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How to grow organic New Zealand spinach
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How to grow organic Parsnips and Hamburg Parsley
How to grow organic Peas
How to grow organic Peppers (hot and sweet)
How to grow organic Potatoes
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How to grow organic Rocket
How to grow organic Runner beans
How to grow organic Salad onions
How to grow organic Salsify, Scorzonera and Scolymus
How to grow organic Seakale
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How to grow organic Spinach
How to grow organic Squash
How to grow organic Swede
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How to grow organic Peas
by Frann Leach
Mange tout peas crop prolificly
Family: Leguminosae (Group 7)
Have you ever picked a pod and popped the fresh peas straight into your mouth? No? You should try it some time. There's nothing like that just-picked taste. Of course, you will probably grow most of your peas for cooking, but when you can just walk out into your garden and pick them to use right away, they're good enough to make a respectable addition to a salad.
There are two main types of pea grown in the UK, round-seeded and wrinkle-seeded (marrow-fat). For practical purposes they are usually divided into three cropping groups:
There are a few semi-leafless varieties, which are self-supporting, and purple-podded varieties with attractive purple flowers are also available, as well as mange touts or sugar snaps and petits pois.
Peas are a cool weather crop, growing best in Spring and cool Summers, disliking intense heat. Provided it has ample moisture, the summer crop can be grown in semi-shade.
Peas like an open but not exposed position. Soil should be fertile and deeply cultivated. A trench can be prepared 20cm (8") deep x 60cm (2') wide and filled with organic matter, on which the peas will grow well without requiring additional nitrogen. Ideal pH is 7.
|Meteor||30cm (1')||Round-seeded||Good for cold exposed sites|
|Feltham First||45cm (18")||Round-seeded||Robust plants, early|
|Douce Provence||45cm (18")||Round-seeded||As Feltham First, but sweeter|
|Kelvedon Wonder||45cm (18")||First early||High mildew resistance|
|(Hurst's) Beagle||45cm (18")||First early||Very early|
|Early Onward||60cm (2')||First early||Disease resistant, heavy cropper|
|Hurst Green Shaft||75cm (2'6")||Second early||Very disease resistant, heavy cropper, exhibition|
|Bikini||45cm (18")||Second early||Semi-leafless|
|Onward||75cm (2'6")||Second early||Disease resistant, heavy cropper|
|Senator||75cm (2'6")||Maincrop||Good for small gardens, good flavour and yield|
|Lord Chancellor||1m (3'6")||Maincrop||Heavy cropper, late|
|Darkskinned Perfection||Maincrop||Purple pods|
|Carouby de Maussanne||2m (6')||Mange tout||Heritage variety, good cropper, also for shelled peas|
|Oregon Sugar Pod||1m (3'6")||Mange tout||Widely available, heavy cropper, pick pods at 7½cm (3")|
|Sugar Snap||150cm (5')||Mange tout||Older pods can also be stringed and eaten as 'french beans' or shelled for peas|
|Waverex||60cm (2')||Petits pois||Widely available|
|Blue Capuchin||Drying pea||Heritage variety with greenish-brown peas|
|Victorian red-podded||1.75-2m (5-6')||Drying pea||Heritage variety with red and purple flowers|
Sowing is traditionally into a 15cm (6") wide drill, 5cm (2") deep, with seeds spaced 5-8cm (2-3") either way. Distance between drills should equal the expected height of the mature plants. Alternatively, they can be sown in rows at the same spacing. Early crops are sown closer together, to allow for expected losses due to cold, damp conditions.
A more recent recommendation is for triple rows, 11cm (4½") apart with seeds 11cm (4½") apart in the rows. Each triple row is 45cm (18") from the next. This latter method is said to encourage extended cropping.
Once the seed is sown, mouse traps can be set beside the rows, particularly for early and over-wintered sowings. Protect from birds with black cotton strung across the rows or with wire or net pea-guards. Fleece or cloches would also provide protection, and speed germination of early crops.
Unless conditions are very dry, watering is unnecessary until the peas start to flower, when 20 litres (4 gallons) per square metre/yard per week will increase both yield and quality.
Peas need support, which is traditionally provided by inserting pea sticks at regular intervals, to form small wigwams. However as peas can be subject to mildew if they are overcrowded, an alternative method has become popular, where the pea sticks are inserted on either side of the trench, leaning outwards in a sort of truncated V shape. More elaborate support can be provided in the form of pea netting or chicken wire strung between posts.
Finally, if growing in standard 120cm (4') wide beds, they can be spaced at 7½cm x 7½cm (3"x3"), and a strong netting fence around the outside is supposed to provide sufficient support, the plants in the middle supporting each other. To be honest, in my experience, it is very difficult to get at the centre portion of the crop at all if you grow them in beds like this, particularly if you get a good crop. My suggestion is that you have a couple of traditional trenches on either side of the bed, and leave the space between empty for extra airflow. You could put a few stepping stones or a scaffolding plank to walk on when you're picking, down this centre aisle, so you don't compact the ground too much.
Peas should be picked regularly to encourage cropping. Pods should be cut from the vines with scissors, to avoid damaging the plants, while they are still bright green and smooth, for the best tasting peas. If grown for drying, leave the plants and pods to dry in situ as long as possible, then hang whole plants in a dry, airy, sheltered place until the pods are dry enough to split open.
To produce peas fresh for the table from May to October, several different varieties need to be sown at different times:
|May to June||mid-Feb to mid-March||Round-seeded|
|June to July||mid-March to mid-April||Round, first or second early|
|July to September||mid-April to mid-May||Maincrop|
|August to September||April to May||Manges touts and Petits pois|
|September to October||mid-June to mid-July||Mildew-resistant first early wrinkled|
Alternatively, sow a first early, e.g. Kelvedon Wonder, successionally.
Pests and Diseases
Birds and mice cause the most damage to unprotected crops.
Pea moths have maggots that bore through the pods and into the peas (If you grow early or late crops you may escape this pest).
Thrips are minute black or yellow insects which cause distorted pods and reduced yield.
Fusarium wilt is also on the increase; if affected the best approach is to stick to the resistant varieties which are available.