalfloweralliance on Instagram this week.

16 Comments

  1. Jen Schnellman on

    Oh how I love sweet peas!!! My absolute favorite. I will soon have a hoop house built to enjoy them and other items.. for now everything enters my goat and sheeps bellies 😭

    Reply
  2. Caroline Gerardo on

    I would be happy to send you some heirloom seeds to try. I have varieties for fragrance and ability to last in heat

    Reply
  3. Mary Owens on

    I grew the most wonderful sweet peas for a number of years and they were one of the highlights of my life! I was wondering why the plants are so short in your picture? How did you do that? Mine got so tall that I had to use ladders to pick them. It just wasn’t safe at all. What is the secret to keeping them short enough to be safe harvesting them. And what a harvest you have! You have inspired me to grow some more if my old body can take the work!

    Reply
  4. Kim Bixel on

    My dear friend Rachel Plant (yes, her last name is Plant) introduced me to the sweet pea years ago by bringing them to work. Their smell, their delicate flowers and their vivid colors immediately had me hooked. I am so grateful for her, for now I grow my own and give them away too.

    Reply
  5. Abby Lee on

    Stellar crop in my high tunnel. Did a 60 foot row planted on both sides of the trellis and two shorter rows with twigs stuck in the ground for climbing. I can’t keep up with the picking! I give most away and love to put them by my bed at night.

    Reply
  6. Carolyn on

    I’m growing sweet peas in my first year as a farmer florist. They have been a huge success!! So much so I’ve been giving away sweet posies to almost any one I know – not making a lot of money this year!! Anyway I too live in Washington so I’m not sure now my later crop with do with all this crazy heat!!

    Reply
  7. Kathy Horn on

    The sweet peas and lisianthus in my little hoophouse are just starting to bloom. They are the one bright spot in my otherwise rather dismal gardening experience this year. Last week, while watering the sweet peas I heard a diminutive “EEK” sound. A careful search revealed a little pink nose. Then another. Another. And yet another! Four Furry baby bunnies, with their eyes not yet open, were nestled into the sweet peas! Guess humans are not the only ones who love sweet peas!

    Reply
  8. Renita on

    Beautiful sweet peas! I’m trying to figure out what kind/variety of sweet peas you planted in the hoophouse. Was it the Winter Elegance or the Spencers or both? And did you plant them in the HH in the fall or start the sweet peas in the fall and plant in the HH…..when?

    Us fledgling farmers appreciate all that you share :)

    Reply
  9. Laurie Garza (Fleurie) on

    I grow sweet peas every year. Some years I’ve let the fallen seed grow and do its thing, and sometimes I plant new seed. I am particularly fond of a brown and white variegated variety that appeared via re-seeding in my garden after planting ‘Taffy Swirl’ several years ago. It has come true to color for 4 years now, and I saved seed and let more drop again this year. It is near and dear to my heart, as it was also my sister’s favorite flower. <3 I plant it in my area (8b) in the fall, and it is done blooming by June 1

    Reply
  10. Madeline on

    This was my third year growing sweet peas. Following Erin’s instructions made all the difference. My crop had long stems, lots of flowers. Beautiful. Unfortunately, I don’t have any customers for these flowers. They don’t work well in store bouquets (too fragile and short vase life), and my market customers don’t appreciate them…..yet. My sweet peas are “pet” flowers for me – big vase-fulls in my house.

    Reply
  11. Alexandra Jusino on

    This is my second year growing sweet peas from all the pointers you gave about two years ago. I can’t really get them in the ground until the ground thaws in April in Chicago. And they definitely took a little while to get going but this is my second week seeing blooms. I don’t quite have the heart to cut them but they smell amazing. I tried a few of the seeds Enchanting Sweet peas and compared to the ones from Renee Seeds they aren’t growing as fast as I would expect BUT none the less they are growing. I got about five different kinds out there and did I say I love them? Yeah, I absolutely love them. Even when the flowers die I still have these amazing vines. The cooler weather in Chicago has helped a ton and I’m hoping just like last year that they continue blooming till the frost. I’ll tag a few pictures on Instagram.

    Reply
  12. Patricia Bunk on

    I have really enjoyed reading about your sweet pea research. Which has lead me to do some extensive readings on pioneers who did so much interesting work. These flowers are so easy to fall in love with. I have to tell you I did a small trial run with growing them they way you instructed. It really worked, even in Kentucky. We have a much shorter spring window. Thanks for the view of your fowers. Your a great inpiration.
    Patricia Bunk

    Reply
  13. Julia on

    This was my first season growing sweet peas in my 8’x4′ raised bed. I planted those 40 seeds with such optimism. We had such hot weather and so many dry spells that only two seeds sprouted. I hadn’t realized how much water they actually needed and didn’t think to soak the seeds before planting. But these two tendrils have been such a magical addition to my garden. The fragrance! I have already been able to cut 4 shoots from these two plants, and despite such a small crop, they add such immense cheer to my garden and the bud vases in my house. I am even more inspired and optimistic for next year!

    Reply
  14. Drea on

    We also registered an almost total sweet pea failure this year! But since this is our first try, I am by no means discouraged! I got my inspiration (from your blog) a little late, then ordered seeds, but they didn’t come and didn’t come until I had about given up on them! So by the time they came, I knew it was probably too late.. Of course the lady I ordered from said it was the perfect time, but I sure have my doubts! So they are around 2ft tall now, and I think the heat will shaft them before they get a chance to bloom..Oh well! Live and learn! I will order much sooner this year! And even try some fall planted ones! Thanks for being such an inspiration to us new flower farmers!

    Reply
  15. Tonya on

    Since you asked, my sweet peas have been a disaster. lmao!!

    I started hundreds of peas in the greenhouse at the end of January, shortly before planting someone STOLE them all, along with trays of lisianthus and other things. I later made a direct sowing, then we immediately got torrential rain for a week and everything rotted away. I tried a 3rd time, hoping it would be a charm. They grew, but once temps hit 100 degrees in mid June, the plants shrieveled and they weren’t having it. I got a handful of Flora Norton, and that’s it. I’m started to wonder whether or not my season may be jinxed! Lol :)

    Reply

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