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
- Individual pots/root trainers/Seedling trays.
- Twigs, wooden doweling or bamboo are common choices for gardeners as plant supports, but anything straight and sturdy will do.
- String/Gardeners wire/something to tie the stalks to the support may be necessary.
- 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.
- Once the seed is roughly 6 inches tall, it is ready to be planted outside.
- Carefully remove the pea seedling without disturbing the roots and plant the seedling and compost into the ground roughly 4 to 6 inches apart.
- 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.
- The seedling needs to be watered to make sure the soil is damp enough, but be careful not to over water.
- 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.
- 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!