Can anything match the intensely fresh flavour of just-picked garden peas? No, of course it can’t! If you fancy growing your own truly irresistible peas, you’re in the right place, because here comes our Sowing to Harvest guide…
Types of Peas
Choose from a range of garden peas for shelling, as well as peas with edible pods, including snow peas or mangetout with their flat, thin-walled pods, and sugar snap peas, with thicker, crunchier and more rounded pods.
Peas sold as early varieties mature quickest, ready to pick as soon as three months from sowing, while maincrop varieties take up to a month longer. Height can vary too, with bush or dwarf peas typically reaching 1.5-3ft (45-90cm) tall, and climbing peas stretching as tall as 6ft (2m) plus.
Mice love peas, while pigeons like to nip off the tender young shoots. This is one reason to sow them under cover, where you can keep an eye on them!
Sow the seeds into plug trays, dropping in two seeds per cell. Begin by filling trays with a multi-purpose potting mix, pushing the mix right down into each cell to ensure a good fill. Then make depressions into the potting mix with your finger, and sow your pea seeds. Once you’re done, cover them over and give them a thorough water to really soak the potting mix through.
You can sow anytime from late winter (in which case a little added protection from the cold will be welcome) right through to early summer. If you’re in a hot climate you’ll find the best results come from an autumn sowing, which will avoid the intense heat of summer – something this cooler season crop will definitely appreciate.
On the other hand, if you’re in Europe or Canada and you’ve grown peas in the past, you may have experienced that sinking feeling of shelling your peas only to find them riddled with holes and the frass, or poo, of pea moth caterpillars. Your best chance of avoiding it is to sow right at the start of the season in a bid to sidestep the moth’s main flying period.
An alternative to sowing into plug trays is to use wide, flat trays. This is an especially useful solution early on in spring, because you can use the trays to first grow a delicious cut of pea shoots before breaking the young plants up to transplant into their final positions to grow on for their pods – two crops for the effort of one!
Alternatively, sow into old lengths of guttering – a handy technique which means the peas and potting mix can be slid out directly into a pre-prepared trench, as shown in our guide to starting peas in guttering.
Peas can also be sown directly where they are to grow, but wait until the soil has warmed up a little so there’s less chance of the seeds rotting in the cold and wet. Sow into well-drained, fertile soil in a sunny position. Draw out a wide trench about 2in (5cm) deep then space your seeds 2-3in (5-7cm) apart along the bottom. Cover them over and water if it’s dry.
Planting and Supporting Peas
Peas are cold-tolerant, but remember to harden them off before transplanting outside. Plant them in a single or double row, so light can reach all of the plants. Peas started off in plug trays, pots or toilet tissue tubes should be set about 3in (7cm) apart.
Peas don’t like root damage, so if you started yours off in a tray, very carefully tease apart chunks of the tray before planting them into a shallow trench. Make sure your supports are in place already.
Netting or wire mesh stretched between posts make great pea supports. The peas will soon grab hold of the mesh with their tendrils. You could also use twiggy branches to support your peas, or for very tall varieties make an A-frame made from bamboo canes with horizontal lines of twine run between them.
Caring for Peas
Once they’re planted and settled, peas grow quickly, so keep the soil moist to support this growth. This is particularly important once they begin flowering – you want those pods to keep coming after all! Moist soil will also help to prevent the fungal disease powdery mildew.
If in doubt, do the finger test: pop a finger down into the soil to about the second knuckle and feel for dampness. If it’s dry, water, aiming at the base of the vines. Don’t forget to watch out for weeds and hoik out any you come across. And keep plants tucked into their supports if they need a little helping hand.
Harvesting is always a joy! Pick once you can feel the peas firmly through the pods. Smaller peas will be the sweetest while peas left to grow to their full size offer the most substantial yields. Snow peas, mangetout and sugar snap peas can be harvested whenever they reach the desired size and thickness, usually at around 3in (7cm) long. Like any fruiting or podding vegetable, the more you pick, the more will come. Pick regularly and you can expect plants to crop for up to three weeks.
Enjoy them as fresh as you can for the very best taste – just eating them raw straight out of the pods is delicious! Excess pods can be stored in the salad compartment of your refrigerator. Or shell the peas, blanch in boiling water for one minute, then chill, dry and freeze in airtight bags or tubs.