How to Grow Peas
Fresh peas straight from the pod! Wandering down to the garden on a hot summer’s day and gathering bags full of peas is one of life’s little pleasures. Bring along the kids and the dog to see everyone happy, gathering and munching the day away.
Once you have experienced your own fresh peas you’ll never look at supermarket ones the same way again. It will be a healthy meal too, since peas are packed full of a host of beneficial nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and substances to prevent cancer and reverse the effects of aging.
Although peas are more of a treat than a staple they are incredibly easy to grow and seldom fail to produce a delicious crop.
Let’s take a look at some different types of peas available:
Pea varieties fall under two main umbrellas, shelling and edible-podded:
Shelling peas are grown for the peas inside their pods, they are the ones you boil up for the dinner plate. We crack open the pods and discard them to get the tasty green balls inside.
Shelling peas can be further divided into two varieties; ‘early and ‘main crop’. Early varieties crop early, whereas main crop come along about a month later. It is often better to plant both types in order to extend your gathering season.
Here are some good types of shelling peas:
Meteor is a very early variety. They can even be sown in August of the preceding year and will overwinter underground before bursting into life along with spring. Meteor produces many pods but they tend to be small.
Early Onward is a well-known early cropper that is hardy and reliable in Britain. It produces long pods with fat, round peas.
Onward is the main crop version of Early Onward. They are well-recognized as a good quality strain producing long pods with large peas.
Ambassador is another good main crop variety with extra-long pods. Each contains as many as 9 peas.
Edible-podded peas are those types such as mangetout or sugar-snap that we grow for their delicious pods. We often use them in stir fries or on salads. These types of peas can be eaten flat-podded or round-podded and the taste will vary accordingly. Pick them early when the pods are still flat or later when they have swelled.
Here are some good types of edible-podded peas:
Oregon Sugar Pod are a well-known kind of sugar-snap pea which are usually eaten flat-podded. They are very reliable with excellent yields.
Sugar Ann is another favourite sugar-snap. They can be eaten flat-podded but are often left to mature since this is when they turn sweetest. However, you need to remove the stringy parts of the pods when they have grown.
Shiraz is a flat-podded mangetout variety with purple pods. Unfortunately the colour does not stay purple when you cook them, heat changes them to green, which is a bit of a shame!
Some people like to start peas off indoors but they are not easily transplanted, so beginners should sow them straight into the ground.
Start peas in April but make sure the earth is not still too cold or wet because they will rot or fail. Also keep sowing peas every couple of weeks for regular cropping later on. You can keep sowing well into July.
Choose a well-drained plot with moist ground that gets moderate amounts of sunlight. Dig over your pea bed and remove all weeds. Rake the bed over so it is nice and fine.
Designate a strip 30cm (11”) wide and make a V shaped drill (a long thin trench like farmers sow their crops into).
Plant your peas in a zig-zag pattern along the drill. Be sure to sow plenty because birds and rodents will no doubt take some. Give them a good watering, and remember to water once per week thereafter.
Now place two canes in the ground at either side of the sowing area and tie them together with some twine at the top so they look like wigwams. When the peas start getting bigger you should tie twine to the canes along the rows for support. If you have some net then drape that over the canes instead, it should also provide some protection from the birds.
Keep watering your peas throughout the growing season, especially when they have pods on. But don’t feed them, as they are susceptible to overfeeding.
Peas often get attacked by a number of pests, the most common of which is the pea moth. The creature drills a little hole in peapods and deposits eggs which later become caterpillars. There is something particularly nauseating about opening a pea pod and finding one of these pests, worse still is mistakenly eating a pea that they have attacked or -god forbid- eating the larvae itself! An experience like that can put especially squeamish people off their entire crop.
Unfortunately, there are not many viable non-chemical ways to deal with these troublesome moths and you may just have to accept them as part of nature. But they do only lay during June and July, so you can try covering your pea plants with anti-insect mesh during those months, or sow early and late varieties which flower outside of them. Thankfully the moth does not really affect edible-podded types.
Early varieties should be ready around 12 weeks from the day you planted them, whereas late varieties will take 15 weeks. You will know they are ready when the pods begin to swell up, unless they are mangetout of course.
Peas are easy to harvest. Just work from the bottom upwards, gently pulling pods from the plant. Keep harvesting your peas regularly to encourage the plants to grow more.
Remember that like sweetcorn, peas begin to turn bitter as soon as they are picked so are best enjoyed straight away. Rush home to cook them. If you get a glut you can freeze them but this must be done right away so the sugar is sealed in. You can also dry them for use in soups.
When your peas are finished don’t pull them out of the ground. Instead, slice off the stems and compost those but leave the roots alone. The reason for this is that pea roots contain lots of valuable nitrogen which is released into the earth when they rot. Brassicas are particularly fond of nitrogen so you should put brassica plants in a former pea bed the following year for a great crop.
Now you should be able to enjoy pans of peas, mint and butter all summer, so off you go!