Grow and Harvest Fresh Green Peas

The garden podded or shelling pea [ Pisum sativum ] is a favourite in the vegetable garden, and growing peas is recommended even for the novice gardener. There are only a few vegetables quite like freshly shelled garden peas. Included in this family are mangetout and sugar or snow peas, these varieties of peas are grown for their edible pods which are eaten whole.

Marrowfat a variety is grown to produce mature pea seeds for drying. Home grown peas are quite easy to manage in the vegetable garden and if the right varieties are selected, fresh peas can be harvested from June to October outdoors as the use of cloches, greenhouses or polytunnels can extend the season so you can grow peas for a longer period.

Preparation

For the best crops, the pea plants need an open sunny site, with good drainage. But in the current hot summers you can grow peas in semi shaded areas as well. Pea plants like their roots cool and moist, so a soil rich in organic matter will give the best results.

In the autumn dig in some well rotted manure for the peas. The developing peas will appreciate the extra nutrients, and if you grow peas in this way the pea plants will produce heavier crops and your freshly picked peas have a really sweet peas.

If you have acidic soils, you will need to lime as peas grow best in neutral soil. Don’t sow the seed into cold wet soil as it will most likely rot. Sowing early peas can be done under the protection of cloches or fleece if you grow peas direct outside. Peas are grouped by harvesting time and the shape of the seeds.

Varieties of peas

There are many different pea varieties. Sugar snap varieties, mangetout peas, dwarf varieties, also sugar snap peas which are excellent in stir fries.

Taller varieties include the pretty purple podded pess, the plants can grow 2 metres tall, ideal to grow together with runner beans.

For early varieties one of best is Douce Provence with good cold tolerance.

By harvesting time

The first early varieties are generally sown from March to early June and are ready to pick in 11 – 13 weeks from sowing. Second early pea seeds are sown from March to June and are ready in about 14 – 15 weeks.

Maincrop varieties are sown from April to June and should be ready to harvest from 16 weeks. By making several sowings from each of the groups, you should have fresh peas all summer.

Peas ready for planting out.

By the shape of the seeds

They are either round or wrinkled, round pea seeds tend to be hardier. The varieties are grouped as early, second early and maincrop. Wrinkled varieties are Kelvedon Wonder and Ambassador , they are great for maincrop peas.

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The early variety Douce Provence has round seeds.

Sowing pea seeds directly outside

Make a flat bottomed trench about 2 inches deep and 5 – 6 inches wide. Sow the pea seeds evenly along the trench, about 2 – 3 inches apart in all directions. Cover with soil and firm lightly. If you want to sow a second row of peas, the spacing between rows should be the mature height of the variety grown.

If the weather conditions don’t allow for direct outdoor sowing, you can start them off in pots or modules of multi purpose compost. I do this as mice always eat my direct sown peas and I do love growing peas and picking the fresh pods in the summer months. I sow peas between 3 – 4 pea seeds per large module. Sow early in the south of the UK and a bit later in the spring in the north.

When the seedlings are 3 – 4 inches high, I plant the groups of seedlings without splitting in a staggered row with 3 inches between each group.

Sowing pea seeds in guttering

Another way of growing is sowing indoors in guttering, fill a length of plastic guttering with garden compost, sow seeds staggered along the guttering at about 2 inch spacings. When the pea seedlings are about 3 – 4 inches high, make a shallow trench the width of the guttering, then slide the whole row of seedlings into the trench. Water in. Sow mangetout peas and sugar type peas in exactly the same way as ordinary peas.

The method I use growing peas in guttering is as follows:

  • I get guttering (from building sites and skips) and cut it into 1 metre lengths so I can handle and transport them easily. I tape up the ends with gaffer tape or fit end caps if I have some.
  • Fill with ordinary garden compost and pat the compost down – then lay them in the greenhouse on the table.
  • Then I place the peas in a diagonal pattern to get the spacing – not critical but I’m a fussy geek. They normally end up about 2″ apart in 2 staggered rows. This is about 12 per foot of gutter which is the ideal seed count.
  • Then I make small holes about an 1″ deep and plonk a pea seed in each. Cover with new fine garden compost and give a good watering to make sure the soil moist.

How long to keep the peas indoors

The winter peas will now sit in the greenhouse till the pea shoots are about 4-6″ high and have a good root system then get planted out. This is simply by digging a small trench the size of the guttering and sliding sections of the plants complete in their soil into the trench.

I may hold them over in the greenhouse till spring before I plant out. Just depends on the weather. The Winter sowing ideally should be about mid November, the pea shoots will appear in about two weeks, and can be done directly in the bed but I’d rather coddle them a bit then plant out without affecting the roots.

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Sow the seeds indoors in the greenhouse in guttering to plant later in the spring. Growing peas this way give the plants a head start so I can harvest the pods earlier in the season.

