There are lots of choices when growing peas, with plants ranging from 30cm (1') dwarfs to 2m (6½') leggy 'Telephone' varieties.
Over 9000 years ago peasants were growing peas domestically in Europe. The peas they grew were mostly harvested and dried then made into porridge and puddings. From the 16th century, royalty dined on peas and due to their sweet flavour they became popular. It's rare to find anyone who doesn't love eating peas nowadays.
Cool temperate climates suit peas best. Grow your peas in partial shade if it suits you, particularly in the hot part of the day. They're not over fussy about the soil, preferring it light rather than heavy. Give them some richness with old compost that is as low as possible in nitrogen content.
Sow in very early spring, once any heavy frosts are over. Space seeds roughly 8cm (3") apart and just poke them into the soil at least twice the depth of the pea and cover. Allow enough room between rows for easy picking and light, particularly if planting a tall crop. Keep planting peas for several months at about 2 week intervals only if you live in a cool climate or high up in the more tropical areas.
Many pea varieties, especially Snow peas can be sown in late summer, right through to mid-winter, as the ground will still be warm. Winter grown peas do need a sunny aspect to produce well. You can also plant them under cloches in the ground, or start them off inside. Peas don't like their roots to be disturbed so plant in individual peat or other bio-degradable pots so the whole pot can be transferred to the ground later.
From sowing peas to chasing them around your plate takes 10 to 16 weeks. Keep the ground moist, avoiding watering the leaves in the evening to stop fungal problems... and keep picking to encourage plentiful platefuls of peas.
Sugar snap peas have fat pods but small peas and Snow peas also have small peas but flat pods. The French call them mangetout, which means "eat it all." This is exactly what you do — pick them fresh before they fully mature, then eat the whole sweet lot of seeds and pods together, cooked or raw.
Ordinary garden peas, often called Early/Second or Main crop peas are left to nearly mature and are picked when fat and green, then shelled to eat the peas only. These sorts come in more choice with size. Whether you grow snap peas, snow peas or common-or-garden peas, choose the variety that suits your garden and space. You may have a wall for them or you may find a dwarf sort will suit your area best.
Wasteful but wanton, pea shoots are delicious and used mostly in stir-fries. Even the leaves are used by some cultures.
Grow the taller peas against a trellis, or wall with string to tie them up. Stakes or branches also make good support. Even the dwarf varieties like a loose bundle of twigs to twine over, rather than have the pods ruined by ground contact. Growing peas in hanging pots works well too... up or down, peas are easy to please.
Like other plants of the legume family such as lupins and beans, peas are nitrogen-fixing. They take nitrogen from the atmosphere and, via small nodules on their roots, transfer it to the soil. This is good news and handy for nitrogen loving plants to grow nearby, such as spuds. When you've finished growing peas, throw the dead stems in the compost and leave the nitrogen providing roots where they are to decompose and provide nitrogen to other plants.
Watch out for mice and birds if you turn your back in some gardens. Get a cat or coat seeds in something nasty like paraffin.
Aphids can attack new shoots, in which case wipe them off with your fingers or spray with a mild soap mix or chilli/garlic, soap or oil mix. The Pea Moth likes pea flowers, and there are thrips and weevils to contend with in some areas. There again out with the organic spray bottle.
Occasionally warm, wet and overcrowding conditions make peas plants ripe for powdery mildew, root rot, or fusarium wilt. Try to avoid this and fix the problem at the first sign (see Garden Pests.)
Now you know how to grow peas successfully, just remember the rule... when you go out to pick your peas, at least half must be allowed to make it into the kitchen!
It's satisfying and peaseful growing peas and if you dry them you can make your own pease pudding, like the peasants of old.
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