One of my first childhood memories is shelling peas. I can still remember to this day, the thrill of experiencing the sweet explosion and burts of fresh flavour that you get when you pop one in your mouth – even popping candy can’t beat it!
Shelling peas was, according to my mum ‘a children’s chore’, just like winding wool, polishing school shoes and making newspaper kindling, and I remember her showing me the technique of pulling the string at the back of the pod and then being helped to unzip it by running by my finger down the indent in the centre so that it popped open to reveal a neat row of tiny, bright green bullets
My dad loved pea and ham soup, so mum used to make it often but I can’t say that I always relished it as I remember once that she used up some old peas for this culinary delight, which had tough skins that came off in my mouth!
A few years later, my dad got an allotment and began to exhibit his flowers and veg at the local horticultural society show. He usually won awards for his efforts but I remember well the indignation he felt when his beautiful potatoes were overlooked for a plate of peas.
Not to be defeated by this tiny veg, the following year he grew some and even though he didn’t win a prize, we all began to appreciate that fresh is definitely the best taste and especially as you can grow not only the best varieties but some unusual ones too. And what could be fresher than picking pods from your own garden! Ever since, I’ve mostly liked my peas tender and sweet with my Sunday roast and just love them in a risotto. I have also re-visited Dad’s favourite heart-warming autumn soup many times and enjoyed every mouthful and what would fish and chips be without mushy peas.
The great thing about growing peas is that they thrive in cooler temperatures, which made them ideal for our allotment in the north of England. You can choose from dwarf, semi-dwarf and climbing varieties, so there’s bound to be at least one type that you like and want make room for in your garden or allotment too.
Peas are classified according to how long they take to be mature enough to harvest
EARLIES As the name suggests are the earliest of all peas. They take about 12 weeks from sowing to harvest.
SECOND EARLIES These peas are a sub-division of the ‘earlies’ and they take about 14 weeks from sowing to harvest
MAINCROP These varieties are slightly later and take about 16 weeks to reach maturity. This group also includes the climbing peas such as the superb heritage variety Alderman, which grows up to 2m high.
PLAN 4 Peas
Sow under cloches at the end of February
Sow in pots indoors in early March
Sow outdoors from mid March onwards
The earlies will be ready for harvesting at the end of May and maincrop varieties from the last week of June
It is essential not to grow peas repeatedly on the same soil. A three-year rotation plan should be sufficient to avoid any build up of pests and members of the squash family and root crops like carrots and parsnips are good follow-on crops.
Peas will germinate in about three weeks if the soil temperature is above 3C
A sunny spot with well-draining soil is best for peas although maincrop varieties can cope well with partial shade.
As the Pea Moth is in full flight from mid-June onwards, they may not get the chance to damage your peas if they are started off early. Sowing a later batch of seeds in late June, will not only extend the copping season but flower at a time when the Pea Moth is not around to damage them.
Pea seeds will not germinate if the weather is cold and if the soil very wet, so to get a late February sowing off to a good start, sow a batch in a short piece of plastic roof guttering and germinate them in a cool place indoors. The seedlings should be through within 2-3 weeks and they can then be moved to a cooler well-lit spot so that when they reach 5cm high they can be moved outdoors without suffering a chill.
To plant, simply slip the entire ‘contents’ of the gutter into a ready-prepared trench
Covering over the soil with cloches will warm the soil for speedier growth. It will also help early peas to germinate outdoors otherwise you’ll have to wait until mid-march before sowing when soil temperatures have improved.
Dwarf peas are pretty much self-supporting and only require short twigs around 60 cm long, to keep them upright. Sow the seeds 2cm apart in a shallow trench about 5cm deep and 15cm wide and if you want to have plenty, then add extra rows, spacing them about 30cm apart. If the soil is dry give it a good watering.
Birds and mice love the taste of peas, so it’s wise to cover the soil with wire netting or horticultural fleece. The fleece can be removed when the peas have germinated and are about 2cm high.
