IS there anything comparable to the delicate, delectable and innocently sweet taste of fresh peas popped straight from the pod?
These bursts of green, garden-tasting goodness are straightforward to sow and grow, and are more-ishly good when munched straight from the plant. Peas are the best crop for interesting children in the veggie garden and their sugary taste makes them a perfect, nutrient-rich ‘snack’ for all ages to chomp.
From plain podded to purple podded, mangetout to sugar snap, dwarf (requiring little or no support) to enormously tall, there is a pea variety to satisfy everyone.
They are a fantastic addition to any plot, as it is nigh impossible to source fresh peas in a shop and bountiful harvests can be frozen for maximum enjoyment throughout the winter.
The first sowing of peas in Ireland is usually in early April, and for successional harvests it pays to sow again in May through to early July. Seeds do best when sown in drills approximately 5cm deep and spaced 2.5 – 5cm apart in the drill. The usual method of growing is in double rows spaced 30cm apart, with a support placed in the middle of the two rows.
Last year in Airfield, the birds played havoc with our freshly germinated seedlings, so fleecing was required to keep the winged pea-pillagers at bay.
This year, dwarf peas ‘Meteor’ and ‘Progress No. 9’, and the semi-leafless variety, ‘Markana’, have already been sown beside rows of twiggy, hazel sticks, and, so far so good, the birds have been deterred from their usual pea-shoot plucking.
Most peas need some kind of support, even dwarf varieties.
A support system should be in place before peas are planted and certainly before the sign of the first tendrils. If your plants are not supported, they will flop over, yields will drop, and your precious peas will be destined for the muddy ground and the mouths of slugs.
Remember that peas climb, they don’t twine. A trellis effect works well, as opposed to individual bamboo canes.
The traditional method is to use pea sticks, which are twiggy branches of appropriate height pushed into the ground beside the rows. Hazel and birch branches are ideal.
Pea sticks are my personal favourite, as they are rustic-looking, yet provide a quick, free and effective support system.
Of course, you can use netting to support your peas, or even bamboo sticks with string tied around them, or chicken wire nailed to posts.
Whatever you run with, make sure the support is reasonably strong, as mature crops can become weighty and top-heavy.
All parts of the pea plant are edible. Pea shoots (top growth, including one set of leaves) are tender, crisp and tasty and can be harvested every 3–4 weeks once the plant is established.
The curling tendrils that the pea plant uses to hold onto supports make a delightful garnish and often appear on plates in Asian restaurants and trendy establishments.
Pea flowers are also tasty, but I wouldn’t go too mad picking these as, remember, they will eventually form your peas. Pea shoots and tendrils may sound and look exotic or sophisticated, but even gardeners who can’t grow peas to maturity can grow these, so it might be worth sowing a small patch of peas for shoots and tendrils alone.
The other great news is that peas not only nourish you, but will feed your garden as well, by enriching the soil with nitrogen.
Once you’ve chomped through your crop, don’t dig up the plants, but cut them off, leaving the roots in the ground and, as these rot down, they will release stored nitrogen into the ground for following crops.
In short, it’s a win-win situation, as peas are super-easy to devour and packed full of important nutrients for you and your garden.
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