The tiny pea (Pisum sativum) is one of our most popular vegetables. Although readily available from the supermarket, freshly picked peas are far tastier than packet or frozen versions.
Soil Type: Deep, non-adic, moisture retentive soil, with plenty of organic matter added the previous autumn.
Conditions: Full sun.
Ease of Cultivation: Moderate.
Type: Legume (Podded) Vegetable.
Hardiness: Hardy in most regions of the UK.
When to Sow: March to July.
Harvest: Spring sown: 12-16 weeks after sowing. Autumn sown: about 32 weeks.
Podded peas can often be difficult to grow and take up a lot of space on the plot for only a small yield. For this reason some gardeners just grow earlies, then clear the space for later developing crops like leeks and cabbages. Mangetout and sugarsnap give a better yield and are easier to harvest as the whole pod is eaten.
Peas are legumes, so they produce their own nitrogen, so a rich fertile soil is not necessary but they do like a lot of humus and a neutral pH. Although peas need plenty of moisture, they dislike sticky clay or waterlogged ground.
Choose an open sunny site with well drained, fertile soil, that has been manured the previous autumn. Dig the soil over and break down to a reasonably fine tilth before sowing or planting. Lime the soil if necessary.
Early: Sow early varieties from March to April. For the earliest crop, cover or cloche the soil a few weeks before sowing.
Early peas can also be sown pots or modules in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. Artificial heat is not required but provide plenty of light and ventilation. Hardened off and plant out around the second week in March.
A late sowing of an early variety can also be made from June to July for an autumn crop.
Maincrop: Sow maincrop varieties from March to May. Succession sow every few weeks to provide a steady harvest. Sow the next row, spaced the expected height of the crop from the first row. That way you will ensure enough light is provided.
Autumn: Sow autumn varieties from October to November, which should be ready for harvest the following May.
Mangetout and Petit Pois: Sow in April-May.
Make a drill around 6in (15cm) wide and 2in (5cm) deep. Sow the seeds 2-3in (5-7cm) apart in a zigzag pattern along the row. Water well and cover with soil. To avoid staking, you can also block sow over a larger area, spacing the seeds about 3in (8cm) apart.
A popular method of starting an early crop (late February early March), is to fill a length of roof guttering (fitted with end stops) with compost. Sow into it and germinate in a greenhouse or coldframe. Once the true leaves appear, draw a trench in the plot of the same size as the gutter and carefully slide the contents into the trench.
Support tall varieties with pea netting attached to canes at around 36in (90cm) spacing.
Dwarf varieties can be supported with pea sticks (twigs left from pruning bushes). Insert these into the trench at sowing time, allowing the peas to climb up through as they grow.
Mulch to retain moisture and water liberally in hot, dry weather.
Regular feeding is not necessary in rich soil. A liquid fertilizer can be applied when the pods begin to form.
Yields can often be low for the area of ground required for growing. However, like all legumes, they help fix nitrogen in the soil. So digging the roots into the ground after harvest will help to nourish the soil, ready for the next vegetable crop.
The main pest is the pea moth. The moth lays its eggs at flowering time, which then hatch into maggots that attack the developing peas. To deter, cover with fleece or spray just as the flowers are emerging. The moth is active from mid-May to mid-June, so early and late sowings should be less affected.
When podding, drop the peas into cold water to flush out any maggoted ones.
Protect sowings from birds and mice by laying spiky gorse clippings or holly leaves over the row.
For the best flavour peas should be picked and eaten when young and tender. Young pea shoots can also be eaten, which have distinctly sweet pea flavour.
Harvest podded peas as soon as the pods have swollen fully. First early varieties take around 11 weeks to crop, second earlies 13-14 weeks and maincrop about 15-16 weeks. To test if a crop is ready, pick a pod and taste the peas. They should be plump and sweet.
Don't leave any mature pods on the plant as they will stop new pods from forming.
Shell peas and boil gently in lightly salted water for 8-15 minutes. Petit pois only need to boil for 2 minutes, drain and then steam for a further 2-3. Fresh peas can also be eaten raw with salad.
