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.