All About PEAS
It’s a good moment in time to think about peas as there are three varieties that you could be sowing this month – Avola, Douce Provence (in our October offer) and Twinkle.
These are all types of first early peas but not all first early peas can be sown in the autumn! So a ‘first early’ is a pea that will be ready after about 12 weeks or so from a spring sowing. The reason to autumn sow is to give you a crop even earlier next year than is possible from spring sowing. This is a great idea because peas generally give most of their crop in a short space of time so ways of extending you harvest by staggering your sowing means that your crops are ready at different times. You will need to choose a sheltered place outside and be prepared to use cloches to protect them over the winter. Sow in situ about 2-4cm deep. Even smooth round seeded varieties will struggle in very wet soil: after all the rain over the last week or so I would definitely get the cloches out for a few days, to help the soil surface dry a little and keep the warmth there too, before sowing. Avola and Twinkle are better for cooler areas (but if your expected winter weather is particularly harsh you will be better waiting for spring). Douce should be fine from the Midlands southwards. These peas will grow slowly until early spring when they will hurry along.
In the spring you can wait about three weeks between sowings to help extend your pea harvest. This is also a good opportunity to try a different variety each time you sow!
Peas that are second earlies take 13-14 weeks from sowing to harvest and then the maincrop peas take 14-16 weeks. Both these types can only be sown from the spring.
This gives you another way of stretching out your harvest: simply sow a first, a second and a maincrop at the same time and the harvest will naturally take place over about 6 weeks. Your last sowing of peas can be July (depending on the individual variety) which could see you harvesting fresh peas in September, and in good conditions, into early October.
Then there is a whole range of Mangetout. French for “eat all” mangetout also applies to snow peas and snap peas. All have edible pods and the differences between them are very slight: snow peas have the thinnest pod walls, snap peas are the crispest (they can be snapped) and in between are the rest that are just called mangetout. Two stand out varieties are Carouby de Maussane (very sweet) and Shiraz (purple podded so easy to find). Once Mangetout start to crop you need to pick every day or so to catch them at their best.
Some of the shortest peas will not need support but even these will ‘flop’ if they get blown about by the wind. A cane at each corner and some horizontal strings can be enough to keep them in place. Little Marvel and Twinkle are the shortest first earlies, Kelvedon (2nd) Charlie and Lincoln (maincroppers) and Norli (mangetout) are also short choices at about 50-60cm.
Medium height peas need to be supported, you can use canes and string for these but for taller varieties (and if you are in a windy location) think about using pea netting attached to strong canes or posts. Alderman (maincrop) can reach 200cm (that’s over 6 feet tall), Shiraz is often around 120cm (about 4 feet) whilst most others are 75-90cm (up to 3 feet). The advantage of Alderman is that there is little bending to do whilst harvesting, the disadvantage for some is that is can be hard to reach the pods at the top!
Whatever your choice the reason for growing your own peas is the same: they may not produce the largest of crops but the flavour fresh from the garden is unsurpassed by anything that you can buy from a shop: go on, grow your own.