Hurrah for Peas!

Written by Spring 2019 intern, Lucas.

There is no time in life for spring without fresh peas, I say. The thought occurred to me last spring, when I had fresh peas, but too few. So, arriving in Moab, I was determined to start a garden in the new bunkhouse yard.

The first order of business was to choose a spot, and after consultation with those who dwell here, I picked a swath of grassy ground that, I figured, would get good morning and early afternoon sun but be shaded by the mid-afternoon, in hopes of avoiding the blazing heat hurled earth-way by our great brimming plasma cauldron in the sky. This ground can be found in between the bunkhouse and the office, at the core of the CR compound, a delight for those office-bound. A feast for the eyes!

Well, it wasn’t much as first. Once we got into it, the grassy ground turned out to be chock-full of rhizomes (underground stems) from one species of grass in the “turf.” Although praiseworthy for their tenacity, running grasses (those that spread by rhizome) are a pain in the arse to dig up and remove, especially since they are prone to regeneration from little bits and pieces. So establishment proceeded slowly and laboriously, and for a while the so-called garden was little more than a rectangle, a square, and a rectangle again of upturned earth, bare to the sky.

The remedy! It was still a little chilly at this point, with regular frosts overnight and we were just emerging from a particularly cold and wet late-winter, which dampened spirits all around except when we got a snow day and all went sledding and snowball-fighting in the sand flats – but that’s another story entirely! Back to peas: in lieu of warm weather, I gathered some old windows that had been removed from the walls of the old intern house and brought them back to the bunkhouse to serve as window-boxes, coldframes, the little-greenhouses-that-could! Placed neatly atop little wooden boxes (also built from scrap) they warmed the soil to an astonishing 80 degrees on a sunny day, and so it was time for planting. It was a good thing, too – the old windows are not effective enough to be reused for the Living Building Challenge structures that’ll be started next semester, and at least 90% of the pre-existing structure needs to be re-used. We all do our part, I suppose.

It began with quick maturing greens: arugula and a smattering of Asian greens, known for spiciness. Radishes followed not long after, and that is where things stood, at least outside, until recently.

Inside, peas were afoot! Or, rather, aroot. I forget when, exactly, but probably when it was still so cold outside, onions, peas, tomatoes were all sown in makeshift trays and pots reclaimed from the recycling bins in the house. Plastic food containers and aluminum cans, mostly, punched full of holes for drainage (though later inspection when transplanting revealed the drainage wasn’t great). I scrapped the onions this morning…they just weren’t doing so well. Despite regular watering the tops had withered and they were scrimpy, plus there isn’t really space in the garden at this point and they’re not worth the digging it would take to make room. C’est la vie!

Placed on south facing windowsills, these young upstarts have been shy on light, and in response the peas grew long and gangly (where they get the energy for this, I’m not sure). When they were transplanted a couple days ago, many had bent stems. It’s too bad. But alongside those transplants went roughly 400 pea seeds of a few different varieties, one with purple pods that climbs to eight feet, and two others that are much shorter but produce much earlier, and abundantly! Hurrah!

With friends, the tomatoes have been transplanted into larger containers, but I fear it was too hastily done, for they had only the smallest of roots. I hope they recover and flourish along with the zucchini seeded in pots at the same time. These two crops are unlikely to be harvested by myself and this cohort, but are more a gift to those who will arrive in the sweltering heat of July.

I wonder who those people will be (perhaps you, reader, are one of them) and what they will do with this small plot of land? If I were to start over, I might have made a bed for greens and peas in the deeper shade under the cottonwoods and left this sun-kissed earth for the tomatoes and zucchinis. If I knew who they were, and what they wanted to eat, maybe I could find it in myself to dig more grass up…it’s challenging, being so transient in a place and wanting to build things that last. Besides houses, that is. But even a house, like a garden or an orchard, requires care and stewardship to weather the vagaries of time, to change and grow, and when we are gone others will take up that task. So to you, future builder of homes and soil, take it up! And keep that darn grass from getting back into the garden area.

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