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Peas fresh from the garden, and by fresh we mean up to an hour old, are one of nature's delights. This is one vegetable where the supermarkets simply can't produce a comparable crop. Fresh is most definitely best.

Another great advantage of peas is their preference for cooler conditions and production of a crop early in the year. This makes them ideal for the British climate. With dwarf, semi-dwarf and climbing varieties one of them is sure to fit into your garden or allotment.


DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EARLY AND MAINCROP PEAS


When you buy your pea seeds they will be classified as one of three types based on how long they take to be ready for harvest.
  • EARLIES
    As the name suggests these can be harvested the earliest of all peas. They take about 12 weeks from sowing to harvest.

  • SECOND EARLIES
    These are a sub-division of earlies and they take about 14 weeks from sowing to harvest

  • MAINCROP
    These are the traditional, slightly later peas and take about 16 weeks to reach harvest time. This group includes the climbing peas.

QUICK CALENDAR FOR GROWING PEAS IN THE UK AREA


Before using the calendar below, have you adjusted it to your weather conditions? If not:

CLICK HERE TO PERSONALISE ALL DATES TO YOUR AREA

Not only will the calendar below be correct for your area but all dates in this site will also be adjusted. Your setting will last for six months or more and still be set when you revisit this site. If you prefer not to adjust the dates they will be the average for the UK.


  • Sow pea seeds under cloches
    The last week of February 2017
  • Sow pea seeds indoors
    The first week of March 2017
  • Start to sow pea seed outdoors
    The second week of March 2017
  • Harvest earlies from
    The last week of May 2017
  • Harvest maincrop peas from
    The last week of June 2017


BEST SOIL AND POSITION FOR GROWING PEAS

Peas are classified as "legume" vegetables for the purposes of crop rotation. It is essential not to grow them on the same soil in two years running. A three year rotation plan should be sufficient to avoid any build up of pests. For details of a suggested crop rotation plan, click here.

Like many vegetables peas do best in a full-sun position with a well-dug, water retaining soil. Full sun is not critical for maincrop peas which can cope well with partial shade but early varieties do need lots of sun. They hate water logged soil and seeds will not germinate if the weather is cold and the soil very wet.

To improve your chances of success with early peas cover the planting area with black plastic or cloches a week or so prior to planting. This will warm up the soil and stop too much rain water logging it.

For us the best pea is the climbing variety Alderman. This can produce truly large crops of peas over a long period so we take care to prepare the soil especially we for this variety. See our in depth description of the Alderman pea variety (sometimes known as the "Victorian Colossal Climbing Pea") not only for the pest free nature and massive crops of this variety but also how to prepare the ground to make the most of its cropping potential.

WHEN AND HOW TO SOW PEA SEEDS IN THE UK AREA


There is a misconception amongst many gardeners that early pea varieties such as Kelvedon Wonder should be sown earlier than maincrop varieties such as Alderman but this is not true. All peas seeds should be sown at the same time, it's just that early varieties mature quicker compared to maincrop varieties.

What does define the time when peas are best sown is the soil temperature and this is influenced by two factors:

  • the natural soil temperature in your area of the UK which varies greatly from one area to the other
     
  • if you artificially raise the soil temperature using cloches, black plastic covering or similar mechanisms.

The diagram below shows natural soil temperature averages (in °C), firstly in warm areas of the UK (the red line) and in cooler areas (the blue line). The majority of areas in the UK will fall somewhere between these two lines. The chart shows the average of day and night time temperatures and you can assume that the day time temperature is about 2°C higher than the averages shown below.

The soil temperature is the key to sowing pea seeds early enough so that you end up with an early crop but not so early that the seeds fail to germinate. If the temperature is high enough for just a couple of hours, pea seeds will start the germination process.

Soil temperatures in the UK

The soil temperature range at which pea seeds germinate is between 42°F / 6°C up to 82°F / 28°C. If cloches are in place, or the ground is covered in plastic, the soil temperature will be approximately 2°C higher. With the factors above in mind the following seed sowing dates are recommended:
  • sow pea seeds under cloches / black plastic during the last week of February 2017
     
  • sow pea seeds directly in the ground during the second week of March 2017

There are two main types of peas as far as planting is concerned, climbing peas which will grow to 2.1m / 7ft high if you let them (e.g. Alderman) and dwarf peas (e.g. Kelvedon Wonder) which will grow to a height of anything between 60cm / 2ft to 1.2m / 4ft.

SOWING DWARF PEA SEEDS
Peas of this type will be partly self-supporting and require only short twigs or sticks to keep them upright. For this reason they are best sown quite densely and with two or three plants wide per row. Dig out shallow trench about 5cm / 2in deep and 15cm / 6in wide. If the soil is dry give it a good watering.

