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Peas

UK Garden Centre - Information about Peas

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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.

Types
Round Garden Pea (dried)
Wrinkled Garden Pea (dried)
Mangetout
Petit Pois
Asparagus Pea

Seed facts
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: 32 weeks
Approximate time between spring sowing and picking: 12-16 weeks
Ease of cultivation: Not easy – support, thorough soil preparation and regular picking are all essential.

Soil facts
· 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 time.

Seed 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.

Calendar
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 cloches.
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.
Asparagus Pea:
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 of September.

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 peas.

Harvesting
· 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 freeze them.
· 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 ripe.
· 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.

Varieties
Round Varieties
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 sites.
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.

Wrinkled Varieties
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.
First Earlies:
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.
Second Earlies:
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 dark green.
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.
Maincrops
Lord Chancellor: 3 ½ ft (105cm). Late-maturing – claimed by some to be the best maincrop pea variety. A heavy cropper bearing dark green, pointed pods.
Alderman: 5ft (150cm). Quite a giant – popular with exhibitors. The large pods contain 11 large peas. Yields are high and the picking season is prolonged.
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.

Mangetout varieties
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 pods whole.
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 pea.
Waverex: 2ft (60cm). The petit pois you are most likely to find. Eat raw in salads or cook the French way.
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.

Troubles
See runner beans.


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