If you’re growing climbing peas you will need to erect the supports before sowing them. A wigwam always looks attractive and is ok for a small crop but for a bigger bounty, it’s best to set up two single rows of canes about 45cm apart with the canes tied together at the top.
Peas won’t grow up canes like runner beans, as they need more support for their tendrils to grab hold of and climb up. Pea netting is good for this and should be stretched between two canes and tied in place at 15cm intervals. If you sow three seeds at the base of each cane, you will do away with the need to thin out the seedlings
Whilst they are growing, peas need a regular supply of water especially when the pods are forming – plants under stress will become susceptible to powdery mildew. Mulching with a layer of well-rotted compost will help conserve moisture at the roots and prevent weeds growing and robbing the moisture and nutrients. Consider covering your plants with insect proof Enviromesh too, as this will definitely help protect your plants from a pea moth invasion.
Many varieties can be harvested early as a Mange Tout crop, or you could wait for some to reach “petit pois” size and pick the remainer as regular garden peas. Pick pods regularly and the plant will produce more
When the crop comes to an end, cut the tops off and add to the compost heap. The roots can be left in the ground to rot down and add organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
Early Onward is a reliable dwarf variety with good disease resistance, which produces a good crop in almost all weather. It produces slightly larger than average pods.
Kelvedon Wonder is the most popular pea grown in the UK. It is an early maincrop variety, growing to a height of around 60cm, which reliably produces a good crop of tasty, sweet-tasting peas that freeze well. It has good disease resistance.
Hurst Greenshaft is a second-Early/Maincrop producing medium green pointed pods in pairs, each containing 9-11 peas, so is a good choice for the Show Bench. It is resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt diseases. RHS AGM awarded.
Alderman is a well-known heritage variety that has been grown since Victorian times. It crops over a long period, so can be eaten fresh, or dried and stored for use later in the year in soups, stews and other dishes.
NEW 2018 Valido, a maincrop variety, Johnsons-seeds.com, producing masses of large, pointed pods each containing 9-11 medium size peas. With outstanding resistance to mildew, the pods can be picked late into the season when most other varieties are finished.
Add colour to your plot and plate with these Mangetout varieties
Shiraz, from the James Wong’s Grow For Flavour range www.suttons.co.uk is a burgundy mangetout with pretty bicoloured flowers and flat purple pods that have a savoury, chestnut flavour. Best eaten raw to keep their colour. Has good resistance to powdery mildew and good tolerance to downy mildew
Mini Muncher (Tom Thumb) www.suttons.co.uk only grows to around 25cm and can easily be grown in a pot on the patio or on a bright, sunny windowsill. The small, bushy plants, which become covered in pods that are full of succulent tasty peas, are ideal for eating off the plant or for cooking.
Golden Sweet www.suttons.co.uk, makes an attractive plant with pale green leaves, red leaf nodes and mauve flowers that are followed by an abundant crop of sweet tasting, golden-yellow 9cm long pods. It grows to 180cm tall so is a good choice for training up a wigwam in a flowerbed.
Spring Blush is a new variety from www.suttons.co.uk, which produces a high yield of peas with attractive bi-coloured purple/pink blooms and lots of rose blushed and pure green pods. It can be picked as mangetout and as the plants also produce loads of hyper-tendrils, which are equally delicious to eat.
Edible pea shoots
If you are feeling adventurous and want to to add to do something a bit different to liven up salads and sandwiches then try growing pea shoots. They can also be used as a granish for soups and the variety Twinkle takes just three weeks to produce a crop of vitamin loaded shoots
Worth a try…
NEW 2019 – Pea Champion of England (www.dobies.co.uk), a fantastic pea bred by William Fairbeard in Kent (1843) and grown by Charles Darwin in the mid 1800s. It made such an impression that it was even mentioned it in his book “The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication”.
