The garden podded or shelling pea [ Pisum sativum ] is a favorite in the vegetable garden, and growing peas is recommended even for the novice gardener. There are only a few vegetables quite like freshly shelled peas. Included in this family are mangetout and sugar or snow peas, these varieties are grown for their edible pods which are eaten whole. Marrowfat a variety is grown to produce mature seeds for drying. This veg is quite easy to grow 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.
For the best crops, the plants need an open sunny site, with good drainage. They like their roots cool and moist, so a soil rich in organic matter will give the best results. If your soil is acidic, you will need to lime. Don’t sow the seed into cold wet soil as it will most likely rot. Sowing early can be done under the protection of cloches or fleece. Peas are grouped by harvesting time and the shape of the seeds.
They are either round or wrinkled, round seeds tend to be hardier. The varieties are grouped as early, second early and maincrop. The first earlies are generally sown from March to early June and are ready to pick in 11 – 13 weeks from sowing. Second earlies 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.
Make a flat bottomed trench about 2 inches deep and 5 – 6 inches wide. Sow 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, 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 between 3 – 4 pea seeds per large module [ 4 for earlies, 3 for maincrops ].
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. Another way to sow is in guttering, fill a length of plastic guttering with compost, sow seeds staggered along the guttering at about 2 inch spacings. When the 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 and sugar types in exactly the same way as ordinary peas.
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 an early Spring sowing.
Both the above sowing will be done in my greenhouse and sowed in lengths of guttering.
(My second early will be Kelvedon Wonder, and thereafter a few other varieties staggered from April to May)
The method I use for the guttering is as follows:
I get guttering (from building sites and skips) and cut it into 1 mt 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 compost and pat the compost down – then lay them in the greenhouse on the table.
Then I place the them 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 seed in each. Cover with new fine compost and give a watering.
The winter peas will now sit in the greenhouse till they 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 early early spring before I plant out. Just depends on the weather!! The Winter sowing ideally should be about mid November and can be done directly in the bed but I’d rather coddle them a bit then plant out without affecting the roots. 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.. I’ll probably give them some protection if the weather is really bad.
The growing peas, with the exception of very dwarf or self – supporting varieties, will need some form of support to climb up. Short varieties can be supported with shrubby ‘pea sticks’ these are short twiggy branches or pruning and are the traditional way of supporting peas. I myself can’t often get sticks so I use netting and canes or string. You can use anything as support, trellis, wire or plastic mesh. Bean poles or 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 up on the supports you provided for them.
Keep your plants well watered during flowering, a mulch around the base of the peas will help to retain moisture. Make sure that your plants get lots of water when the pods are swelling.
The pods are ready to harvest when they are plump and well filled, if you are growing peas regularly you will get a feel of it when exactly to harvest your pods. Pick them 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 growing peas for drying, leave the pea pods on the plants till the foliage starts to yellow. cut the whole plant and hang up to dry. If this is not possible, pick mature pods and place in an airy place to dry before shelling. Start harvesting mangetout pods from 2 inches as the main crop of pods come quickly. Sugar 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.
A Selection of Varieties
Early – Meteor, Marvel, Feltham First, Douce Provence, Kelvedon Wonder [ can also be sown as a maincrop ]
Second Early – Early Onward, Petit Pois Waverex
Maincrop – Hurst Green Shaft, Ambassador
Heritage Climbing – Telephone, Purple Podded
Mangetout – Oregon Sugar Pod, Shiraz, Golden Sweet
Sugar/Snow – Sugar Bon, Sugar Snap
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.
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 mildew will not grow on your plants but just in case make sure that they are not packed together too closely, as air circulation around the pea plants will make it harder for the fungi to start infecting the plants. If you are growing peas I hope these tips will be of help, also check out the pictures below for some inspiring gardening.