Freshly grown peas taste so much better than tinned or frozen peas, and it is well worth the effort of growing your own.
Before buying seed for sowing peas, Pisum sativum, kitchen gardeners need to decide upon their preferred timing for planting, caring, harvesting peas and a strategy for successive sowing.
Peas take twelve to sixteen weeks to mature, and they should be harvested from the bottom of the plant first to ensure freshness. Here is a full guide for growing your own peas.
Peas are further divided into first early, second early and maincrop varieties:
For succession all three kinds can be sown at the same time or one or two varieties can be sown at intervals to get continuity of supply.
If you sow your peas in cold wet soil they are unlikely to grow, and will most probably rot. Cover the soil with a large polythene sheet and allow a few hours of direct sunlight to warm the soil underneath before sowing your plants. Cover your young seedlings with a fleece.
Site Selection and Soil Treatment for Peas: Choose a soil which doesn’t dry out in summer. Light soils benefit from the application of well rotted garden compost to help retain moisture. The ideal pH for peas is 6.0 to 6.8.
Start Early Peas Off Indoors: The early crops sown directly into the vegetable garden find it difficult to germinate. This problem may be overcome by sowing seeds into 90cm lengths of plastic guttering, filled with potting compost. Sow in March, keep in a cool greenhouse and wait for the young plants to reach about 10cm tall and establish a good root system. When the vegetable garden soil has warmed up the contents of the guttering (compost and seedlings) may be slid out into a similar sized trench in the soil.
Sow Later Crops Directly Into the Soil: Sow pea seeds in broad flat bottomed drills 23cm wide and 2.5-4cm deep. Space the seeds 5cm apart each way and allow 60-90cm between the drills.
All but the dwarf varieties need to be supported with netting or pea sticks. This support wants to be put in place soon after germination. Place wooden stakes or bamboo canes next to your plants to offer them support.
Once your plants reach about three inches in height, their tendrils will start to reach out for something nearby to attach to for support. Make sure you have plenty of sturdy wooden stakes or bamboo canes nearby to stabilise your young plants.
Another good method is to stake chicken wire up and let the peas grow up the wire. Bush varieties will be fine with stakes about 3 feet high and once the plant gets as high as the stakes they should be pinched back so that energy will start going into the fruit. Vining varieties grow much taller and will benefit by a trellis that is up to 5 feet. You can stake up a panel of lattice for them to grow up.
Watering: Peas love water and need to be watered regularly. You can mulch with organic material (not wood mulch) to prevent moisture from evaporating. Straw and peat moss are a good thing to use. But only water in dry weather as too much water causes excessive leaf growth at the expense of flowers. However, do water copiously if the soil is dry at flowering and pod formation time.
Fertilizing: They do not need to be fertilized as long as the soil is rich in organics. If you need to fertilize do not use fertilizer containing nitrogen (the first number in fertilizer composition ex: 5-10-10). In most cases you will not have to fertilize peas. The plants will grow tall and will need some sort of support. How much depends on the variety so check the bag of the seed packet to see what is suggested.
Try using an inoculant: In order for peas to grow, they first need to release nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the soil to convert it for their use. If you have a new garden, or are using new soil, it can help to coat the seeds with an inoculant powder. The inoculant will help to increase your yield.
Early and maincrop varieties of peas sown in the ground face five common pests and disease in the kitchen garden as the plants try to grow to maturity.
Kitchen gardeners who have directly sown their choice of peas, Pisum sativum, into the ground will have taken care over their choice of site location to ensure a soil pH of 6.5, selected a day when the soil temperature for a direct sow of peas seed was between 10 to 18 degrees Celsius and deciding upon a method of sowing, perhaps in two rows either side of peasticks or canes to provide growing support.
Immediately on sowing the peas, mangetout, sugarsnap, petit pois or garden peas, react to the microclimate of their position in the kitchen garden. As the growth of the peas plants respond to what’s on offer, there are five main pests and diseases that could threaten the plants producing fine tasting produce. Here’s a guide to the threats of pea thrips, mice, mildew, pea moth and pea/bean weevil when growing plants to produce peas in early summer.
Kakothrips pisivorus or pea thrips are a serious pest to watch for in the kitchen garden. Pea thrips can thrive on poorly watered pea plants in the summer sun. Known as thunderflies, pea thrips can distort and scar pods brown and reduce the number of peas in the pods.
Field mice, wood mice and house mice are considered as suspects of nibbling damage to peas, beans and sweetcorn in the garden reports The Royal Horticultural Society Vegetable and Fruit Gardening The Definitive Guide To Successful Growing edited by Michael Pollock (Dorling Kindersley, 2008).
Mangetout, sugarsnap and garden peas leaves do not tolerate days of heavy rain. Mildew is likely to appear on peas when the atmosphere is saturated with water and if the soil around the peas is very dry. Sowing peas with a generous amount of space between seeds should help air ventilation around the pea plants as they grow and reduce the chance of powdery mildew appearing. If powdery mildew does form on the leaves and goes on to kill small areas of the leaf tissue of productive plants this should not taint the taste of the freshly harvested peas.
Cydia nigricana or pea moth will eat the pods of the podded peas including mangetout as the produce starts to become a mature size. As the pea moth lays eggs in early summer when the pea plants are in flower, buying and sowing earlies varieties of peas should reduce this risk.
Peas with their nitrogen-fixing root nodules are attractive to pea and bean weevil larval stage. Pea weevils will hide from view when peas plant leaves are disturbed. Like pea moths, the adult pea or bean weevil, Sitona lineatus, enjoy eating a kitchen gardener’s produce and does this from the inside out. Once an attack has been spotted gardeners should remove any produce from nearby peas plants to avoid a serious infestation.
Local gardening clubs and national horticultural societies can offer further advice on gardening strategies to prevent and control peas against threats from pests and disease.
Pick shelling peas when peas can be felt through the pod. Harvest sugar snap peas when pods are plump and mangetout as soon as pods are fully grown.
Peas rot very quickly if they are left to ripen on the plant for too long, but if they are harvested too soon they will be too small and bland for eating. The best time to pick your peas is when the pods look full and swollen.
Leave the roots in the ground after harvesting. The roots of your pea plants are full of nitrogen-fixing bacteria which convert the soil around them. Rather than digging up the roots of harvested plants, cut the stems off and allow the roots to rot. This will release nitrogen to prepare the soil for your next crop.
As stated before it is best to eat your peas right after picking but that isn’t always possible especially when you have a big harvest. Three pounds of pea pods will usually make a good side dish serving for four people. If you have to store them in the refrigerator put them in a plastic bag and keep them for no longer than three days. Of course, you can freeze peas. First, hull and wash the peas. Then put a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Once it starts to bowl fill a large bowl with water and ice.
Pour the peas in the boiling water, cover with a lid, and boil for 1-1/2 minutes (90 seconds) – no longer. Drain quickly. (Use a wire strainer for best results or if you plan on doing more than one batch. You can do up to 4 batches in one pot of water.) Directly place the peas in the bowl of cold water and ice and leave them in another 90 seconds. Remove and drain well. This process is called blanching. You can then put your peas in freezer bags and place in the freezer. Your peas can be kept about 9 months – just enough time to start growing some more.
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