Peas, those bright little pearls of spring, are ready to be picked. Spill the clumps of quads or quints out of their green shells and eat these sweet, crunchy vegetables raw or tinge them with mint in steamy water within 30 minutes of picking and serve them in a pool of butter.
Pick garden peas when the pods are fat. The color of the pods has little to do with it, although some varieties will be a rich, almost Kelly green when ready. I planted Alaskan, an early-maturing variety that bears lime-green pods, and the only way to tell when they were ready was to break open a pod or two occasionally to see how they were coming. Last week the peas were the size of a capital O. This past week, they were the size of my pinky nail, and ready to be eaten. There's nothing quite like the first, small garden peas, picked just before they fully mature -- the French call them petits pois; we called them delicious.
Snap peas are not quite ready yet, unless you planted them in a well-protected place where they weren't hit by the brutal rains of the past few weeks. They run about ten days behind garden peas, and should be ready to harvest next week. All this assumes, of course, that garden and snap peas were planted before the first of March.
RAIN DANCE: While some pea vines may have suffered from the hard rains of the last couple of weeks, you will find that they bounce back nicely. Vines may be bent or, in some cases, broken, but the hardy vines will continue to flourish, whether down on the ground or given some support. Some blooms will have been knocked off, but even the hardest rains don't seem to affect production. If your snap peas have been beaten down, gently lift them up against their trellis and run some pliable string across the front so their tendrils have a chance to grow up onto the trellis. Even left alone, the bent tops will begin to grow upright again and continue to bloom and produce. The main reason to train them back up on the trellis is to preserve space and give the vines some strength.
CORN PONE: The first corn planted will be a foot tall or more. Now is the time to put in a second -- or third, of you're ahead of the rest of us -- patch. It should be planted every two or three weeks until late June, so you'll have continuous corn when late summer comes. Some lucky people, who had the presence of mind to get their corn in extra early, will begin to harvest it by the Fourth of July. If you don't expect a crop that early, don't be discouraged from planting now anyway, and more in the next two weeks.
ZIPPY ZUCCHINI: Many of us put in zucchini and summer squash plants bought from nurseries a while back. By now these plants should be in good leaf and blooming. As blooms form, small, slender fruit will begin to grow -- and grow very fast. I like to pick summer squash when it's quite tiny, perhaps no more than six inches long. It's ready when the bloom at its end withers and falls off. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself: This won't happen for another couple of weeks. Right now, though, I like to plant a second crop of summer squash from seed. I plant the seeds in threes, spaced about three feet apart, having left an area open toward the back of the garden or, at least, on the edges, since summer squash tend to grow quite large. As the seedlings emerge, I snip back the one or two weakest in each triumverate, and leave the strongest ones behind to grow out. Save back a few seeds for a third planting in early August. I also do this with my cucumbers, which I like to grow on a trellis, to save space. I sow cucumber seeds in a shallow trench about six inches apart. If you grow cukes on hills, which is actually preferable, if a little unwieldy (cukes do better if not handled too much), plant them much as you would summer squash.
EGGING THE EGGPLANT: Dust eggplants lightly with Sevin if they are plagued with flea beetles -- tiny black creatures that look just like what they are called. A dusting or two will do wonders for the plants, giving them a chance to take off and resist the bugs later on as they get bigger. Don't use Sevin on the plants after they bloom, or you will hurt the bees that are so important in pollination.
BEETLING THE BEETLES: If your brassicas (cabbage family) are being devoured by cabbage loopers (long, skinny green caterpillars), apply a spray of bacillus thuringiensis every few days. Sold under the name Thuricide, this bacteria is commonly available at hardware, plant and drug stores. It usually must be diluted with water. It affects a number of garden pests during their larval stage (including the ugly tent caterpillar) and breaks down within 24 hours. I like it both for that reason and because it's a selective pesticide. The cabbage looper must actually eat a treated leaf for it to be affected, however, so spray liberally, on both sides. Because Thuricide breaks down so rapidly, you will have to keep up applications for several weeks, if not just abut all summer. Beans can go in now, but plant them with a border of nasturtiums, if yu put in bush varieties, or mixed with nasturiums if you plant pole beans. This will help dissuade, although not prevent, Mexican bean beetles. Every little bit helps.
POTATO TIPS: You might want to dust your potato plants lightly with Sevin, too: The striped potato beetle lays its eggs on the leaves and the fat, ugly, orange, black- spotted larva of the beetle can do a good job of chomping the plant to its stalk. Last year I decided not to spray, and the leaves were pretty much decimated, which didn't look too good, but I figured it wasn't going to affect the potatoes growing underground. I was only partly right: The potatoes that grew, grew fine, but I found that my production was only about half as good as the previous year, and I blame it mostly on the potato beetle. Again, don't dust after the plants bloom: Once the plant has achieved vigor and maturity, it's far less likely to suffer from pests. Just give it that little push with an application or two of Sevin.