The garden pea was
the first vegetable to be canned, and nowadays
we spend over £100 million annually on tinned
peas. Peas were also the first vegetable to be
successfully frozen, and they are more popular
today than any other type of frozen vegetable.
These preserved products plus their shop-bought
counterparts which are shelled at home provide
a vital part of our national diet, but they don’t
taste as good as the peas we pick from the garden.
The reason is quite simple – as soon as
a pod is pulled from the plant, the sugar content
of the peas within it starts to turn into starch.
If you want to taste just how good peas can be
then pick the pods when the peas are quite small
and within an hour boil the shelled peas for about
10 minutes in a small amount of water to which
a sprig of mint has been added. Unfortunately
peas quite often cause disappointment as a garden
crop. The yield can be quite small for the area
occupied, and if the soil is poor or the weather
hot it can seem that the amount obtained is not
worth all the trouble. The answer is to read the
rules for success before buying a packet of seed
in spring and popping them into the ground. There
are many types and their classification is complex
at first glance – round or wrinkled; tall
or dwarf; first early, second early or maincrop.
Never plant peas in cold and wet soil, make sure
that the soil is fertile, keep the birds away,
spray when necessary and with space, skill and
the right varieties you can have peas fresh from
the garden from May until October.
Round Garden Pea (dried)
Wrinkled Garden Pea (dried)
Expected germination time: 7-10 days
Approximate number per ounce: 1400
Amount required for a 10ft row: 1/12 pint
Expected yield from a 10ft row: 10lb (5kg)
Life expectancy of stored seed: 2 years.
Approximate time between autumn sowing and picking:
Approximate time between spring sowing and picking:
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – support,
thorough soil preparation and regular picking
are all essential.
· Under poor soil conditions the yield
will be very disappointing. The need is for good
structure, adequate humus and enough lime to ensure
that the soil is not acid. Avoid adding too much
fertilizer – a heavy nitrogen dressing will
do more harm than good.
· Choose an open spot which has not grown
peas for at least two seasons. Dig the soil in
autumn or early winter, incorporating 2 bucketfuls
of well-rotted manure or compost into each sq
yard/metre of soil. Apply a light dressing of
a general-purpose fertilizer shortly before sowing
· Dig drills 6in (15cm) wide and 2in (5cm)
deep with banks on either side. Press the seeds
into the soil surface 3in (7cm) apart and firm
down soil lightly after sowing. Dig drills the
distance of the expected height of the crop apart.
For May/June Crop:
Choose a sheltered site – expect some losses
if the site is cold and exposed. Grow a round
variety – Feltham First is reliable for
both early spring and late sowing. Meteor has
an excellent reputation for hardiness. Cover seedlings
and plants with cloches.
Sowing time: Either mid February to mid March
or late October to mid November – both under
Picking time: Mid May to mid June.
For a June/July Crop:
For a mid March sowing choose a round variety
or a First Early wrinkled variety such as Kelvedon
Wonder, Beagle or Early Onward. For late March
or April sowing pick a Second Early wrinkled type
– Onward is the usual choice but Hurst Green
Shaft is a good alternative.
Sowing time: Mid March to mid April.
Picking time: Mid June to the end of July.
For an August Crop:
Use a maincrop wrinkled variety – be guided
by the height on the back of the packet rather
than the pretty picture on the front. If space
is limited choose a medium-height pea such as
Senator – leave Alderman for the people
who can spare 5ft between the rows.
Sowing time: Mid April to mid May.
Picking time: Mid July to mid September.
For an Autumn Crop:
Fresh peas are especially welcome in September
and October when the main picking season is over.
June-July is the sowing season and you must choose
the right type – a First Early wrinkled
variety with good mildew resistance. Neither Kelvedon
Wonder nor Pioneer will let you down.
Sowing time: Mid June to mid July.
Picking time: Beginning of September mid October.
Mangetout and Petit Pois:
Sow seed when the soil has started to warm up
in April – sowing can be delayed until May.
Neither mangetout nor petit pois have become popular
like the familiar garden peas – you may
have to send off for seeds if your local garden
shop does not carry them.
