Peas are one of the best vegetables to start growing yourself, as the reward of eating raw freshly picked peas is magnificent, and popular amongst all members of a family – even the youngest.
Yet growing peas can also be a little challenging: birds love them; they require support; germination can be hit and miss; and they require frequent watering at key periods to really produce a bumper crop.
- February – June
- Planting depth: 5 cm
- Planting spacing: 10 cm between plants, 45 cm between rows
- May – October
- Eat fresh, or shell, blanch, and freeze
There are many varieties of peas, and they can be sown from February onwards for an early summer crop. If planted in succession, for example every two weeks, it is possible to enjoy peas throughout the summer.
I have found from experience that it is important to give peas a rich soil, protect from birds just after sowing and when the seedlings are small, and also to give plenty of water (my soil is very dry).
My allotment has a communal supply of compost and it comes in very useful for peas. I start preparing the seed bed by collecting two heaped wheelbarrow worths of compost. Peas will grow more vigorously in rich soil.
Peas are also very good for the soil if, after cropping, you leave the roots of the plant to rot in the ground. The legacy of peas is a very nutritious soil for your next crop.
Peas are loved by birds (and mice) especially when they are young seedlings, so I have always found it necessary to protect them. I have learned from personal experience that it only takes one day to lose the whole crop to bird attack.
My method is simple. To create an ‘A’ frame using canes, over which I drape a pea net, that can be bought cheaply from a garden centre. I prepare a shallow rectangular trench into which to sow the peas. I keep the trench about 6 inches, or 15 centimetres, away from the edge of the frame, so that birds cannot reach through the net.
I like to sow the peas quite liberally in the soil. I have mentioned the risk from birds, but it is also possible for peas to rot in the soil if the weather conditions are not ideal. I recommend using freshly bought seed each year as I have found this significantly improves the germination rate.
A handy tip is to secure the pea net with clothes pegs – an ideal, cheap, and hassle free way of putting up a net. I also use bricks or large stones to secure the net along the bottom.
The freshly sown peas should germinate within three weeks in the spring, or two weeks in the summer, provided that they are well protected from birds (who otherwise will eat them).
If they do not germinate, and in my experience this is quite common, it could be that the ground was too wet or cold.
With good luck, the peas should really start to get going with the warmer spring weather. Along the way, they do not need protection from the cold, but watering is important, to ensure that the ground never dries out.
When the plants unfurl their flowers, it is time to step up the watering, as the first pea pods are very close.
My final tip is to try and keep the weeds under close control when the pea plants are small. Peas tend to wrap themselves around anything – including weeds – making getting rid of unwelcome plants difficult.
The final stage of the process is the formation of the young pea pods. Some people choose to pick the young pods at this stage, but I prefer to let the peas fully develop – it just requires a little more patience!
Keep on watering and picking to elongate the harvest. Picking regularly means that the energy of the plants goes into producing more flowers and pods.
There are many varieties of peas to choose from, and this can be confusing:
Early and Second Early Peas
As the name suggests, these go into the ground early in the year and mature quickly. Some varieties can be planted in autumn to overwinter for a spring harvest.
Varieties that grow big, with long pods containing more peas. Slower growing than early varieties.
Small plants, ideal for pots, but still able to produce a sizeable harvest.