Perfecting Your Soil for Peas (cont)
By: National Gardening Association Editors
To test your garden's pH, which is simply the degree of acidity or alkalinity of your soil, buy a test kit at a local garden store or contact your local Extension Service. The test will indicate the present pH and give recommendations for the addition of lime or sulfur to bring the soil into the proper growing range. Lime "sweetens" or neutralizes the soil's pH, and sulfur makes it more acid.
Peas prefer a soil with a pH range of 5.8 to 7.0. On a pH scale of 0 to 14, 7.0 is neutral, with 5.8 tending to the acid side. It's a good idea to have your soil tested every few years to keep the pH level balanced. This ensures that fertilizers will be more efficient and symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria will thrive. Highly acid soil inhibits the bacteria found on pea roots.
The easiest way to sweeten the soil is to spread one 12-quart bucket of lime over every 1,000 square feet of garden space (four to five pounds per 100 square feet). Apply lime to your soil once every three to four years if it needs sweetening.
If you've been searching for a place to use wood ashes accumulated from your stove or fireplace, here's your answer. Wood ashes are a good substitute for lime. Work about the same quantity of ashes as you would lime (40 to 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet) into the top three to four inches of soil to sweeten it.
Adding Green Manures
You may have heard gardeners discussing "green manures." They're talking about certain crops that are grown and then plowed under or spaded back into the soil to increase the organic content and improve the texture of the soil.
Peas, peanuts and other legumes are especially beneficial when used as green manures. After you've harvested your pea and peanut crops, till the plants back into the soil. In addition to the organic matter legume vines add to your soil, symbiotic bacteria living on the roots capture nitrogen and fix it to the root nodules. This nitrogen returns to the soil when the green manure is tilled in, making it available for future crops.
One way to start a soil improvement program is to plant an early variety of English peas ('Alaska', 'Thomas Laxton', 'Maestro') as soon as you can work the ground in spring. Once you've harvested the peas, till the vines into the soil. A few days later, plant another vegetable crop. It will still be early in the season so you can expect a full harvest if you plant a summer crop, such as tomatoes, peppers, or corn, in the same place.