How to Grow Peas

Sweet, tender, sun-warmed peas podded and eaten straight from the vine are one of the great delights of home gardening.  I suspect very few home-grown peas make it into the cooking pot, or indeed, into the house.

Peas are easy to grow and have large seeds that make them a great gardening project for young children.

The pea, Pisam sativam, has been cultivated in Europe for at least 9000 years.  You can choose between dwarf varieties that can grow without support and climbing varieties that need a trellis.  Eating varieties include:

  • Sugar snap and snow peas: the pods are harvested immature; pod and peas are eaten whole.
  • Shelling peas: These are the peas we are most familiar with in Australia.  Pods are harvested when mature but the peas are still green.  Greenfeast, the pea most often grown in Australian gardens, is a dwarf shelling variety.
  • Soup peas: Pods and peas are dried on the plant.  After shelling, the peas can be stored for long periods.

While in many parts of the world peas are planted in early spring (think spring lamb with peas and new potatoes), in southern Australia they are often planted in autumn.

My garden-guru friends tell me to plant peas in Adelaide any time between St Patrick’s Day and Anzac Day, or after the first significant autumn rain.  My young son and I didn’t plant by the first autumn rain, or even the second, but we did finally get the peas into the ground last week.  Now to wait impatiently for the first shoots to appear!

Although pea seedlings are frost-resistant, the flowers can be damaged by frost and pea seeds won’t germinate if soil temperature is below 10 degrees C, so be sure to plant at a time that suits your climate.

How to Grow Peas

Prepare your soil: Peas don’t like acidic soil, so sweeten your soil with lime if necessary. Add plenty of organic matter and create a trellis if you’re growing a tall variety.  Low-growing varieties benefit from short, twiggy sticks to cling to (‘pea sticks’) so they don’t flop on the ground, reducing yield.

Companion planting: According to Peter Cundall in The Practical Australian Gardener, peas will sulk if they are grown next to onions, garlic or shallots but respond well to sweetcorn, turnips, cucumbers, carrots and radishes.

Plant your seeds: Plant seeds 5-10 cm apart and 5cm deep.

Care of plants: Water seedlings regularly after they emerge.  Plants will begin flowering about 2 months after germination and flowers will appear a week later.

Harvest: Pick garden peas and sugar snap peas as soon as they mature.  Snow peas are picked when the pods are small and the peas just visible as little bumps inside.  The more peas you pick, the more the plants will produce.

At the end of the season, cut off stems at ground level and compost un-diseased stems and leaves.  Leave the roots and their nitrogen nodules in the ground for your next crop of leafy vegetables.

Happy planting!

My young son planting peas

A great activity for kids

Posted in Autumn, By the Seasons, Grow | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The Ministry of Food: A Review

History geek, kitchen gardener and vintage cookbook collector that I am, I couldn’t help falling in love with Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s The Ministry of Food: Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed Your Family Today  (2010) the moment I laid eyes on it.

Part of my infatuation comes from the crisp, colourful World War II propaganda posters throughout the book with headings like ‘Making the Most of Milk’ and ‘Better Pot-Luck with Churchill today than Humble Pie under Hitler tomorrow — Don’t Waste Food!’.

The recipes are also a lure, including wartime delights such as fat-free sponge cake, mock duck (sausage and apple meat loaf) and nettle soup (delicious!)  I learned how to prepare a vegetable garden using mid 20th-century methods and that bones were collected to make glue used in aircraft manufacture, for fertiliser and to make into glycerine for high explosives for shells and bombs.

Written as the companion volume to a 2010 Imperial War Museum exhibition, The Ministry of Food draws the reader in with its lively, eminently readable narrative containing numerous contemporary anecdotes on topics such as scandalous black-marketeers, coping with food rationing and life as a land girl.

Fearnley-Whittingstall is at pains to show the relevance of her book in the 21st century, insisting that skills learned by our mothers and grandmothers during wartime are applicable to us today, that ‘like our forebears, we are fighting on several fronts – against waste, junk food and the depletion of fossil fuels.’

She needn’t worry that The Ministry of Food is passé.  Despite its austere subject matter, the book is a feast — of stories, recipes, seasonal menus and gardening tips.  Highly recommended.

The Ministry of Food by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall - cover image


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Lime Delicious Pudding

Tahitian Lime Tree

Tahitian Lime

Freshly laid eggs lying on straw

Freshly laid eggs

One of the charms — and challenges — of life as a kitchen gardener is its immediacy.

If your hens are laying enthusiastically or you have a tree laden with rapidly ripening fruit,  then you need to find uses for your produce, and without delay.  Why lose any of that alluring freshness?  Existing recipes will often have to be adapted to use the specific combination of ingredients you have at hand.

Faced with abundant limes on my Tahitian lime tree and more eggs from Nightmare, Scarecrow, Lola and Ninja than I know what to do with, I adapted a traditional Aussie favourite to use limes instead of lemons.

(Many recipes for lemon delicious pudding can be found on the internet; mine comes from Cooking: A Commonsense Guide.)

Bowl of lime delicious pudding

Lime Delicious Pudding

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

This pudding boasts a layer of feather-light sponge with a surprise underneath, a creamy, tangy, citrussy sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes


60 g butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon grated lime rind

1/3 cup self-raising flour, sifted

1/3 cup (80 ml) lime juice (2-3 limes, depending on size)*

2/3 cup (160 ml) milk*

*You want 1 cup of liquid altogether, so measure your lime juice (a little more or less than 1/3 cup is fine) then measure milk to make 1 cup.


