How to grow peas, a vegetable that has been grown by our ancestors for longer than any other vegetable, making it the longest grown and the most popular of our garden vegetables.
Peas are naturally sweet, but as soon as they are picked their sugar starts to turn to starch, so eat or freeze peas as soon as they are picked. They are also very nutritious providing vitamins C, A, K, and B6, as well as Thiamine, Iron, Magnesium and Riboflavin.
How To Grow Peas:
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As peas belong to the legume group of vegetables, they have the capability of providing their own nitrates by converting nitrogen in the atmosphere, so providing the right levels of nutrients in the soil is unnecessary.
However, they do like to have a moist but un-waterlogged root system.
Ideally, dig some organic matter into the soil to help with water retention, leaf mold or garden compost would be perfect. It is also worth mulching around pea plants before the summer to help the soil to remain moist.
There are a number of types of peas, the most common being the wrinkled or marrow fat pea, which can be grown as small dwarf varieties or tall climbers reaching up to 2 meters. Wrinkled peas can also have different cropping times, from first earlies that take only 11 weeks to produce pods, to main crop peas taking up to 15 to 16 weeks to mature.
Wrinkled peas are not hardy so you need to avoid any frosts. Sow directly under a cloche or in modules under glass during March and April for a crop in June or July, for later crops sow up until the end of June.
Dwarf varieties will need a twig or cane for support, while taller climbing varieties will need a frame and net to grow.
Other non hardy peas are mange tout and petit pois. Mange tout is a whole pod pea and can also be known as sugar snap or Chinese pea. Petit pois is a smaller, finer tasting pea.
The round variety of pea is hardier and can be sown before the last frost. Sowing around late February will provide a crop as early as May. You can also sow round peas before the onset of winter for a crop early in the year, however failure is so common it is not something that we would recommend, and you are still unlikely to get a crop before May.
Whichever pea variety you are growing, keep plants about 10 to 15cm apart, and if growing in rows, stagger the plants.
Peas are reasonably trouble free, although the pea moth can deposit an egg into the flower which will turn into a maggot that eats into the pea. To find out if you have pea moth, drop shelled peas into cold salty water and the maggot will float off.
If your peas are affected simply cover the plant with fleece row cover as soon as flowering starts.
Mice and birds can also cause problems by taking the sown dried pea, if you use a cloche or sow under glass then they won’t often find them.
Peas mature from the bottom of the plant, so start to pick there and keep picking as soon as peas are ready, this will ensure that the plant continues to crop.
Peas that are eaten in pods such as mange tout should be picked as soon as they are the perfect size, while peas that need shelling should be left to swell until the pod feels tight and well rounded.
Until the 17th century peas were simply dried and added to stews, and of course drying is a good way of storing peas for the winter. Today peas have a much wider repertoire, turning up in soups, salads and side dishes, so please don’t just boil your magnificent peas.
Dishes like pea puree are a common site on some of the best restaurant menus and chefs like Jamie Oliver have made snacks such as lettuce and pea soup a big hit. Even Jamie’s boiled pea side dish has been jazzed up to offer flavour and zest.
There is even a website devoted to the pea, and the YesPeas.org recipes are wonderful.
And don’t miss out on the opportunity of a Vitamin boost by adding raw peas to salads, uncooked peas have 3 times the Vitamin C.