Pea growing - Peas how to grow, tips, varieties, cooking.

Custom has it that if you are to find a pea pod with nine or more peas in it that you can make a wish for whatever you heart desires. Now with the cold snap that we often experience in spring I’m willing to bet quite a few early seed sowers would have wished for milder weather. Reports filter in to me each spring of over-enthusiastic gardeners who have had their young seedlings totally blackened by a late frost.

Amongst the usual casualties are cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, spring onion, and beetroot, both in the open ground and within unheated glasshouses or polytunnels. All I can say to them is keep the chin up, don’t be downhearted, as it’s early in the growing season, so you’ve plenty of time to set a new batch of seeds. Let peas be one of them, and I can assure you that with a little care you will have a bountiful harvest.

Common names:
Pea, garden pea, round Garden Pea, sugar pea, English pea, dwarf pea, marrowfat pea, petit pois, and climbing pea.

Botanical name:
Pisum sativum

Area of origin:

Brief description:
Pea plants comprise weak stems lightly clothed with a series of green to bluish-grey leaves divided into 2-7 leaflets. Also up along these stems the plants produce wrapping tendrils that they use for climbing. It all depends on the variety but plants usually stand 90 to 120cm (3-4ft) high.
Pea pods are produced once the plants white white flowers are spent. These pods contain four to ten green peas, either smooth or wrinkled again depending on the variety sown.

Are they easy or hard to grow?:
Not easy peasy. Soil must prepared well to allow a good yeild, then regular picking is required to lengthen the harvest. Support for the plants is also essential.

Varieties suitable to grow in Ireland:


Early Onward (Grows 60cm (24in), sturdy and widely grown, heavy cropping, harvests about ten days earlier than the variety “Onward”, sweet tasting wrinkled peas that are good for deep freezing)

Meteor (dwarf plant, grows 30cm (12in), good for cold and exposed areas, also good for container growing, produces heavy crops of round peas, may not need support in sheltered areas.)

Kelvedon Wonder (Great for successional sowings, grows 45cm (1 ½ ft) tall, high mildew and pea wilt resistance, narrow pointed pods with approx six to eight peas per pod, good for container growing, sweet tasting wrinkled peas


Hurst Green Shaft (grows 75cm (2 ½ ft), high mildew and pea wilt resistance, approx ten wrinkled peas per pod with all the pods in the top 10-12 inches of the plant for ease of harvesting, sweet flavoured, good for deep freezing)

Onward (grows 75cm (2 ½ ft), heavy cropper with plump pods and plump peas, what you imagine an old fashioned pea looks like, good disease resistance, good for deep freezing)

Irish stock.

UK stock.

When to grow:
Peas are usually sown from the middle of March onwards, when soil begins to become warm to the touch. If soils are still wet and cold, hold off for a while, as sowing in such situations can result in poor germination and fungal attack.

A Mid-March sowing of an early variety such as Kelvedon Wonder or Early Onward could mean you can begin picking from Mid-June onwards.

An early April sowing of Onward or Hurst Green Shaft could mean you can begin picking from the end of July onwards.

A Mid-April sowing of Onward or Hurst Green Shaft could mean you can begin picking from Mid-July onwards.

You may attempt sowing in Mid-February if you have a sheltered, sunny and free-draining site. If sowing at this time it also helps if your plot is not in the midlands. Coastal areas should be warmer thus allowing better chances of seed survival. You must sow under cloches or frames to raise soil temperatures. If this succeeds it could mean you can begin picking from Mid-May onwards.

Sowing successionally at fortnightly intervals will provide you with a pea harvest at intervals throughout the summer.

Where to grow, and soil conditions required:
Peas grow best in a sunny spot but will tolerate partial shade albeit with reduced cropping. Avoid soil that waterlogs or conversely dries out rapidly. Shelter is also beneficial.

Peas don’t grow very well in a strongly acid soil preferring instead neutral to slightly alkaline soils (6.0 - 7.5 approx). If the pH (relative acidity or alkalinity) of your soil is not suited to the vegetable, then soil nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, iron, boron, copper, manganese and zinc start to become unavailable, leading to poor crops.

You can use a home soil test available in most garden centres to determine your soils ph. By taking account of the test results you can then decide how much if any amendments are required to bring the to pH of your vegetable garden soil in line.

The application of ground lime will be helpful in countering the acidity. As a rough rule of thumb an application of 250g of ground lime per metre squared the autumn before planting/sowing will commonly increase your ph by about one point. However as lime is available in different formulations, I advise also consulting the rates set out on the pack.

Food reserves required:
For long term feeding of your crop, every 10m2 of growing area should have one wheelbarrow load of well-rotted homemade compost or farmyard animal manure spread over its surface sometime during the autumn/early winter before planting/sowing. Dig this in to a spades depth all over the proposed growing area to enrich it for your crop. Whilst digging, remove any stones and other obstacles that might obstruct roots.