Cook Mangetout and Sugarsnap pods whole. Top and tail, rinse, then cook in lightly salted water for 4-5 minutes. Alternatively they can be added to stir fries.
Peas are a good source of riboflavin, vitamins B6, A, C, K, thiamine, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and an excellent source of dietary fibre. Raw peas contain up to four times as much vitamin C as cooked peas.
There are so many varieties to choose from. Marrowfat varieties (which become wrinkled when dried) are not fully hardy, but are more popular as they produce heavier crops. Round varieties (smooth when dried) are more hardy, so these are usually sown as a first early crop and also at the end of the year for a late crop. Mangetout and sugarsnap peas are bred so that the whole pod is eaten. Petits Pois are a specially-bred, for their small size and sweet taste.
'Avola' (Kew Collection) an early-maturing dwarf pea. Excellent for containers as well as the vegetable plot. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Eddy' provides crops of long, slightly curved, pointed pods. Sow in spring for summer crops or in late summer for a late harvest. Resistant to powdery mildew. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
Feltham First is a self supporting variety that produces long pods of round, sweet, dark green peas. Good cold tolerance. Ideal for spring or autumn sowing.
'Kelvedon Wonder' (RHS AGM winner) an old reliable favourite, ideal for successional sowings throughout spring and summer. Resistant to Pea Wilt and Downy Mildew. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Meteor' is a popular drawf pea with excellent winter hardiness. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Twinkle' (First Early) is a quality high yield variety. Good wilt resistance and Downy Mildew tolerance. Ideal for successional sowing. Self-supporting if grown in blocks. Height: 18-22in (45-55cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Alderman' a popular reliable variety that produces heavy crops of long, curved, dark green pea pods. Requires support. Height: 71in (180cm), spread: 10in (25cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Bingo' is an early maincrop variety. A heavy cropper that is ideal for poor growing conditions. Ideal for container growing. Powdery mildew resistant. Height: 32in (80cm). Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Jumbo' is a vigorous grower that produces a quality crop over a long period. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Oasis' is a high yielding type with double pods of succulent, dark green peas. Resistant to pea wilt and downy mildew. Height: 24-28in (60-70cm). Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Rondo' produces high yielding double-podded crops of high quality peas. Ideal lightly steamed or boiled with a sprig of mint. Successional sow for a long harvest period. Height: 2.5ft (75cm), spread 10in (25cm). Available from Van Meuwen.
'Ceresa' is a semi-leafless, self supporting pea, with a high yield of easy to pick pods. Height to 20in (50cm). Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Golden Sweet' is an attractive tall growing variety, with red leaf nodes and colourful mauve flowers, followed by pale golden-yellow pods. Height to 7ft (210cm). Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Oregon Sugar Pod' produces sweet, stringless flat pods, throughout summer. Ideal for stir-fries. Resistant to powdery mildew. Height to 35in (90cm), spread to 10in (25cm). Available from Van Meuwen.
'Shiraz' is a purple variety, rich in healthy anthocyanin. Attractive bicoloured flowers. Powdery mildew resistant and tolerant to downy mildew. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Snow Wind' a high-yielding semi leafless variety with straight dark green flat pods. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Sugar Lace' a high yielding semi leafless variety, producing heavy crops of crunchy, stringless pods over a long period. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Sugar Snow Green' is a dwarf, flat, broad-podded Mangetout. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Sweet Horizon' a dwarf type producing an abundance of sweet, stringless pods through the season. Harvest up to October. Ideal for container growing. Available at Thompson and Morgan.
'Lusaka' is a compact from with stringless pods. Powdery mildew resistance. Harvest June-October. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Opal Creek' produces a high yield of yellow podded sweet 'snaps' and sweet edible leaves. Harvest June-August. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Spring Blush' has attractive bicolour flowers followed by pink blushed 'snaps'. Harvest June-August. Height to 8ft (2.4m). Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Sugar Ann' produces round, fleshy, pale green, sweet tasting pods. Early and heavy cropping. Sow in succession for a long season. Available at Thompson and Morgan.