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Picking Peas 24 March 2023

When a bumper crop is at its best and is ready for harvesting, I make sure that all the family are ready to help, I transform them into my own gang of pea pickers ensuring the job is completed as quickly as possible.
 It is also important to pick, shell and freeze surplus peas within hours of being picked, so you capture that sweet flavour, and they are at their best when you eat them later in the year.
Many gardeners I meet on allotments only make one or two sowings of peas each year. What a shame with a little planning, successional sowing and choosing the correct varieties you will have bumper crops to pick from May to November. 

Plus remember the more peas you grow, once you have finished harvesting them you can cut off the vines and put on the compost heap. Then dig in the roots, as this is an easy and natural way of adding valuable Nitrogen back to your soil for future crops to benefit from.

Let’s Sort out the seed catalogue Jargon 

Often when you read the various seed catalogues some of the terms looks a little confusing. The catalogues use words like First Early, Second Early; Maincrop, Mangetout, Sugar snaps, Wrinkled or Round seeded peas. What does it all mean? 
In simple language it means that you can start the season sowing a first early variety, followed by the others in sequence, ending with a Main crop, so you get a continuos supply of peas.
Mangetout and Snap peas are varieties that are best-eaten young, still in their flattened pods. 
There are two types of pea seed and as a rule the best peas for over winter sowing are the round seeded varieties, as they tend to be hardier than Wrinkle seeded peas.

Sowing and growing

For the best possible crop, peas like to grow in a well drained, rich fertile soil. Although over the years in the three different vegetable garden I’ve had, I have always managed to grow peas. Each site has had different soil, ranging from light loam to heavy clay, and all of them gave me bumper crops.
In the winter dig over your soil and add a good layer of home-made compost or Manure, so it increases the fertility of the soil.  
If you are sowing peas for over-wintering in October or November the best varieties are ‘Meteor’ or ‘Douce Provence’. I always sow mine on the ground that I lifted my Potatoes from in the autumn, as this soil will have been well manured the previous year and will be very fertile.
                        Once you have got the soil right you must then consider the warmth of the soil before sowing your seeds. If peas are sown in cold soil, or the weather turns cold once germination has started the quantity and quality of seedlings produced will be greatly reduced. This is because the colder the soil the higher chance there is of getting fungal or bacterial disease occurring and causing the seed to rot.
                        Before sowing I always give the soil a good dressing of Growmore fertiliser at 60gm per sq meter (2oz per square yard), raked lightly into the surface of the soil.
I like to sow my peas into V shaped drills drawn out with a Swan neck hoe approximately 2inches deep. Some gardeners prefer flat bottom drills, but I have always had more success from V shaped drills.
 I sow the seeds 5cm (2in) apart in the drill which is slightly closer than some gardeners, but if the germination is lower or a friendly sparrow or pigeon decides to have a meal, I will still have a good row of peas. Anyway, if later on I decide they are too thick in places I can always thin the plants out to a spacing of 7-10cm (3-4in) apart.
Rather than the flat bottom method of sowing I sow my peas in rows spaced 30-38cm (12-15 in) apart, with no more than 3 rows sown side by side. I find that if you sow thicker than this the harvest will be greatly reduced on the inner rows. In tests I have done I have always got the best harvest from a double row, with each row spaced 30cm (12in) apart and grown up a single piece of net place down the middle of the two rows. 
Once the drills are sown rake the soil over each drill and lightly firm with the bake of a rake.
If you want to try the flat bottom trench method, you need to take out a flat bottom trench 45cm (18in) wide by 5cm (2in) deep, with a spade, then broadcast sow the peas along the trench. Once the peas are sown rake the soil over the trench and lightly firm again with a rake. Some gardeners swear by this method but I still prefer and get better results from my V shaped drills.   
To help stop the birds from eating the peas before you do, I always cover the rows with cloches made from chicken wire.
If you don’t have access to chicken wire you can also keep birds off the peas by stretching stands of black cotton along the rows attached tightly to short canes. The cotton wants to be placed no more than 2.5-5cm (1-2in) from the ground, because for some reason the birds don’t like this when they touch the cotton it scares them away. 
                        Peas sown in flat bottom trenches can often be grown without supports as their close spacing enables the vines to hold each other up. But if the vines are given some form of support, I find the harvest is usually greater because the pea pods are kept off the ground making it easier to pick and not miss hidden pods.
                        The traditional way of holding up peas is to use twiggy pea sticks, but I find these are getting a lot harder to find, so I now use 90cm (3ft) high chicken wire to support the shorter growing varieties. The wire is held up by simply interweaving canes through the wire, and pushing them into the ground next to each row.
                         If you are growing taller varieties like ‘Alderman’ then it is best to put up a 180cm (6ft) high pea & bean net supported by posts and rails to hold the net taut. Make sure you use strong posts because a net fully loaded with vines and peas can get quite heavy.
Whilst the peas are growing, keep a close eye on them and take off the wire cloches and cotton before the young plants get too big. Then put up your supporting nets.

