Peas are an easy vegetable crop to grow, but tend to take a lot of space and generally need support. To counter that, they taste absolutely yummy when freshly picked and cooked right away. They are also delicious uncooked and are a good way of getting the kids interested in growing vegetables!
In terms of overall value as a crop, they can take up a fair bit of your allotted vegetable gardening time - not simply in cropping time terms, but also the time with preparing supports etc.
Basically there are three types of garden peas that we grow, being;
Garden peas – are those normally taken out of the pod for cooking, and so beloved by the frozen food market.
Mangetout - which are eaten with the pod still on, and before the pea inside swells. Sweet tasting, so often called sugar peas,
Sugar Snaps - halfway between the two above, but more like the Mangetout, which are harvested as the seeds swell, but still eaten complete with pod.
All three types have the same cultural requirements, so will be grouped together.
L-R Harvesting Mangetout Peas on farm | Sugar Snap Peas |
Good news for those with poor quality soil, for peas will normally grow in any normal garden soil. Ideally light soil that also holds moisture, but heavy soils can also produce good crops.
All soils will benefit from the addition of organic mulch material and soils for peas are no different. You will not need any specific preparation by way of tedious digging, unless you have a very heavy soil. If you can rake or hoe a shallow trench for sowing – that’s good enough.
Full sun is best, but again, all types of peas will tolerate a little shade or dappled shade. Light is all important, so being heavily overhung by trees is not ideal.
It is possible to get a good succession of peas for the kitchen by staggering the sowing times. Sowing from late winter through till midsummer, ensures around 6 months of peas.
In mild areas, some can even be sown in autumn, but the results are variable and dependent upon cold or wet winters etc. Far better to delay until end if March for most areas.
The variety names will give a good idea of early planting types - Felthan First, Meteor and the like. So, early varieties to be sown in late march followed my main crop being sown in June or even July.
To sow, simply ease out a slit in the soil of no more than 5cm deep, and sow the seeds at 5cm apart. Cover the seed with fine soil, or if in heavy soil areas sand or peat. The early varieties will start to pop through in 3 weeks, depending upon the weather. At that time if you are using pea sticks, you can push the sticks into the soil about 8cm from the small plants. Pea sticks are best left until after germination, just in case you have to net the rows to stop the birds and mice from digging up the pea seeds.
If you plant the low growing varieties, no need for supports, or maybe just a few strings or wire down the length of the row. If you want a double row, then 30cm between rows is about right.
The one thing most have against growing peas in the garden is that they have traditionally been grow and supported on pea sticks. Lea sticks are bushy small branches of either Hazel or Silver Birch.
Nowadays peas tend to be grown and supported with special pea and bean netting sold at garden centres. These are fine, but are an absolute pain at the end if the growing season - trying to untangle the pea haulms from the nets. If you are going to use netting, then far better to use galvanised wire chicken net which can be simply rolled up at end of season and stored for the following year.
The real good news is that all three types have dwarf varieties that crop nearly as well, and far less trouble to grow.
Watering the established pea plants is rarely necessary other than in the driest summer months. They are surprisingly tolerant of dry conditions. However, crop yield can be increased by ensuring the plants do not dry out.
Feeding is generally taken care of by the simple addition of an organic mulch, for peas belong to the Legume family and are able to fix the all important Nitrogen themselves from the air – via their little Nitrogen fixing Nodules on the roots.
Pick the normal garden peas as soon as the peas have swollen the pod. It's a good idea to try them out by taste regularly!
Mangetout should be picked as soon as the pods are an edible size and in any case before the seeds inside start to swell.
Sugar Snaps on the other hand are harvested as the pods start to swell and you can feel the peas inside.
All the low growing varieties can be planted in assorted containers. You can even grow your peas on a sunny balcony. I have seen them grown in a deep window box and been allowed to 'dangle'.
Most general purpose potting composts are suitable, but the addition of some top soil from the garden or from a soil based compost will help. If using peat based compost, then weak liquid feeds every week will be necessary – Tomato food will be fine as it is the right chemical combination. As above, peas will look after their own Nitrogen needs!
Peas are not suitable for growing indoors – other than as salad leaves and shoots – Very tasty and healthy
They take a bit if time!