It sounded like a good idea at the time: Plant peas in the spring, let them climb up the tomato cages a bit, and then cut the peas down when the weather turns hot and the tomatoes really start to put on growth. The main problem with the experiment can be summed up in a picture:
See, summer took for…e...ver… to come on this year. As a result the peas just grew and grew and grew, much taller than the 3-4 foot mark they were advertised as. This had the effect of shading out the poor shivering tomtatoes. By the end of pea season, three weeks after taking that picture, most of the peas were a foot or two taller than all the tomatoes. Most of the 'maters are now bushy and healthy-looking, except for the poor Stupice which ended up ridiculously leggy for an outdoor plant. So little harm done, but they may have had better fruit set early on with a bit more direct heat.
I still like the idea of using some sort of cover crop or interplanting to shade out weeds underneath my tomato cages. Lentils are a possibility. I planted some lentils in one of the new beds this year, and found that (a) they're tiny plants, maybe 12" tall, but form a dense carpet when planted closely together, (b) you can use store-bought lentils as the seed, so they're cheap, and (c) yield is miniscule for the area they take up, so devoting space just to lentils probably isn't wise unless you have a whole farm to spare. You only get one lentil seed per itty bitty pod, so the yield is pretty sad compared even to regular bush beans, let alone pole types. It is, however, a spring-sown legume that doesn't mind heat and won't overwhelm even young tomatoes. We'll see in 2012.
|Lentil seed pod|