Peas form part of the legume family and are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world.
They are very well suited to cooler climates, and are certainly not keen on hot weather, so they are best grown as an early summer crop. Some varieties even stop producing pods in protest if temperatures exceed 20C. Peas are climbers with strong tendrils so will need support.
Everyone enjoys sweet tender peas, but that can be quite difficult to achieve. Pea pods need to be picked at the right time and frequently. Failure to do this can lead to a rather disappointing crop. As soon as peas are picked, or if the pods are left on the plant too long, the sugars in the pea start to turn to starch. The peas become mealy and they lose their sweetness and flavour.
There are two types of peas:
Podding or shelling varieties; where the pod is discarded and only the seed eaten.
Non-shelling, flat-podded varieties such as mangetout and sugar-snaps. In this case the pods are also eaten
Mangetout and sugar-snaps are generally easier to grow than podding peas. And they are incredibly sweet unlike shop bought ones!
In addition to this, peas like potatoes are grouped by the time it takes for the plant to reach maturity.
|Type||Sow||Harvest||Sow to Harvest|
|First Early||March to June||June to September||12 weeks|
|Second Early||March to June||June to October||14 weeks|
|Maincrop||March to June||July to October||16 weeks|
By sowing a couple of varieties over a month or so, cropping can be extended from mid-June to mid-October. Obviously these dates are subject, depending on germination timings and colder weather will extend the sow to harvest timing.
Peas grow best in a sheltered position that gets plenty of sun, but they can tolerate partial shade. Peas grow on most soil types, although they prefer well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. They can struggle in heavy clay soils… tell me what doesn’t! Legumes are nitrogen fixers so do not add nitrogen to the soil before planting. An overly rich soil produces lots of leafy growth and a reduced crop of peas. Peas like a lot of moisture.
Seeds can be sown directly outdoors or started off indoors. If sowing outdoors never sow in cold, wet soil, as the seeds will rot. Oops!
If the conditions are right to sow directly outdoors then start by digging out a flat-bottomed trench 5cm deep and 20 to 25 cm wide. Lightly fork over the bottom, water the soil and then sow the seeds roughly 7.5cm apart, press them lightly into the soil. Cover with soil and lightly pat down. Val Bourne, gardener extraordinaire, says take heed from the old adage ‘One for the mouse, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow’ So that’s a 25% chance of getting a plant, so maybe probably best to start indoors.
Place some twiggy supports straight after sowing, one has to be optimistic…the height should depend on the variety of pea. Never allow the soil to dry out, as this will dramatically reduce pea production.
After sowing the seeds cover with mulch to help retain soil moisture. Water well at least once a week, and especially when the plants start to flower.
Pea seeds germinate at temperatures between 40F and 60F. If the soil is 40F then the pea seed may take as long as a month to germinate. If the soil temperature is at 60F then germination may be only take a week.
If conditions are poor it may be worth starting them off indoors. Peas don’t like root disturbance so ensure you use decent sized deep pots. Fill the pot with compost and make a hole about 1.5 cm deep. Gently water. Place a pea seed in each hole. Cover with compost. Leave in a warm place (around 60F) to aid germination. Before planting out ensure the seedlings are ‘hardened off’ by placing in a coldframe. Protect from cold weather by covering young plants with fleece.
On average pea plants take around 100 days to mature.
Expect to pick pods from June. See table above for estimated dates.
Podding peas are ready to pick once the pod looks well filled.
Ensure you pick pods while they are young and tender. If you allow them to get too big and tough they will turn starchy and lose their sweetness and flavour. I think this is what happened to our crop in 2012, they were vile!
Even if the pods are past their prime pick them anyway as this will leave the plant resources to produce new pods.
Peas start producing pods at the bottom of the plant first. Therefore always start picking pods from the bottom of the plant.
Pick pods regularly to help increase the harvest.
If you are lucky enough to get a glut of peas they freeze well.Freeze them immediately after harvest to retain their rich flavour. Blanch the peas for a minute in boiling water, immediately drain and plunge into ice water for two minutes. Drain again, loosely pack the peas in plastic bags or containers, and pop them into the freezer. Use the peas within nine months.
Mice and other rodents are partial to pea seedlings and will devour them as they emerge.
Birds can also attack young crops. Protect with fleece in cold conditions and netting as the weather warms up.
The pea moth is a tiny, drab moth whose larvae (caterpillars) feed on garden peas.
Pea moth caterpillars feed inside shelling pea pods but the, often severe, damage is often only spotted at harvest. Consequently, the pods need to be shelled with care to avoid including some meat with the veg!
Peas can be grown under horticultural fleece, insect-proof mesh such as Enviromesh when the plants are in flower, to prevent female moths laying eggs on the plants.
Powdery mildew is the most common disease of peas, usually striking as the weather warms. Young leaves and tips will be covered with grey/white talc. This will eventually spread to the entire plant. It can happen if the soil is too dry and also in older plants reaching the end of their life. To help prevent this disease keep the plants well watered and ensure there is good air circulation.
Another diseases that cause problems root rot. Young plants will turn yellow and shrivel. Roots turn black and die off. This may be due to overwatering plants in cold wet soils with poor drainage. It may also be due to an organism in the soil.
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