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Try growing peas & carrots

The Chinese believed that their emperor, Shu Nung, discovered peas 5000 years ago. Called the Chinese Father of Agriculture, he is said to have wandered around the countryside observing and collecting plants, looking for those which might be suitable for food or medicine. Potential edibles were fed to a dog, then a servant and, if both survived, the emperor himself would taste the new food.

Archeologists exploring the “Spirit Cave,” located on the border between Burma and Thailand, found peas that were carbon dated at 9750 BCE. No doubt these were a variety of wild peas that were gathered rather than cultivated.

Peas were one of the earliest cultivated food crops. During the Middle Ages, dried peas became a staple food of the European peasants. In their dried form, peas had the capability of long storage throughout the winter months. They were inexpensive and plentiful and made a filling wholesome meal the poor could afford.

Thomas Jefferson, elected third president of the United States in 1800, was an avid gardener. He thought so highly of peas that he planted 30 varieties of them. Peas, apparently, were his favorite vegetable.

Avid vegetable gardeners know that peas are the time clock of the garden. They gauge the planting of their other vegetables by the date they plant peas. Vining peas need a sturdy trellis to support them during their growth. The bush varieties grow to a height of one to five feet and can be planted close together in a clump to support each other.

To harvest, begin checking garden or shelling pea plants carefully about three weeks after they start flowering. Snap peas can be picked soon after they emerge from the flower stage.

One bite into a crisp, fresh sugar snap pea or snow pea will reassure one that nature provides us well. The sweet, succulent flavor brings instant pleasure. The only preparation these peas require is washing. Both varieties are ideal in salads.

For thousand of years, the carrot evolved from being a small, tough, bitter, spindly root to what we know it as today. Even before the introduction of the domesticated carrot, wild varieties were grown in gardens strictly as medicinal plants.

Carrots originated in present day Afghanistan about 5000 years ago. Fossil pollen from the Eocene period (55 million years ago) has been identified as belonging to the carrot family.

The first cultivated carrot was purple. It existed in Central Asia for several centuries before it was brought west by the Arabs in about the 16th century.

Many 16th century herbalists made reference to the cultivation and use of carrot roots and seeds, including its efficacy against the bites of venomous beasts and a whole manner of stomach ailments.

The modern orange carrot was developed and stabilized by Dutch growers in the 16th century in the Netherlands to honor William of Orange. The cheap and accessible orange root was constantly popular as a staple food throughout Victorian times and became even more so during the two world wars when other food sources became scarce.

There is something very satisfying about growing your own carrots. For a start, it is very easy to have a supply of carrots for at least nine months of the year and even longer with a bit of luck and good management.

The average person eats 13 pounds of carrots a year. If more people realized the true nutritional value they would eat double this amount.

The carrot is a cool climate crop and can be sown early in the spring in temperate climates, or in the autumn or winter in sub-tropical areas.

The first few weeks after sowing determine the size of your crop. Carrots do not tolerate a deep planting in a dry bed, so the trick is to offer them a shallow sowing with even moisture. The seedlings grow slowly and can’t compete with weeds.

The two varieties I like best are little fingers and baby sweet. These can be harvested as baby carrots or they will get to a medium size, but are usually delicately sweet.

We all love carrots; they’re good for the eyes, have lots of carotene and vitamin A and the list goes on. Enjoy a carrot every day.

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