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Growing Peas - advice on how to grow Peas

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There can be few better garden pleasures then eating fresh garden peas straight from the pod. Their smell, texture and flavour are fantastic. In this guide we will cover all aspects of growing peas from sowing to harvest including peas grown in containers as well as soil.

Whilst traditionally most peoples idea of growing peas would be for the shelled seeds today peas are seen as a more versatile crop where the seed pods of the mangetout (flat, non stringy seed pods) and sugar snap peas (fleshy, non stringy pods) can be eaten. In addition the young tender shoots of peas can be harvested and eaten.

Pea shoots have recently become very fashionable in high end dining for their use in 'micro salads' and as garnishes. If growing indoors then try trays of pea shoots which get efficient use our of the space with a short sow to harvest time.

Preparation

Improve the soil structure by digging in some garden compost in (if using shop bought compost then a general multi-purpose compost is fine).

Using a soil rake, rake the soil till it has a fine structure structure that will help carry oxygen and water to the plant roots.

To achieve a good crop, peas must have vertical support that they can attach their tendrils to. This enables them to grow vertically thus making best use of the available sunlight and space. The height of the pea plant will depend on which variety you are growing (see below).

Some varieties can use Pea Sticks (small thin sticks around 60cm in height) to support them, these can be shop bought or simply improvised from sticks from other plants in yours (or your neighbours) garden (hazel twigs are commonly used).

Other taller growing varieties will need support from one of a number of options including:

  • a net that is attached to a vertical support at each end or the net
  • a wooden trellice
  • a structure such as a a wigwam made from garden canes / willow / other sticks similar to wigwams used for growing runner beans and sweet-peas.
  • string stretched between two canes / other supports

Pea tendrils gripping string

Choosing a container

If growing peas in containers then make sure to choose a container that takes soil to a depth of at least 25cm as peas have roots that reach this depth. Line the container with some old crocks or large gravel to help free drainage and use a multipurpose compost that will retain moisture. If using a terracotta container then line the sides with an old compost bag that will help to prevent moisture loss through the walls of the container. If growing in containers then choose a dwarf or low growing variety.

Sowing

You can accelerate germination rates by placing your pea seeds in a bowl of water overnight before the day of sowing.

Quick win tip - You can use a length of household guttering to sow your pea seeds in. Fill the guttering with compost and sow your seeds. Once the seeds have germinated it is very simple to then dig a small trench in your vegetable patch where you want your row of peas to be and then place the end of your guttering at the end of the trench and gently raise the other end of the guttering so you gently slide the row of seedlings into place all in one go. If using this method make sure to move the seedlings out of the guttering quickly after germination as peas need a good depth for their root system and if you leave them in the guttering for too long then their roots will be constrained.

If you don't want to acquire some guttering or use pots then you can sow the seeds straight into the soil. Sow them in a zig-zag pattern alternating each side of the vertical support system you are using. Sow seeds at a depth of 5cm and cover with soil. Use the head of your rake to gently press the soil down over the top of the seeds to ensure the seed is in full contact with the soil. Space rows the same distance as the expected height of the variety you are growing. You can grow catch crops between the rows to make best use of the size of your plot. Try growing radishes or more rows of peas that you will harvest as pea shoots.

Station sowing (where you sow 2 or more seeds 1cm apart at each point that you want a plant) is often used with peas. This helps prevent gaps that may occur due to lack of germination occurring in some seeds.

Sow at intervals of about 8 cm and likewise if transplanting seedling then leave a gap of about 8cm between plants.

Pea Seedling

In order to lengthen the growing and harvesting season of peas you should successionally sow them so that you have plants that are approaching harvest as your earlier crop is coming to and end. The varieties you choose can have an important affect on the length of the harvesting season here as there are early cropping, mid season and late cropping varieties so make sure to choose varieties that span these if you want to be eating peas throughout spring and summer.

Sowing for pea shoots

If you are growing solely for pea shoots then you do not need to sow in a deep container. Indeed a seed tray is quite suitable for pea shoots.