My early Spring sowing will be done the same way around beginning of March and planted out a few weeks later. The variety Douce Provence is frost hardy so no problem planting out early.

Grow peas in the Greenhouse in the Autumn

I do this for an early summer planting of peas and also for my winter crop this year. This winter crop will only be ready in Spring/Early Summer probably giving me early peas about a month before the normal Spring sowing would be ready. So if a harsh winter hammers them I can still get in and do another sowing in early Spring.

I use the variety Douce Provence for the winter sowing and also for a very early sowing in the Spring.

Both the above sowing will be done in my greenhouse and sowed in lengths of guttering.

My second early variety will be Kelvedon Wonder, and thereafter a few other varieties staggered from April to May

Supporting the pea plants

The growing peas, with the exception of very dwarf varieties, will need some form of support to climb up. Short varieties can be supported with shrubby ‘pea sticks’ these are short twiggy sticks, branches or prunings and are the traditional way of supporting peas. I myself can’t often get sticks so I use netting and canes or string.

Young plants will need support right away to train the plants and allow the tendrils to grab onto the stick.

You can use anything as support, trellis, chicken wire or plastic mesh. Bean poles or bamboo canes tied in a tee – pee are good for the tall climbing varieties.

Just remember that mature maincrop plants will require good strong support and don’t forget that the growing peas have plenty of tender tendrils which are actually a modified leaf to help the plants to support themselves as they climb upwards on the supports you provided for them.

Pea sticks ideas

  • Any small tree brunches can be used, save them the previous year if you are planning to grow peas.
  • Canes with pea netting between them are great for supporting your pea crop.
  • Ready made or home made small trellis, you can make them very quick from any small wooden material. Use twine to assemble a rough pea sticks like structure. The peas do not need a sturdy support, even sturdy the tall growing pea varieties will be okay in a home made, loose structure.

Watering the pea plants

Keep your plants well especially when the pea flowers appear, a mulch around the base of the peas will help to retain moisture. Make sure that your pea plants get lots of water when the pods are swelling.

Peas do love plenty of water during the developing of the pods and pea seeds too, drought stressed plants will produce less than average pods and you will fail to have a good crop.

See also  Should I Soak Seeds Before Planting

Harvesting peas

The pods are ready to harvest when they are plump and well filled, if you plant peas regularly you will get a feel of it when exactly to harvest your peas. Harvest peas regularly to keep the plants producing more flowers and pods. When all the crop has been picked and the plants have finished cropping, cut down the foliage leaving the roots in the soil. As peas fix their own nitrogen on their roots, leave the roots in the soil to benefit the next crop sown.


If you are planting peas for drying, leave the pea pods on the plants till the foliage starts to yellow then harvest peas; cut the whole plant and hang up to dry. If this is not possible, harvest the mature pods and place in an airy place to dry before shelling.

Start harvesting mangetout pea pods from 2 inches as the main crop of pods come quickly. Sugar snap types can be eaten when young and flat or when the pods are swollen a bit. These can also be used like shelling peas when mature.

Storing peas

The easiest way is to shell the mature peas out and freeze the peas in containers. This way they keep fresh for up to 6 months and will keep their super sweet flavour.

In the pods the peas will keep fresh for at least 7 days in the fridge.

Pests and Diseases

  • Pea Moth.  Female moths lay their eggs on the flowers which hatch into caterpillars that eat the young seeds in the pod. Peas sown in March and then in June are not usually affected, as the moths normally fly during late May and June. So early summer sowings are recommended if you had pea moth problem on your peas before. Pea moth can be a big problem, for the middle of the spring you can spray the plants with a home made garlic spray to deter the moths.
  • Mice.  Mice and voles are partial to direct sown seeds, if they are a problem you can grow in pots, modules or guttering.
  • Pigeons.  The tender shoots of the plants can be very attractive to pigeons. You can cover with cloches or fleece when young or net the whole plants.
  • Powdery Mildew.  This is a fungal disease that attacks the foliage and stems. Regular watering and mulching helps to prevent attacks. Some varieties are more resistant.Most of the time the powdery mildew will not grow on your plants but just in case make sure that they are not packed together too closely, as good air circulation around the pea plants will make it harder for the fungi to start infecting the plants. And you can have healthy pea plants throughout the growing season and a plentiful crop too come harvest time. If you are growing peas I hope these tips will be of help.
Helen Fowler
Born in Middlesbrough. Moved to live in rural North Yorkshire in late teens. Moved back to the town in my 30's to live near Stockton on Tees. Then after a divorce and a serious accident I moved back to rural North Yorkshire near Thirsk, where I live now. I am a passionate gardener, a keen amateur photograper, I love travel, music, anything artistic and I have a great love of nature and the natural world. I have gardened since my teens and I lived and worked on a farm for years. I have owned or have experience with most pets and domestic animals. I hope by sharing my own experiences and the personal knowledge I have gained over the years, to help and encourage others to gain the most from their gardening efforts.
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