Cover crops are my favorite.
They’re low maintenance. They’re great teaching tools. They help keep the weeds at bay. They feed the soil – AND if you know which ones to choose, they also feed the gardeners.
My personal picks (and the new favorites of many elementary school aged children in Brunswick County) are peas, so that’s where we began. In late fall elementary schoolers at all four of the schools I serve planted Austrian Winter Peas that were graciously donated by one of our most supportive community partners, Shelton Herb Farm.
While the peas were a hit across the county, the 3rd graders at Supply Elementary School really took shine to the wintery veggie. To say they loved them would be an understatement. They loved learning about broadcasting seeds and throwing them all over the prepared soil. They loved watching the seeds quickly sprout and cover the entire garden plot with their tangled, twisty tips. They loved seeing the bright purple flowers pop up and eventually turn into the tiniest of peas. They loved eating them. We mixed some of the early shoots into a “plant parts salad,” and after that they were hooked. “Miss Amber! Can we grab some winter peas to take with us??” became a common refrain anytime we went outside. I loved how much they loved them and that while those curly vines were putting nitrogen into the soil, they were also putting vitamins A and C into the bellies of my new 3rd grade friends.
So, it was a sad day when I realized that winter had turned to spring, and spring was quickly turning to summer. Soon our peas would whither in the Carolina heat, which meant that we had to have one last pea party. The students excitedly took fist-fulls of pea tops and self-organized into a “green tongue club.”
I later discovered that some of the students even saved some pea shoots to eat with their lunches. Needless to say, it was a great end to a great crop.
While they were bummed that our time with the winter peas was coming to an end, their faces lit up when I told them that we were not only saying goodbye to our winter peas but also planting a new kind of peas for summer. As they eagerly lined up to receive a handful of black eyed peas to plant for the upcoming season I couldn’t help but wonder if these new peas would be as big of a hit as the old ones, and I can’t wait to find out.