How to grow Peas in the Garden
Gardening Expert Lancashire Lass shows us how
Introduction:Clarence Birdseye may have invented the frozen pea, but home grown peas are best when picked and eaten fresh out of the pod. Some varieties have very pretty flowers too. And because they are self-fertile, the variety remains stable so any peas left to mature can be saved to sow the following year
Soil Preparation:Digging in fresh compost and addition of a general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore before sowing will provide all the essential nutrients. Adding a little horticultural lime on acidic soil is advisable.
When to Sow:Early pea varieties can be sown as early as late February but generally from March onwards when the soil is less saturated and cold would be better for improved germination. To ensure harvests throughout summer, sow a few seeds every other week through to July – later sowings may catch up with earlier ones as the weather warms up proper. Mangetout and sugar snap can be treated like early peas and sown in succession.
Maincrop and marrowfat peas need a longer growing season but best to sow when the soil is warmer to encourage quick growth - from mid-late April would be ideal.
Sowing:Make a shallow trench about 3 inches wide and an inch deep, and sow seeds every 2 inches apart in a zig zag formation along rows about 2 feet apart. Cover with soil and water in.
Support:Peas produce grasping tendrils and will smother neighbours in an effort to grow taller – providing a support will also make it easier to see and pick the pods. Early and dwarf varieties usually grow no taller than 3-4 feet so twiggy sticks placed either side of a row will suffice. Taller peas need a sturdy frame which not only supports the plants and crop, but will not blow over in a strong wind – use pea/bean netting on a cane frame braced against falling over (like a modified A frame), or use taut twine at different heights between posts. Some very tall pea varieties can easily reach 6 feet.
Growing On & Harvesting:Peas need very little attention when they are growing other than keeping the bed weed free and watered regularly especially during hot weather. As pea plants grow and produce crops quickly, additional feeding is not necessary. When plants begin to flower, watch out for the pods as they develop - the sweetest and most tender peas are from pods that are filled but still green. When pods fade and appear wrinkled, the sugars in the peas are turning to starch. Mangetout should be cropped when the peas in the pods are just starting to develop. When picked regularly, plants will produce a second crop before they die back.
Maincrop peas take a little longer to develop but are treated the same as early varieties. Marrowfat and soup peas however, are left to dry in the pods preferably while still on the plant (remove pods if late in the season and dry indoors)
Pests & Diseases:Mice are partial to seeds so erect a physical barrier to prevent access or soak the seeds in paraffin to make them unpalatable. Slugs and snails may eat seedlings but once mature, the plants are safe so only need protection when germinating. Young pea plants often get eaten by pea/bean weevil leaving scalloped bite marks on leaves but generally more a cosmetic damage than deadly except in a serious infestation – pick off weevils and destroy.
Pea moths by far do the worst damage laying eggs on immature pods where grubs eat the developing peas. As peas are self-fertile, covering plants in a fleece especially from late May to end of July when the adult moths emerge, will prevent access to the flowers and protect the peas.
Peas generally don’t suffer from many diseases other than they may succumb to mildew and fusarium wilt which are fungal in nature and weather related, thriving in very damp or very conditions. Staggering the sowing period over a long period, choosing resistant varieties and growing plants in open areas should reduce the impact on the crop.
Kelvedon Wonder, Feltham First and Hurst Green Shaft are reliable, high yielding early dwarf varieties.
Sugar Ann- a sugar snap variety with amazingly sweet pods. Golden Sweet have lovely yellow flat pods which are easy to see when picking although Oregon Sugar and Reuzensuiker are also popular green podded varieties. Carouby de Maussane is a tall growing mangetout.
Telephone or Champion of England are rare tall pea heritage maincrop varieties that fell out of favour when the frozen pea market and mechanisation took over.