Sow seeds in a cold frame in autumn or straight into the ground in spring, and you’ll be eating sweet, tender peas straight from the pod all through the summer months.
Peas come in two varieties: shelling and mangetout. Shelling peas mature at different times. Earlies take around 12 weeks, second earlies take 14 weeks and maincrops take 16 weeks. Shelling peas come in round and wrinkle-seeded varieties. Choose round seeds for hardiness and early sowings, and wrinkled for sweetness and summer sowings.
Peas require a sunny, nutrient-rich, moisture-retentive site. Dig over the soil and add plenty of compost or well-rotted manure – this will help to improve the soil’s moisture-retaining ability in hot, dry summers.
What to do
How to sow seed
- Peas sown in cold, wet ground will rot off, so make sure the soil is warm. In early spring, cover the soil with polythene before sowing and then protect seedlings with a fleece. Sow shorter varieties in a flat trench, 5cm (2in) deep and 25cm (10in) wide.
- Water the trench first, then sow the seeds 5-7cm (2in) apart in three rows along the bottom of the trench. Backfill the trench with soil and firm the ground gently.
- Many dwarf and semi-leafless varieties can also be sown in small blocks. Stagger seeds 13cm (6in) apart, pushing the seed to a depth of 5cm (2in) into the ground.
- For taller varieties, sow seed in a single row 5-10cm (2-4in) apart, ensuring there’s enough space for plant supports. Make a single V-shaped drill, 5cm (2in) deep, water the base of the drill and sow the peas. A second row can be added, as long as it’s 30cm (12in) away from the first drill.
- For a succession of peas, sow at two-week intervals.
- Use bamboo canes, trellis or netting to create supports for plants.
- Once peas have reached 5-8cm (2-3in) in height and their tendrils begin to reach out for support, place stakes next to plants.
How to grow an early crop
- To grow an early crop, try sowing seeds in a length of old guttering from late September through to mid November. Drill drainage holes at regular intervals along the base. Fill to the top with seed compost and add an early pea variety, such as ‘Feltham First’, spacing the seeds at about 7.5cm (3in) apart.
- Place the guttering in the greenhouse, or a cold frame. Keep the compost moist and transplant into the garden once the seedlings have established. Dig out a shallow trench and gently slide the pea seedlings into it. Water and cover with cloches to encourage growth.
- Regular picking is essential for a truly fresh pea. Harvest from the bottom of the plant working upwards.
- Don’t pull the plant after harvest, as the roots are full of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Cut off the stems at ground level, allowing the roots to rot down and release nitrogen back into the soil for the next crop to use.
Five to try
- ‘Sugar Ann’ (AGM) – sugarsnap pea bearing very early sweet pods
- ‘Delikata’ (AGM) – tall mangetout carrying a heavy crop
- ‘Feltham First’ – popular, hardy variety producing early pods
- ‘Waverex’ – reliable petit pois with plenty of small, sweetly flavoured peas
- ‘Early Onward’ – early variety with a high yield of blunted pods.