As a rule of thumb, well-rotted manure/compost will be over six months old, and tend to be dark brown will little if any smell. You should not be able to distinguish individual pieces of straw, hay, vegetable peelings, grass etc., as it will all be rotted down.

A week or two before planting/sowing you should also lightly rake into your growing area a well-balanced fertilizer. Growmore or fish blood and bone (organic option) are both suitable for this purpose. Apply according to the rates on the pack.

How to plant or sow:
In your weed-free and lightly raked growing area you must create a flat-bottomed drill 2 inches (5cm) deep. Lightly press the seeds into the base of this drill at 7-8cm (3 in) spacings.
After sowing close the drill with soil, then water well and label.

The distance between the drills should be at least 1 metre. An even wider spacing is preferable as it allows room to get between the rows to harvest your crop.

A helpful tip is to sow a few extra pea seeds at the end of some rows to be used as transplants if gaps appear.

The expected seed germination time approx is 7-10 days. Any seed not required for sowing that year should be kept dry as it has a life expectancy of 2 years.

Caring for your crop:
Keep the soil around the pea plants weed-free. Take care when weeding because the roots are easily damaged.

During a prolonged spell without rain (week or more) you should water gently but deeply once a week. As a rough rule of thumb apply approx 10 litres per metre squared of soil area. Carry out this watering in the morning and try to avoid splashing the leaves, watering the soil instead. Water reserves must be adequate once the pea pods start to form, or else they may end up empty, so ensure the soil is not parched at this time.

One option to conserve soil moisture in a dry summer is to spread a one to two inch thick layer of grass clippings on the soil around the pea plants. Ensure the clippings are weed killer free and that they do not directly touch the plant stems.

At about the sixth or seventh week after seed germination and while plants are growing strongly you can apply a second application of a well balanced fertiliser. Although not essential, a further scattering of Growmore or fish blood and bone can increase the vegetables vigour and make them less susceptible to plant ills. Once scattered the fertiliser should be lightly scratched into the soils surface followed by gentle but deep watering of the soil.

Unless you have opted for a dwarf pea variety such as “Meteor” you will have to provide support as the plants get taller. The brittle stalks of your pea plants are easily broken by breezes and heavy rains, so I urge you to support them. Support must be in place before the seedlings reach 8cm (3 inches) in height.

Drive a wooden stake at either end of your individual rows, with further stakes driven every 120cm (4ft) along the rows. The section of stake left above ground should match or exceed the expected height of the crop. Tautly fasten chicken wire or plastic netting of a similar height to these stakes. This frame allows the peas tendrils wrap and the plants to climb.

Pests and Diseases:
Bird attack tends to the main pest problem encountered by pea growers. These pests tend to pull up young seedlings root and all. Bird protection in the form of netting should be used. Fine netting draped across a few twigs will provide protection against these birds. This protection measure is especially important if pigeons are a problem in your area.

Other troubles of peas include…

Seed Beetle
Pea and Bean Seed Fly
Pea and Bean Weevil
Foot Rot and Root Rot
Fusarium Wilt
Pea Thrips
Halo Blight
Chocolate Spot
Grey Mould
Marsh Spot
Pea Moth
Leaf and Pod Spot

You should not encounter major problems with this fungal disease on peas if you follow the soil preparation, plant spacing, feeding and pH rules mentioned earlier. With any cases of this disease, when you are watering you should try to avoid splashing the leaves which can spread the fungal spores.

Harvesting, when and how:
Time from spring planting to harvest is from 12 to 16 weeks. Pods are ready for picking once they are almost full (peas almost touching), but before the peas within start to harden. You can let them grow longer but realise the larger the pod the less palatable the swelled peas inside will be. It’s best to harvest from the bottom of the stem working upwards, one hand holding the stem and the other pulling off the pod.

Check back and harvest every couple of days, as regular picking will force your plants to keep up production for many weeks.

For short-term storage (one week), place unshelled peas in the salad crisper compartment of your refrigerator.

Longer-term, the peas themselves will keep for twelve months in your deep freeze. To freeze you must boil the beans for 90 seconds, remove and place under cold water, then freeze in plastic bags or plastic containers.

Peas are good eaten raw, steamed or boiled. To boil drop them into lightly salted boiling water for approx 2-3 minutes, or to steam you should cook for approx 1-2 minutes. Serve with chopped mint and a little melted butter.

Peas go well with a lamb roast and boiled new potatoes. Don’t forget to add your peas to your garden vegetable soup, whole or as a puree. You can even team them in a casserole with garden onions and tomatoes……yummy.

More debate about this topic on our forum,
click The Irish gardeners forum.

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