Sowing time: Usually April and May; can extend
from mid March to mid June.
Picking time: Beginning of August to mid September;
can start from mid July.
Sow seed in mid or late May so that the seedlings
will appear after the last frosts have gone. Make
1in (2.5cm) deep drills about 15in (37cm) apart
and sow seeds at 6in (15cm) intervals. The harvest
period usually starts at the beginning of August
and continues for many weeks.
Sowing time: Mid to late May.
Picking time: From beginning of August to late
September; can extend from late July to the end
Looking after the crop
· Immediately after sowing you must protect
the row from birds. Do not rely on a chemical
deterrent – use black cotton stretched between
short stakes or plastic netting. You can place
twiggy branches over the surface, but best of
all are wire-mesh guards.
· Hoe regularly and carefully to keep weeds
under control. When the seedlings are about 3in
(7cm) high insert twigs alongside the stems to
provide support. Do not delay this operation –
leaving the stems to straggle over the soil surface
is likely to result in severe slug damage. Medium-
and tall-growing varieties will need extra support
– place a strongly erected screen of plastic
netting at the side of each row.
· Water during dry spells in summer. Apply
a mulch of weed killer-free grass clippings between
the rows in order to conserve moisture.
· Spray the plants with Fenitrothion 7-10
days after the start of flowering to avoid maggoty
· A pod is ready when it is well filled
but while there is still a little air space between
each pea. Start harvesting at this stage, beginning
at the bottom of the stem and working upwards.
Use two hands, one to hold the stem and the other
to pick off the pod.
· Pick regularly – pods left to mature
on the plant will seriously reduce the total yield.
If you harvest too many to cook immediately, place
the excess in the refrigerator or you can deep
· When all the pods have been picked, use
the stems for making compost. Leave the roots
in the soil.
· To dry peas, allow the pods to mature
on the stems – in wet weather lift the plants
and hang in bundles indoors until the pods are
· Pick mangetout when they are about 3in
(7cm) long and the peas within are just starting
to develop. Asparagus peas are ready when they
are 1-1 ½ in (2-4cm) long.
The seeds of these varieties remain smooth and
round when dried. They are all First Earlies –
hardier and quicker-maturing than other types
and more able to withstand poor growing conditions
than the wrinkled types. Round varieties are used
for late autumn and early spring sowing.
Feltham First: 1 ½ ft (45cm). An old favourite
which requires little support, producing 4in (10cm)
long pointed pods 11-12 weeks after sowing.
Meteor: 1ft (30cm). The baby of the group with
a high reputation for succeeding in cold and exposed
Pilot: 3ft (90cm). Very popular as it combines
earliness with a heavy crop. If you have the space,
the best choice for a May/June crop.
Douce Provence: 1 ½ ft (45cm). Perhaps
you are looking for maximum sweetness rather than
maximum yield. Douce Provence is the one to choose
– it has all the robustness of Feltham First
but the flavour is superior.
Histon Mini: 1 ½ ft (45cm). Widely recommended
by horticultural experts but this sweet-tasting
variety is listed in few catalogues.
The seeds of these varieties are distinctly wrinkled
when dried. These ‘marrowfat’ peas
are sweeter, larger and heavier cropping than
the round ones, and are therefore much more widely
grown. They are, however, less hardy and should
not be sown before March. These wrinkled varieties
are classified in two ways. Firstly by height
(there are the 1 ½ -2ft (45-60cm) dwarfs
and the 4-5ft (120-150cm) tall varieties) and
secondly by the time taken from sowing to first
picking. First earlies take 11-12 weeks, second
earlies 13-14 weeks and maincrop 15-16 weeks.
In catalogues and garden centres you will find
a large choice from each group.
Kelvedon Wonder: 1 ½ ft (45cm). An excellent
choice if you want to buy just one variety for
successional sowings. A good one to pick for early
sowing or for sowing in June for an autumnal crop.
Mildew resistance is high.
Little Marvel: 1 ½ ft (45cm). All the catalogues
list it, but Little Marvel is not as popular as
Kelvedon Wonder. The flavour is good but the blunt-ended
pods are borne in pairs.
