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For best results peas need an open, sunny position with good drainage. Never sow in cold, wet soil; acidic soils should be limed. If spring is slow to arrive, warm the soil with polythene before sowing and then protect seedlings with horticultural fleece. Generally, peas prefer cooler weather and grow well in cool springs.
Make a flat-bottomed trench 5cm (2in) deep and 15cm (6in) wide – a draw hoe is ideal for this. Sow the seeds evenly in the trench approximately 7.5cm (3in) apart, cover with soil, then lightly firm. If you need a second row make this the height of the crop away from the first trench.
Make a single sowing of an early, second early and maincrop variety. First earlies are sown from March to early June and will be ready to pick in 11 to 13 weeks. Second earlies are sown from March to June and are ready in around 14 weeks. Maincrop cultivars are sown at the same time and take up to 16 weeks.
Peas are grouped by harvesting time and the shape of the seeds; round peas tend to be hardier than wrinkled varieties.
Water well when the flowering begins and two weeks after. Add a mulch around the base of plants to preserve soil moisture.
Apart from dwarf cultivars, you will need to provide some support for the plants to scramble up. One of the easiest way of supporting taller varieties is adding trellis, bamboo canes and netting. Dwarf varieties can be supported with pea netting or pea sticks (twiggy branches).
After flowering, plants need sufficient water for the pods to swell properly. Check the soil moisture at root level to find out if the plants are getting enough water. Apply a thick mulch after watering to lock moisture into the ground.
By choosing different types and cultivars you can harvest fresh pea pods from June until October. Mange tout and sugar snap varieties are generally the easiest to grow.
Pods are ready to harvest when they are well filled. Pick regularly or the plants stop producing flowers and pods.
Mangetout and sugar snaps peas should be picked when the pods are about 7.5cm (3in) long, just as the peas are starting to develop.
‘Feltham First’: Round seeded first early and is very hardy, has large, well filled pods of fair flavoured seeds.
‘Kelvedon Wonder’ AGM: First early, can be used as an early or main crop, have an excellent flavour.
‘Early Onward’: A heavy cropping second early, with sweet wrinkled seeds.
‘Balmoral’ AGM: A late maincrop; dark-foliaged plant produces a heavy crop ofdouble and triple pods per node. Short pods have an average of seven peas per pod, with goodsweet flavour
‘Dorian’: An early maincrop; good crop ofeasy to pick, very long, straightpods. Plants not too tall;produce mainly double pods per node that contain an average of nine big, well flavoured peas.
‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ AGM: Fair flavour, round seeded, very hardy harvest as soon as the pods are big enough to use.
‘Reuzensuiker’ AGM: Compact and needs little support, the pods are wide, fleshy and sweet.
‘Sugar Ann’ AGM: Early cropping and a good yield of early, sweet pods.
‘Cascadia AGM: Early, attractive, fleshy, tender pods, exceptionally heavy cropping with a sweet flavour.
Pea moth: This is the caterpillar that you find when shelling your peas. Female moths lay their eggs on peas that are in flower.
Remedy: Early or late peas, flowering outside their flying period, are undamaged, which means March and June sowings. Synthetic pyrethroid insecticides applied a week after the onset of flowering and again two weeks later will give full control, but using a pheromone trap to be sure you are treating at the right time is best. Alternatively grow under insect proof mesh.
Read more information on pea moth
Mice: They often eat seeds which are sown directly into the ground.
Remedy: start early crops in pots and transplant. Traps every 2m and shielded from birds, will control mice.
Pigeons: Wood pigeons are often the worst bird pest in gardens and on allotments. They peck at leaves, tearing them, sometimes only leaving the stalks. Pigeons can attack many plants, but particularly brassicas and peas.
Remedy: Shooting can be effective but is often not a safe option in gardens or allotments. Scaring devices or repellent substances are likely to give, at best, only temporary protection. The only certain way of protecting vulnerable plants from pigeons is to grow them under netting.
Read more information on pigeons
Powdery mildew: This is a fungal disease of the foliage, stems and occasionally flowers and fruit where a superficial fungal growth covers the surface of the plant.
Remedy: Mulching and watering reduces water stress and helps make plants less prone to infection. Try growing resistant varieties.
Read more information on powdery mildew
Nigel Slater teams fresh green peas with lentils and goats’ cheese in this warm salad.
Fresh peas feature in this Pea Risotto, an Italian favourite.
This salad uses French beans but would work equally well with your home-grown peas.