A pod packed with peas is one of the best sights in the vegetable garden, and resisting the urge to split it open and scoff the contents immediately after picking them displays superhuman willpower. Thankfully, reaching this state of pea pleasure is fairly straightforward as growing peas in your garden couldn’t be easier. To boost your pursuit of the perfect pea, we’ve got ten top tips and suggestions for making the most of them…
Early varieties of peas can be sown directly in the ground from March, while you can hold off on later varieties until June – which gives you the option of succession sowing for a lengthy harvest season. Simply pop pea seeds into holes or a trench 50mm deep and cover with soil. You can also sow peas indoors a little earlier, planting them out when the young shoots have a few sets of leaves and have been hardened off. While peas appreciate some decent compost to get them going, avoid feeding them with extra nutrients – this will only encourage more leaves to grow instead of the all-important pea pods.
If you don’t have much of a garden then all we are saying is give peas a chance by growing compact varieties in a large plant pot or container on your patio. Peas like to be well watered though so those potted plants will need extra visits with the watering can.
The two main pests your peas will have to stave off are mice and pigeons: the former like to demolish the pea seeds while the latter will eagerly snaffle the young leaves. Covering with netting will help to deter the pigeons, or you could try a bird scaring device such as a shiny compact disc dangling above the pea patch. If either of these pests is a concern then sow more than you need and hope some make it through unscathed – peas are tough plants and even a nibbled shoot will often storm back to life a week later.
One of the common questions about growing peas is ‘Do pea plants need supports?’. Pea plants like to ramble and climb, looking for things their tendrils can easily latch onto. Line your pea patch with bamboo canes or similar long supports, wrapping string around the structure at regular intervals to give them something to attach themselves to in between the canes, and marvel at their rapid ascent.
If you don’t fancy creating tall climbing structures in your garden then consider a dwarf cultivar such as Kelvedon Wonder – for these, shorter twigs pruned from your trees over winter will suffice.
Legumes such as peas are packed with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so rather than dig up your spent plants, chop them off just above the ground and allow the roots to naturally rot. This will release nitrogen into the soil which will be of huge benefit to potatoes grown in the same patch the following year.
If you’re in the mood for fancy salad ingredients then pea shoots rarely fail to impress. But rather than shell out for an expensive bag from the delicatessen, grow your own instead. All you need to do is sow a handful of peas in a plant pot and snip off the shoots when they’re a few inches tall. If you’re lucky you should get a few more harvests from each plant. You can buy peas that have been specially cultivated for their shooting prowess, or for an even thriftier option simply by a box of dried peas from the supermarket, soaking them overnight before sowing.
Sugar snap peas
If you want more variety to your pea munching, sugar snap peas are well worth growing. These pea pods are picked when you can satisfyingly snap them in half with your fingers and before the peas inside get plump. You then eat the lot, benefitting from the extra sweetness those fresh pickings will deliver.
Peas are loaded with vitamins C, K, manganese and thiamin. Our favourite culinary use is to stir them fresh into a pea risotto – not only a delicious way to enjoy them but by avoiding plunging them in a large pan of boiling water you’ll also preserve those healthy vitamins.
There’s very little that’s fresh about mushy peas. They are made from dried marrowfat peas (those that have been allowed to grow on for a few weeks to get plump) that have been soaked in water and baking soda, rinsed and cooked until they soften. They may not be as naturally healthy as fresh garden peas but nothing goes better with a plate of fish and chips!