The 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 about, plus a couple more that are true showstoppers. I’ll be sharing more of my results later this year.
In 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.
There 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.
I 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!)
The Commons project also includes some of the captions from the historical texts, which 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.