If you didn’t get around to that October or November sowing or you just want an early crop, you can make your next sowing this month. For this sowing I sow the peas in pots or root trainers filled with a good seed sowing compost. Once sown the pots or trays are placed in a heated greenhouse 10C (50F) to germinate. Once the plants are big enough they are then stood in cold frames to harden off before planting out on the plot in April. Some gardeners also sow in lengths of guttering filled with compost and then once the peas have germinated and shallow trench in made in the plot and the contents of the gutter carefully slid out to fill the trench and are lightly firmed in. For This sowing use the varieties ‘Early Onward’, ‘Douce Provence’ or ‘Kelvedon Wonder’.

March – April

Alternatively in March or April you can sow early and Second Early varieties direct outside in drills on the plot. Only sow in March provided the ground has warmed up sufficiently. If the ground is still cold wait until April to sow, because your germination will certainly be a lot better. Over the years many gardeners have complained about poor germination and this is usually due to peas being sown too early in cold soil. For these sowings you can use any of the early varieties already mentioned or the second early variety ‘Hurst Green Shaft’. From these sowings you should be harvesting peas from Late June to mid July.

April –Early June 

From April to June, you can sow Main crop varieties in succession, directly into the garden. As a rule, main crop peas give the biggest harvests and are usually ready to pick in 12-14 weeks from sowing depending on the weather. With Successional sowing you should be able to pick peas from Mid July - Late August. For this sowing use ‘Hurst Green Shaft’ again or ‘Ambassador’, ‘Onward’ or ‘Terrain’.
Late June – Late July

If you sow an Early, a Main crop variety from late June to late July, you will still be picking peas from late September until late October or even into November. This crop is worth a try for those delicious sweet flavoured peas late in the season. Some gardeners believe this sowing is doomed to fail, because of the very hot summers or possible bad attacks from Mildew. So, it is important to keep plants watered regularly in hot dry weather but more importantly chose a variety that has some Powdery and Downy Mildew resistance. I find the mildew is more of a problem on the early varieties, so I have now changed over to growing a Maincrop variety. The best I have found for this sowing is the variety ‘Terrain’.

Mangetout or Snap peas

For these flat podded types I usually sow in succession from Mid March to May, so I get a plentiful supply of young fresh pods to pick, throughout the season. I find that by sowing this type of pea little and often, it is easier for me to keep up with harvesting. The best varieties for Mangetout Peas are ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ or ‘Sweet Sahara’. For Snap Peas try ‘Delikett’ or Nairobi.

General Care for Pea Seeds

I don’t think there is anything worse than picking a trug full of peas and finding Maggots have ruined them. The maggots are the larvae that hatch out from eggs laid
by the dreaded Pea Moth. As a rule Pea Moth is more of a problem on peas that flower in Mid June - August and don’t normally attack the earlier sown rows, as these have usually finished flowering before the pea moths are very active. To help combat this problem you can spray with a suitable chemical that controls pea moth. I like to spray mine early in the morning or in the evening just as the flowers develop and again just as the flowers are setting the pods hopefully stopping bad attacks from this pest.
If you grow organically or you don’t like spraying, the easiest way of avoiding the problem is to only grow varieties of peas that flower before the pea moths are laying eggs.        
If you are growing Mangetout or sugar snaps occasionally you can get an attack of thrips. This pest tends to feed on the pods as they develop and this is noticeable by the silvery markings on the pods, and can make the pods a little unsightly but still edible. I don’t tend to worry as this pest usually attacks late in the season when weather gets warmer and the peas are just going over so you don’t loose too much of your crop.
Your peas will be ready to harvest, from approximately 4 weeks after the first flowers develop on your vines. Try to keep on top of harvesting, because if you pick regularly, you will encourage more pods to develop fully. Remember to bend your back because
the pea pods at the base of the vines will be ready to harvest first, then work your way up the plants over next few days.
                        Mangetout and Snap peas are best harvested when the pods are a good size, making sure they are picked before the peas inside start to swell, because the younger they are the sweeter the flavour.
Please keep those pea pickers busy and enjoy your harvest throughout the seasons as well as fill your freezer, so you can enjoy that fresh pea taste later in the year.

View our full range of peas seeds online.
Happy harvesting!

By Andrew Tokely

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