Whether you’re a fan of eating them or just want to try your hand at growing some, peas are a great vegetable to grow yourself. They’re relatively straight forward to grow and taste great as well as being healthy. Using a little bit of gardening know-how this post explains how to grow peas.
Essential to the cultivation of peas is your selection of variety. There are varieties for early planting, some of which can be planted in fall as well; there is main crop, and there are dwarf and standard sized varieties (size here refers to the plant.) Also there are wrinkly and smooth peas. Mangetout, whose pods get eaten, is also a pea. With planning, you can have peas maturing at different times to ensure a steady supply. So first select the varieties that you want.
Peas are easy to grow, most gardeners grow them in the ground, but they can grow in containers. Last year I got a good crop from a raised bed a metre square and filled with good compost. Some growers cultivate them in a long piece of guttering. Make sure that you choose a sunny site, although light-shade is tolerable. You should have a fertile, water-retentive soil; a loam is ideal. Ensure that the ground is fertile before you plant.
Rows ideally should be spaced 45 cm apart, but you can get away with less. I make my drills with a trowel rather than a spade, as it enables me to control depth more carefully. I mark the ends of each drill with a cane. Some drills have a single row of peas, others have a double row. The choice is yours. You can either station sow; which means carefully planting peas at intervals. Or you can broadcast them thickly.
Here is how I do it. First, I soak the soil in the drill and then sow the seeds on the wet soil. Now, I have field mice on the allotment, which love freshly sown peas, so I then spray pepper dust on the peas. Then I fill in the trench and spray another layer of pepper dust. This works well as I get a good crop every year. The mice are welcome, but they are not having my peas!
Peas need something to cling to, so gardeners use either pea sticks or branches pruned from trees or bushes. Plant these in the newly filled drill. You can do this immediately after sowing, or wait until the peas spring up. However, dwarf varieties have less need of staking than standard varieties do.
Peas do not need nitrogenous fertiliser added to the soil, as they have bacterial nodules on their roots which convert atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form.
Eliminating weeds is important, especially large ones, because if the pea twines its tendrils around a weed, how are you going to get rid of it? So pull it promptly! You need to hoe between the rows. Mulching between the rows with woodchip helps. Watering is essential, especially at flowering time and when the pods begin to swell, as this enhances the crop.
Harvesting Your Peas
Getting peas at the best time is an art. As harvest time nears, keep a daily eye on the peas. Use your finger and thumb to test whether there is still growing space in the pod. If there is space at the ends the peas in that pod are not ready. Once there is no room left, pick without delay, as peas can lose their optimum sweetness after a few hours, even when they are not yet picked. Get them into the freezer as soon as possible.
It is easy to miss a pod or two when picking, so after you have pulled the pods and uprooted the plant, check before you put it on the compost heap to see if any pods remain.
Considerations for Growing Peas
Wrinkled peas are the better quality, but round-seeded varieties are more robust. In cold, wet soils foot and root rot can be a problem. One preventative measure is sowing indoors and transplanting. Another is growing in containers.
There is a range of minor insect pests that sometimes attack peas. If necessary, cover the crop with fleece, though this is not always necessary.
- Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, Michael Pollock, RHS, 2002.