There is more than one way to plant a pea.
This could be the conclusion of my entire 20+ years of growing my own veg, in fact, neatly summed up in a nutshell (or wrapped up in a pea pod, if we’re being literal).
All those experiments with green manures, training tomatoes, trying different varieties and growing oddities – all just point towards one truth, which is that there is no absolute truth. What works for me won’t work for you, and there may be another way out there somewhere which neither of us have tried yet but which changes everything forever.
Anyway, so I was sowing my peas the other day, for it is time to get one of my favourite crops in the ground. I grow lots of different kinds: an early type – ‘Meteor’ this year, but it could just as easily have been ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ or ‘Douce de Provence’ – to pick first. These are short, and don’t have massive yields but they do arrive several weeks before anything else, and you can put them in pots in a cool greenhouse in February and have seedlings to plant out by mid-March.
This month sees the maincrops go in. I have for the last several years grown Telephone peas, which is a sort of Victorian catch-all phrase for really, really tall peas. I first came across these via the Heritage Seed Library, Garden Organic’s repository for some real lost gems: tall peas fell out of fashion because the supermarkets can’t harvest them easily, you see, but they’re perfect for grow-your-own types as they soar to 8ft tall and produce massive – and I mean massive – yields for the amount of space they take up. I have struggled to find the right supports, as they’re so heavy in full flood they pull over all but the strongest. This year they’ll be on proper full-size beanpole A-frames which should do the job.
I’ve been growing the widely-available ‘Alderman’ lately but think I may go back to the HSL and see if they still have the originals I grew that first year – it may be a rose-tinted memory hazing things up a bit but I think they were better.
And last – but most certainly not least – there are the mangetouts. I sow these the same time as the maincrops but they’re productive a good three or four weeks earlier. I adore the colours of ‘Shiraz’ - deep powdery-purple pods and delicate bicoloured pink-and-mauve flowers, pretty as a sweet pea, which you have to resist picking for a vase if you want a crop of peas.
But last year I found good old ‘Oregon Sugar Pod’ and was mounding our plates with mangetouts for weeks and weeks, right through summer. I made two sowings in the end – one about now, the other in early June – and both together saw me through to the end of the season.
So anyway: the ways to sow a pea are legion, and I’ve tried them all. And, so you don’t have to do it all again for yourself, here’s what I thought:
Direct sowing: really, don’t bother. Unless, that is, you like mice so much you want to provide them with a generous food supply, or have a cat on round-the-clock guard duty by the veg bed. I have lost more pea seeds to direct sowing than I care to remember; even if the seeds escape their fate as mouse fodder, the slugs will get them the moment they put a nose above ground.
Loo roll inners: not brilliant germination, but they did give the root run your peas need to thrive. Mushrooms – harmless and sprouting from the cardboard, but nonetheless unpleasant – were a problem. And it took ages and ages to plant them out.
Root trainers: see above for the root run, plus root trainers have the advantage that they naturally ‘root prune’ the seedling as it hits the bottom so the roots keep growing straight down and don’t get pot-bound. And no mushrooms. But you need a lot of root trainers to provide the pea numbers I produce.
Guttering: cut a 1m length of guttering, buy a couple of end-stops from your local DIY store to hold in the compost and remember to drill a few holes before you fill: and you have a ready-made drill-shaped sowing environment. Spaced seeds beautifully and was easy as pie to slide into place in the ground, but you’ve got to be really quick about planting them out as there’s no root depth there at all so they quickly run out of room.
10cm pots: simple, but effective. Fill your 10cm pot with multipurpose compost and sow five seeds to a pot. Delivers a clump of seedlings the recommended 2-3cm apart which you then plant straight out, as a potful, no pricking out or root disturbance required. You can let the seedlings grow a little higher before planting out – essential in my mouse-riddled garden as they eat anything too small – and the job is done in double-quick time as you plant five at once. My favoured method which has stood me in good stead for several seasons now.