The great news is that it has been saved from extinction by horticultural charity, Garden Organic and their partnership with Dobies as well as the network of green-fingered ‘Seed Guardians’. Each purchase will actively be helping the pea’s survival, so it can be enjoyed all over the world, especially after its future was threatened decades ago.
GYO – Champion of England produces tall, productive plants with well-filled pods of 7-10 peas and doesn’t take up much floor space, due to it’s upright habit. One of the real highlights of this pea is that it crops incredibly well on plants that take up only a small amount of space in the garden. As it produces tons of juicy and sweet peas, Champion of England is perfect for allotment and garden growers.
Champion of England quickly earned a name for itself for being a tasty, productive climbing variety and was judged as ‘best pea’ by The Journal of Horticulture in 1876. However despite that and being grown by Darwin himself in his very own garden, the variety fell out of fashion in the 1970s when mechanised harvesting took over. As a result this taller growing type of pea began to disappear from seed catalogues. Fortunately, Garden Organics ‘Heritage Seed Library’ saved this variety from disappearing forever in 1975. Now Dobies are extremely pleased to be able to offer it once again
GRO Broad beans
Broad beans (also known as Fava beans) come in dwarf varieties like The Sutton, which is perfect for exposed gardens and taller varieties like Bunyards Exhibition. Both are available from www.thompson-morgan.com.
Varieties with crimson seeds like Red Epicure are available too and if you want to pretty up your plot there is a Crimson Flowered option from www.mr-fothergills.co.uk
Seeds should be planted in double rows about 5 cm deep and 20 cm apart, leaving 60 cm between each double row to allow access for picking. The plants should support each other but for tall varieties and where it is windy, you’ll need to support them with strong sticks and string to ensure they don’t fall flat.
When the skin on broad beans begins to wrinkle they becomes tough and bitter, so it is a good idea to remove the skins on older beans after cooking them
When broad beans are the size of up to a fingernail, they are young and tender and can be eaten from the pod raw as a snack, added to salads or simply sauteed in a little butter to warm them through. If they are larger than this but with a smooth, tight skin they can be steamed or quickly boiled to soften the flesh.
Chilled pea & chervil soup with crème fraîche
One of my favourite summer soups is this delicious Jamie Oliver’s recipe, which has a faint taste of aniseed…
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
500 g petit pois peas
700 ml organic chicken or vegetable stock
½ a bunch of fresh chervil
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
Extra virgin olive oil
Peel and roughly chop the shallots, then finely slice the bacon.
Place a large saucepan over a medium heat, add a drizzle of olive oil and fry the bacon for 4 minutes, or until golden and crispy.
Cook the peas until tender in boiling water.
Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened, then add the peas, stirring to coat everything in the bacon oil.
Pour in the stock, bring it to a simmer and let it bubble away for about 5 minutes.
Pick and add most of the chervil, then blitz with a stick blender until super-smooth. Season to taste and cool.
Serve in bowls and serve with a dollop of crème fraiche, a drizzle of virgin olive oil and garnish with chervil leaves.
Spanish Tapas – Habas con chorizo
A few years ago, my husband and I did a little detour in life and opened a Spanish & Latin American Tapas Bar in Bournemouth. One of our best sellers was broad beans and chorizo. It’s quick easy to make and goes down well with a glass of cold beer or homemade Sangria
3 tbsp olive oil
90g cooking chorizo sausage
250g shelled optionally peeled broad beans
5 garlic cloves (skin on but crushed)
1/4 of small onion, finely chopped
sprig of fresh oregano
grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Cook the beans in salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain the beans and rinse them under cold running water, then set aside.
Slice the chorizo into small pieces and cook over a medium heat with some chopped onion, garlic and a sprig of fresh oregano for a few minutes until the onion is transparent.
Stir in the beans and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, then squeeze over the lemon juice with a dash of water, season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm with crusty bread.
Mint is the quintessential herb for peas and a small bunch of torn leaves should be added to the water when cooking. Serve them with lamb or roast chicken.
As mint is vigorous herb, it’s best to plant it in a container before plunging it into the ground