Top Tip - if growing for pea shoots only then rather than using expensive gardeners seed packets you can use the much cheaper, larger packets of dried peas that are available from supermarkets and health food shops.

Position

Peas scramble vertically and smaller gardens can make use of this by using the peas to form a green screen on balconies or to mark the boundaries of your vegetable plot.

Peas should be positioned in a space that receives plenty of sunshine but will tolerate a small amount of shade.

Being a legume, peas are excellent at fixing nitrogen in the soil and so are often positioned where root vegetables have grown the year before and where brassicas (leafy green vegetables that require lots of nitrogen) will be grown the year after. This principle is known as crop rotation and ensures that the maximum potential is achieved from the soil year after year.

Soil type

Peas like quite a rich moisture retaining soil but one that is free draining. Therefore if you have a clay or a sandy soil then dig in organic matter such as garden compost or well rotted manure. If you have a soil testing kit ensure your soil has a pH of 6 or more.

You can also add a mulch around the pea plants once they have attached themselves to the vertical support to help retain moisture in the soil and reduce weed growth.

Tending

If you are sowing early spring varieties make sure to protect peas from any occasional late frosts by using a cloche or garden fleece to cover the young peas.

Use a hoe / trowel / hand (depending on the size of your plot) to remove weeds that might compete for light, soil nutrients and water.

Water sparingy before flowering - enough to stop the soil drying out. Over-watering before the plant begins to flower can increase foliage but reduce yields. Water generously when the peas come into flower so the water penetrates deeply into the soil. Remember peas have deep roots and will follow the water down, down, down. Therefore don't water frequently, leave for 10-14 days and then water again and keep doing this whilst the peas inside the pods are starting to swell up.

Harvesting

Shelled varieties should be ready to harvest within about a month of flowering. The mangetout and sugar snap varieties can be harvested when not fully developed or left longer to reach maturity. Either way they enable shorter growth periods than the shelled varieties.

Harvest fromt the base of the plant upwards by cutting the pods off where the pod joins the stem. To encourage a longer growing season and to ensure the tastiest peas harvest as soon as the peas have swollen to their full size. You can harvest the sugar snap and mange-tout varieties at any point. Again avoid leaving on the plant when they are ready.

You can save seed from your crop to enable free plants next year. Simply leave some pods on the plant at the end of the plants growing season. The pods and peas will dry out and turn brown. When they are completely dry you can write the name of the variety on a brown paper bag, pop them in it and store in a dry, dark place until next year. If there is a lot of rain at time of seed collection then bring the pods indoors and allow them to dry in a well ventilated space.

Whilst eating peas as you pick them is for us the best way to enjoy them, you can also use them in salads, soups, risottos. Mint makes an ideal partner in taste to Peas as does Dill.

Varieties

Petit pois produce small round seeds that need to be shelled.

Yields tend to be higher from the edible pod varieties.

Diseases

Mice are notorious for their love of eating pea seeds. If mice are a problem then make sure to cover your rows with a cloche or garden fleece. Alternatively sow in a length of guttering as described above and place the length of guttering somewhere out of the reach of the mice. Birds can also target seeds and very young pea seedlings so placing garden fleece or some kind of netting over your rows is advisable.

The other most destructive force on peas is the Pea Moth which lays its eggs on the leaves of the pea plant. When the eggs hatch the emerging caterpillars bury their way into the pea pod and once inside they feast on the seeds thus ruining the crop.

Combatting Pea Moth organically can be done by using special insect proof mesh to cover the pea plants thus forming a barrier to the moths coming into contact with the plants.

If you are not organic you can use synthetic pyrethroid insecticde which can be sprayed on the crops when the plant comes into flower. Consult the instructions that come with the insecticide for safe application.

Peas can also suffer from powdery mildew although this tends to be when the plant has finished producing pods.

Photo credits: flickr.com/photos/maria_keays

 

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