When it comes to home-grown veg, peas are pretty high on the list of crops that people grow or want to have a go at growing. They are beautiful straight from the pod in the garden, perfect to boil for a couple of minutes and serve with fresh mint, or ideal to freeze for later use. That said, my favourite way to eat them is mixed into some chopped cucumber, red onion, and feta cheese, then drizzled with a little oil and a bit of fresh, crushed garlic for a really nice salad.
Peas used to be a staple food in the UK in years gone by, not for eating fresh but for drying and sustaining the nation throughout the winter months, with pease pottage being popular. However, peas lost their ‘staple’ badge when heavier-cropping veg such as potatoes became more abundant and more modern breeding in peas meant that they became a sweet and crisp affair, rather than solely the floury, starchy varieties that dried well.
Growing peas can seem a little daunting when you see all the choices and hear people talking of earlies, second earlies and maincrop varieties, yet this just relates to the time it takes for the plants to crop, with earlies taking around 11-12 weeks and the main crop taking up to 16 weeks.
What you will be using your peas for is also another decision to take into account when deciding what variety to grow – some are better to eat fresh and sweet, others are better to dry for use through the winter, while some are great for mushy peas and others (like mangetout and sugar snap) are good to eat whole, either raw or cooked.
SHORT AND TALL
Depending on your space, you could grow tall, short or micro-sized peas on your plot, with short varieties being the most popular to grow and the type with the most varieties to choose from. Starting the seeds off for all the different types is pretty much the same, so the following methods will work for any pea you want to grow.
You could grow taller varieties that crop really well in a small footprint, but they will need some type of structure like canes and netting to scramble up. These varieties, such as heritage classic ‘Champion of England’, can easily reach 2.4m (8ft) tall, but can be kept a little smaller by snipping the tips off as you can with runner beans. Shorter varieties like ‘Ambassador’ will only grow to around 70cm (40in) tall and only need a few pea sticks (twiggy sticks) pushed in between the plants to help support them to prevent the weight of all the pods snapping the plants. Shorter varieties are more popular commercially because they are easy to harvest by machine, so there are more varieties to choose from compared with their taller cousins.
Tiny, micro peas such as the 20cm (8in) tall ‘Half-pint’ and ‘TomThumb’ can be grown on a windowsill and are great for kids to grow due to the fact they are quick and fun. They might not be the greatest croppers but are handy to grow in pots, baskets and troughs if space is limited.
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