Early Onward: 2ft (60cm). Look for its more famous
brother in the second earlies section. This one
has all the Onward characteristics, but matures
about 10 days earlier.
Beagle: 1 ½ ft (45cm). Sometimes listed
as Hurst Beagle – the earliest wrinkled
variety. Blunt-ended pods – 8 peas per pod.
Progress No. 9: 1 ½ ft (45cm). Almost rivals
Beagle in earliness – differs from it by
bearing pointed pods.
Pioneer: 1 ½ ft (45cm). A useful variety
for early sowing and also for June sowing as,
like Kelvedon Wonder, it resists mildew. Unfortunately,
you will have to search for it these days.
Hurst Green Shaft: 2 ½ ft (75cm). All the
catalogues sing its praises – pods with
10 peas borne in pairs at the top of the plant
to make picking easier, pods which can win prizes
at the show and peas to win praise in the dining
room. Resistant to both mildew and fusarium wilt.
Onward: 2 ½ ft (75cm). The most popular
garden pea. It crops heavily and has good disease
resistance. The pods are plump, blunt-ended and
Miracle: 4ft (120cm). Perhaps the best all-round
tall pea variety. The pods are extra long and
have earned a good reputation for the show bench
and the freezer.
Bikini: 1 ½ ft (45cm). One of the new less-leaf,
more-tendril varieties. It is claimed that the
tendrils can be boiled and eaten as a second vegetable.
Other less-leaf peas are Eaton and Poppet.
Lord Chancellor: 3 ½ ft (105cm). Late-maturing
– claimed by some to be the best maincrop
pea variety. A heavy cropper bearing dark green,
Alderman: 5ft (150cm). Quite a giant – popular
with exhibitors. The large pods contain 11 large
peas. Yields are high and the picking season is
Recette: 2ft (60cm). An interesting variety –
the pods are borne in threes and the plants crop
over a long period. The pale green peas are small
– a good substitute for petit pois.
Senator: 2 ½ ft (75cm). Highly recommended
as the maincrop for small gardens. The pods are
borne in pairs – both flavour and yield
are claimed to be exceptional.
There are several names for this group –
Chinese peas, snow peas, sugar peas and eat-all.
They are rather easier to grow than garden peas
– pick before the seeds swell and cook the
Orefon Sugar Pod: 3 ½ ft (105cm). A popular
variety listed in many catalogues – pods
can reach 4-4 ½ in (10-11cm), but pick
at the 3in (7cm) stage.
Sugar Dwarf Sweet Green: 3ft (90cm). Another true
mangetout – little to choose between it
and Oregon Sugar Pod.
Sugar Snap: 5ft (150cm). A dual-purpose pea –
when the pods are young they are cooked like a
true mangetout variety – more mature pods
with peas inside can be ‘stringed’
and then cooked like French beans or shelled and
cooked like peas.
Edula: 3ft (90cm). Like Sugar Snap, but more compact
for the smaller garden.
Petit Pois varieties
Petit pois are not immature peas gathered from
small pods of any garden pea variety – they
are a small number of dwarf varieties which produce
tiny (1/8-¼ in (0.25-0.5cm)) peas which
are uniquely sweet.
Gullivert: 3ft (90cm). Once the basic type, now
replaced in the catalogues by Waverex. The pods
and seeds were small, the peas were delicious,
but the plants were rather tall for such a tiny
Waverex: 2ft (60cm). The petit pois you are most
likely to find. Eat raw in salads or cook the
Cobri: 2ft (60cm). An old variety which is still
available. Typical petits pois for you to shell
and cook – boil in the pods and shell before
serving, advises the main supplier.
Asparagus Pea varieties
This variety is also known as the winged pea.
It is not really a pea at all – it is a
vetch which produces sprawling bushy plants. It
is not frost-hardy, so sowing must be delayed
until May. The red flowers which appear in summer
are followed by curiously shaped winged pods –
these must be gathered whilst they are still small
or they will be fibrous and stringy. The small
pods are cooked whole like mangetout.
See runner beans.