In mid-August of 2014, on the banks of the Missouri River in Great Falls, I received a single Jefferson pea in a small brown envelope, along with a copy of Robinson Crusoe. I was also issued a challenge: to use the book as inspiration and the pea as seed stock to build a Jeffersonian pea empire. I was to return to Montana only when I could feed the masses with the progeny of that single pea. Failure, I was told, was not an option.
Through that fall and winter the pea sat on my mantle, still in its envelope, hidden behind a framed photograph from prying the fingers of kids and grandkids and such vermin. It was finally planted, not in the garden but in a pot on my deck, in late March of 2015. Only when I was convinced of its vigor and hardiness was it transplanted to the garden, where it received the most reverential of treatment throughout the season. I essentially built a fortress around it, protection from dogs, squirrels, rabbits, birds, chipmunks and the aforementioned grandchildren. I celebrated when the first pod finally appeared, and I ended up with 28 peas to use as seed for the 2016 crop.
Throwing caution to the wind, I planted all 28 seeds in 2016, holding nothing back as failsafe. Again I started on the deck before transplanting, a practice I’ve since learned is not recommended, but most of seeds produced. It was extremely hot and dry in Piedmont North Carolina last spring, however, and the plants were affected. I managed to harvest 156 seeds, a poor return compared to the previous year but sufficient to keep visions of my pea empire on the far horizon.
Now it’s May of 2017, and hard to believe that just 26 months ago I had but a solitary pea. I started some peas on the deck this year but others went straight to the garden. As the photos show, the plants thus far are healthy and robust, far exceeding the early appearances from the past two years. I am expecting a crop in the thousands, an output which should provide the opportunity to perhaps cook and enjoy “a mess of peas” this summer while still providing an ample seed supply for 2018.
Assuming I can find the acreage, I anticipate returning to Montana in 2019 with enough peas to feed everyone, my mission accomplished, my empire secure for all time.