Nothing beats home-grown peas for their tenderness and taste. That’s because when they are picked, their sugars start to turn to starch and so they quickly loose their sweetness and flavour. Pick them when small, steam within an hour of picking with a sprig of mint and you won’t taste better.
How to grow peas
Peas need a sunny position that is sheltered from strong winds, to ensure insects can pollinate the flowers.
Improve the soil with lots of garden compost to help keep the soil moist, but free draining.
Peas, being legumes, prefer an alkaline to neutral soil (pH7 and greater); add lime to acidic soils in late winter.
Peas need plenty of soil moisture, especially at flowering and when the pods are filling, otherwise the crops are poor and the peas are small, dry and tasteless. To ensure they don't go short of water, dig a trench approximately 30cm (12in) deep in autumn and fill it with moisture-holding material, such as garden compost, shredded newspaper and un-rotted garden or kitchen waste. Fill the trench with soil a fortnight before sowing or planting out to.
There are lots of different types of peas and numerous varieties. To produce crops all summer long, start by sowing an early variety, followed by a maincrop.
Mangetout peas are eaten pod and all, picked before the peas have developed. Sugar snaps are also eaten whole, but once the peas have swelled. Both are generally easier to grow than podding peas, and are definitely worth growing if you’ve had problems with podding peas in the past.
Early Early Onward, Feltham First, Hurst Greenshaft, Little Marvel
Maincrop Cavalier, Kelvedon Wonder, Onward
Mangetout Delikata, Oregon Sugar Pod
Sugar snap Sugar Ann, Sugar Snap
You can start sowing in March, providing the soil is warm enough. You can pre-warm it by covering with cloches or sheets of polythene 2-3 weeks before sowing.
For an earlier start, you can sow the seeds indoors in small pots or modules filled with potting compost.
The easiest way to sow is to dig out a flat-bottomed trench 5cm (2in) deep and 20-25cm (8-10in) wide. Lightly fork over the bottom of the trench, water the soil and then sow the seeds evenly, roughly 7.5cm (3in) apart, pressing them lightly into the soil. Fill the trench with soil and lightly firm down.
Sow at fortnightly intervals to give a succession of crops throughout summer.
By growing different varieties and sowing at different times of year, you can pick fresh peas from June until October.
How to care for peas
Water well during dry periods, especially during flowering and pod set, giving the soil a good soaking once or twice a week. Mulch the soil around the plants to preserve soil moisture. You can also feed weekly with a high potash liquid feed to promote bigger crops.
Apart from dwarf varieties, peas need supports for the plants to grow up. Insert twiggy branches alongside the plants when they’re 7.5-10cm (3-4in) high. Pea netting supported by stout canes is another option, but it's very difficult to untangle the plants at the end of the growing season. Chicken wire is a better option. Lightweight wooden trellis or willow panels are attractive alternatives, especially when growing peas as an ornamental feature.
Podding peas are ready to pick when the pods are well filled, fresh and green and haven’t started to dry out. Start picking at the bottom of the plants and work upwards. Pick regularly or the plants will stop cropping.