Mason County's irrigated sandy soil grows many different types of specialty crops. In addition to peas, farmers there also grow popcorn, watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans, horseradish, cabbage, sweet corn, pumpkins and potatoes.
In fact, Mason County is the number one producer of popcorn (18,552 acres) in the United States. They also rank number one for vegetables (10,013 acres) and snap beans (3,907 acres), based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2012 survey.
Last June farm writer Deanna Thomas wrote a blog about the peas that her family grows in Mason County. Here is her description of that operation.
"Peas are usually, weather permitting, the first crop that is planted on the farm with a drill or an air seeder. They can be planted anywhere from March 15 – April 15. Del Monte and Seneca both have field offices and field operation managers that work with the farmers in our area to determine what type of peas will be grown, when they will be planted, sprayed, and harvested. Because peas are a specialty crop contract, they have to be grown on irrigated ground, taking the risk of lack of precipitation out of the equation. The size and density of the pea determine when they are ready to be picked. The pea plant gets to be anywhere from 15"-18" tall. The custom harvesters actually shell the peas as they harvest them."
Peas are a cool season crop, meaning that they are grown during the cool spring and fall gardening seasons. For gardening purposes, peas are classified as garden peas (English peas), snap peas, and snow peas (sugar peas). English peas must be removed from the pod before eating. Snap peas are eaten pod and all. Snow peas are harvested as flat, tender pods before the peas within develop at all.
To learn more about growing peas go to the University of Illinois Extension website "Watch Your Garden Grow" at http://extension.illinois.edu/veggies. There you'll find information on cultivars to choose, general care, harvesting, common problems, and home preservation.
You'll also find the following nutritional information there. "Green garden peas are a valuable source of protein, iron and insoluble fiber. Sugar snap peas and the like, contain much less protein, but they are an excellent source of iron and vitamin C that work to keep your immune system functioning properly."
Enjoy some frozen or fresh peas for your dinner tonight. I love them so much that I'll eat them cold, without cooking. My favorite way to fix peas, though, is to mix them with pickled eggs drizzled with oil and vinegar. Mmm, mmm, good!