  1. Preheat oven to moderate 180 degrees celsius (160 degrees celsius fan-forced)
  2. Grease a casserole dish (minimum 1 litre capacity).
  3. Beat the butter, sugar, egg yolks and lime rind in a large bowl until the mixture is light and creamy.
  4. Gently stir in the sifted flour with a wooden spoon until just combined
  5. Slowly stir in the lime juice and milk, a little at a time.  If you pour all the liquid in at once it may not combine well.  It is okay if the milk begins to curdle when it contacts the lime juice — it won’t affect the final pudding.
  6. In a separate, clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
  7. Gently fold the egg whites into the lime mixture, half at a time.  The whites will amalgamate better with the rest of the mixture if you add them in two batches.
  8. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish, then place the dish in a deep baking tray.  Fill the tray with boiling water to come a third of the way up the side of the casserole dish.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch.

Note:  I have made this pudding successfully with both limes and lemons.  When I tried it with oranges the result was too sweet and lacked the desired acidity.  It may be worth experimenting with other citrus fruits to find a version you like.

Posted in Autumn, By the Seasons, Cook, Grow | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Interview with a Rooftop Kitchen Gardener

Up the ladder to the rooftop garden

Up the ladder

Andrew Marsh’s 1898 bluestone villa in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs has a rather wonderful secret.

Around the back, past the immense golden elm but before you reach the swimming pool, you’ll see a ladder leading up into the eaves.

If you climb the ladder up to the roof (a precarious task with a full cup of hot coffee), you’ll find a most unusual vegetable garden.  In mid April, two raised beds overflow with tomatoes, zucchinis, capsicums, newly-planted garlic, beetroot, spinach, chillies and even a solitary carrot left over from last year, while smaller pots hold sage, parsley and basil.

Impressed and fascinated by this novel kitchen garden, I interviewed Andrew to find out more.

What made you decide to grow vegetables on your roof?  And how did you create the space?

I knew I couldn’t grow vegetables in the backyard because of the large trees that shade it, so I built the decking on the skillion roof with a vegetable garden in mind.  The decking had to be strong and capable of bearing about 15 tonnes in total.

I’m mechanical engineer and allied with that I have my hand in sustainability, so I was aware of what was needed and what was going to work. I rehearsed in my own mind how I was going to get the soil up there once the decking was built and that was literally with a block and tackle, bucket after bucket. It took a whole day to get two tonnes of soil up there to fill just two raised beds.

The skillion roof was a bit of an accident. I misread my own drawings when I was designing our home extension. When the builder put in the roof structure I thought, oh my God, this roof is so much lower than I intended. I was hell-bent on disguising the new rear of the house. Now I’m proud I designed this low roof than enabled a roof garden to be built.

Describe how you created the raised garden beds?

The beds are made from corrugated iron which I cut from pre-purchased lengths using an angle grinder. They’re lined with rock wool with a tarpaulin barrier between the rock wool and the soil and a drainage system in the bottom. Each bed has a dripper system on a timer but they also sometimes need supplementary hand watering on hot days.  The soil is a commercial vegetable mix which I enrich with home-made compost and manure from my hens.  I made a structure over each bed from electrical conduit which I cover with shade cloth in hot weather.

What do you grow up there?

We’ve had two reasonable crops of tomatoes and plenty of brassicas. Root vegetables seem to do better than the surface ones; the beetroot was outstanding, parsnips less so and we had plenty of carrots. I plant everything on top of each other; I’ve got a whole packet of beetroot seeds sown into half a square metre.

We eat from the garden every day. We have entire meals where I might scramble some eggs from our chooks and throw in chopped up tomato, spinach, zucchini and capsicum  that I’ve just picked.   Apart from a little bit of olive oil it’s a meal taken completely from the garden minutes before we eat it.

What advice would you give a prospective roof gardener?

You need a flat area that’s fairly private, not overlooking anyone else.  I had to get another engineer to sign off the steel structure that was going to support the decking. After that was done, the council signed off without a hitch. The roof is designed to take four planters but if I did that there would be no room to take people up, and we do like to take people up there. People are fascinated by it.

What has most surprised you about  your roof garden?

The biggest surprise is that it’s such a lovely place to be, especially when the sun is setting.  There’s lots of light up there and uninterrupted views of the hills. It’s a peaceful, private spot. Whether sitting there with a mug of tea or taking friends up and having canapés before a dinner party, it is just a great spot.  I didn’t expect that it was going to be another room, an outdoor, gardening room.

To learn more about the technical aspects of Andrew’s rooftop vegie garden, you can read an article he wrote for ReNew, the magazine of the Alternative Technology Association.

Raised vegetable bed with conduit frame in rooftop garden

Raised bed with conduit frame

View of he backyard from the rooftop garden

Looking out over the backyard

Posted in Grow | Tagged | 1 Comment

Welcome to Rosehips and Rhubarb

My name is Kate and I live in Adelaide, South Australia, although I’m originally from Sydney and spent many years in Melbourne in between.

Wherever I live I grow food, whether a few herbs in a pot or a mini orchard of fruit trees. My family tolerates my eccentricity and happily devours the (literal) fruits of my labours.

I love weird heirloom vegetables and determined chooks who shimmy, commando-style, under the wire that is supposed to contain them. I love gathering herbs at dusk and planning dessert around whichever fruit tree is producing.

At Rosehips and Rhubarb you’ll find recipes inspired by my garden, my family, my studies in food history and my vintage cookbook collection. Gardening tips and hints will mingle with stories about other kitchen gardeners, book reviews and my thoughts on ethical eating and sustainability.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you come back again soon.

Chooks under nectarine

Three of our four chooks politely posing under the nectarine tree

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