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Peas, the gorgeous, green, garden vegetable are very popular in the UK, on average each person in the UK eats 9,000 peas a year. That’s certainly a lot of pea pods! The Latin name is Pisum sativum and they are thought to have come from Middle Asia, central Ethiopia and the Mediterranean. They are one the worlds oldest cultivated crops. Modern varieties trace back to the first sweet tasting pea developed by Thomas Edward Knight, an amateur gardener, in the 18th century. The United Kingdom is the largest pea producer in Europe, growing over 160,000 tonnes of them. Peas were one of the first vegetables frozen by Clarence Birdeye, using his revolutionary freezing process.

Pea pods are technically fruit as they contain seeds from the plant, however in cooking they are considered to be vegetables. There are three main varieties; snow (also known as Mangetout), sugar-snap (also known as simply the ‘snap pea’) and the shelling pea. There are several different mature sizes of peas, dwarf (2 inches or less), semi-dwarf (2-4 inches) and tall (around five inches tall). Snow and sugar-snap look fairly similar although sugar-snaps are plumper. The shelling pea can also be called the garden or English pea and needs to be eaten fresh and immature to gain the best flavour.

The pea is actually yellow when fully matured, the reason they are green is because we eat immature pea pods for a sweeter flavour. When the pea is picked freshly from the plant it is best cooked quickly with very little water to preserve it’s wonderful taste. There are many excellent pea recipes including the classic pea soup, as well as pea risotto or the pea as a side dish. The main ways of storing the pea is freezing or drying.

Location & Timing

Growing a pea is easiest in a sunny location with moist soil. These growing conditions can be achieved using compost or rotting manure. Peas can be sown from February to July and harvested from June to October. The most hardy seeds are round seeds which are suitable for early sowing around February time. Wrinkled ones tend to taste sweeter and are best sown in summer. Growing pea seeds is relatively easy.

How to Grow Peas

Equipment

Method

  1. Plant the pea seed indoors in an individual pot or alternatively you could use a root trainer or a seedling tray. The seed needs to be watered frequently while indoors to keep the soil moist enough for it to grow in.
  2. Once the seed is roughly 6 inches tall, it is ready to be planted outside.
  3. Carefully remove the pea seedling without disturbing the roots and plant the seedling and compost into the ground roughly 4 to 6 inches apart.
  4. Twine the pea carefully around twigs/doweling/bamboo to help them grow. You might need to (loosely, so you don’t damage the plant) tie the seedlings to the twig to help them stay, string and gardeners wire are common choices to do this.
  5. The seedling needs to be watered to make sure the soil is damp enough, but be careful not to over water.

Growing Tips

  • Grow the seed indoors to begin with; mice, slugs and snails love to eat seeds if they get the chance (but be sure to protect them from household pets too!).
  • If you have acidic soil, apply lime or dolomite to it to help the pea seed grow.
  • Protect pea seeds with netting, they are very vulnerable to bird attacks.
  • Water the seed regularly, especially during dry spells.

Harvesting Tips

  • Snow and suger snap peas should be picked when the pods are around 3 inches long.
  • Peas need to be picked regularly otherwise new pods and flowers stop growing.
  • Pea pods should be harvested when they seem well filled to gain the best flavour.
  • Be careful when picking the pods, pea stems snap easily!

Let’s Talk About.. How to Grow Strawberries!

Strawberries are one of the most versatile and easy fruits to grow, which is great for those of us who wish to grow our own delicious varieties of one of the most popular British fruits. Thankfully, they’re able to tolerate a wide variety of soil types, from light and sandy to the heaviest of clay soils, so combining this with the fact that they’re simple in their demand of nutrients, strawberry varieties can be found growing all over the world.

They’re also able to survive most and flourish in all weather conditions, from the UK’s cold and wet weather to the extreme heats of Spain, which, seemingly, makes them a hardy fruit that’s a great starter for those of us just starting out in the world of fruit growing. The biggest negative however, is that as a fruit strawberries are subject to a range of diseases and nuisance pests.

How to grow Strawberries

How to grow Strawberries: Strawberries growing in the ground. Photograph by Robin Riat

How to grow Strawberries – So what do you need to know about growing conditions?

Let’s start with the ideal soil. Well-drained, rich in humus with an adequate water supply is the best. Strawberries love a pH level of around 6.5 and prosper best in soil which is weed and debris free. If you want to prepare your garden soil for strawberry growing for the first time, add garden compost at 1 barrow to 4m2. You will also need to add 75g per m2 of bone meal and the same of seaweed meal. If you think your earth is lacking nutrients, add one barrow of well-rotted manure (per 12 m2). You may also want to add 5cm layer of leaf-mould to the top 10cm of soil before planting to encourage healthy growth. In terms of light conditions, strawberries grow best in full sun and out of the direct wind. Remember that officially, planting should occur between the end of June and September.

How to grow Strawberries - What about useful tips and techniques?

  • Lay plants in rows every 35cm. Make sure they have enough room to grow. Keep them approximately 75cm apart.
  • Always pick ripe strawberries; otherwise they will rot and infect other fruit. Prevent this by checking plants every other day once ripening starts to occur.
  • Placing straw (barley) in and between plants will help subdue weeds and stop fruit coming into contact with the ground.
  • Once fruit starts showing, remove all dead leaves and check plants regularly for insects (especially aphids). If signs of infestation, take action with appropriate pesticides.
  • If any plants do not flourish, get rid of them right away, as they’re probably infected with a virus.
  • After cropping, clear up the plant bed immediately. Cut back the plants (leaving a stump of 10cm) and remove all dead leaves and straw. Keep soil watered and at a good pH level to ensure future growth.
  • After two to three yields, be prepared to move your strawberry planting location and start a rotational system, perhaps with a rhubarb crop.

How to grow Strawberries - Useful Tools and Equipment:

In addition to ensuring your soil is suitable for strawberry plants, you can also consider using a range of useful tools & products which will help you get the best out of your efforts.

  1. Strawberry Mats – Fabric strawberry mats can be placed at the bottom of each plant, instead of straw, and will help retain moisture.
  2. Bird Scaring Tape – This tape can be attached to small wooden poles around the plants. It will shake in the breeze or wind, creating a noise to frighten birds and prevent them from snacking.
  3. Hanging Baskets – Growing in these ensures your strawberries are safe and far away from slugs, snails and other soil dwelling pests.
  4. Polythene & Woven Polypropylene Covers – These covers act as protection from insects and other pests and enable the strawberry plants to flourish. Be aware the woven cover will allow water to pass through; however, if using polythene, you will need to find an alternative method to keep the soil and plants watered.

About the Strawberry plant.

Fragaria × ananassa, commonly known as strawberry or garden strawberry, is a hybrid species that is cultivated worldwide for its fruit. The fruit is widely appreciated for its characteristic aroma, bright red color, juicy texture, and sweetness. ~ Wikipedia

Credits: Title photograph courtesy of Glen Young