There is no need for precision when sowing the seeds, just scatter them in the trench so that they are about 2cm / ¾in apart. You could, if you want, sow three neat lines of seeds in the trench but it won't make any difference. The seeds will almost all germinate in good dryish weather but birds love to eat them and mice can very often be a problem. If you know that you are likely to be troubled by either pest then cover the soil with wire netting (the best bet for preventing mice damage) or horticultural fleece. The fleece should be removed when the peas have germinated and are about 2cm / ¾in high.

Question and Answer: Do pea seedlings need to to be thinned?


The short answer is no. At a spacing of 2cm / ¾in apart peas will grow fine and will not need to be thinned. You need a lot of pea plants to grow a plentiful crop of peas!

If you need to sow more then one row then space each row about 30cm / 1ft apart at least. The reason for spacing the rows is simply to enable you to get between them to harvest the peas.

SOWING CLIMBING PEA SEEDS
There are many methods for sowing climbing peas and they differ slightly depending on the support method you plan to use. All the peas though should be sown at a depth of about 5cm / 2in. With climbing peas you will need to erect the supports before sowing your peas. A wigwam always looks attractive as does two single rows about 45cm / 18in apart with the canes tied together at the top.

Peas wont grow up canes like runner beans they need more support for their tendrils to grab hold of and climb up. Pea netting is good for this spread over the canes but string tied onto the canes horizontally at 15cm / 6in intervals will also do the same job at less cost. Sow three seeds at the base of every cane used. No thinning of the seedlings is required.

SOWING PEAS INDOORS


If you want to get a head start with your pea plants it's easy to sow them indoors or in a greenhouse. In the first week of March 2017 fill an 8cm / 3in pot with multi-purpose compost, make hole about 5cm 2in deep and drop a seed in. Cover with compost, water well and place in a cool place indoors. The seedlings will emerge in just under a week. As soon as they do, move the seedlings to a light position (not in direct sunlight) and let them grow on until they are about 12cm / 5in high.

Harden the seedlings off over a week and then plant them outside in their final positions.

The germination rate for peas sown outside is poor, about 50% is not unusual. The same goes for those sown indoors although the rate will be higher, about 70%. You can pre-germinate the seeds and avoid planting ones which fail to germinate.

Wet a kitchen towel, place the seeds on it and cover with another moist kitchen towel. Place them in a cool room indoors and check them after 24 hors to see if they have sprouted. If they haven't, wait another 12 hours and check again. Ideally you want to sow them in pots as described above as soon as a small sprout appears.

Pre-germinated pea seeds

The picture above shows a couple of pea seeds which have sprouted slightly longer than is ideal but they will still be fine to sow in multi-purpose if you take care not to break the root and stem shoots.

CARING FOR YOUR PEA PLANTS


When grown on a well-prepared soil (adding lots of composted organic matter) the main care need of peas is a regular supply of water especially when the pods are forming. Don't water log the soil but keep it moist. Weeds also need to be kept to a minimum to avoid competition for water and nutrients. A layer of well-rotted compost around the growing plants will help them grow well.

As far as nutrients are concerned don't add nitrogen fertilisers such as Growmore, this will only encourage leafy growth at the expense of pea production. Peas generate enough nitrogen of their own in little nodules which form on the roots. We feed once a month with blood, fish and bone although this is done on all our soil not just peas.

Climbing peas should have their supports put in place when seeds are sown as mentioned above. Most dwarf peas will need gentle support, especially some of the taller varieties. Use twigs and sticks to do this. We have found that raspberry bush prunings are ideal for this purpose and we keep them from year to year for just this purpose - they normally last two to three years.

WHEN TO HARVEST YOUR PEAS


Our pea calendar at the top of this page can be adjusted for your area of the UK to give you an approximate idea of when to harvest. But in reality it all depends on how big you like your peas. Many varieties can be harvested early as a mange tout crop, give it a try and see what they taste like. Some people like their crop to be "petit pois" size and others appreciate the excellent digestive qualities of overgrown peas whilst most prefer them to be somewhere in between. Whatever your tastes, don't waste the larger ones, use them for pea and ham (or just plain pea) soup. If you ever need to thin your peas or just fancy the idea of something different then try using pea shoots in recipes - a good selection of recipe ideas are given here.

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Pea plants produce of their best when harvested regularly, this encourages them to produce more pods. At the end of their useful life cut the tops off and add to the compost heap. The roots can be left in the ground to rot down and provide body for your soil next year.

Recent investigations have revealed that the little nodules which peas produce on their roots only provide the plants with nitrogen, they are totally ineffective at fertilising the soil with nitrogen. Beware of articles on peas which claim otherwise because they are out of date. In reality the nitrogen in pea root nodules transfers to the pea pods when they start to form and almost none is left in the roots when the peas are harvested.

RECOMMENDED VARIETIES OF PEAS


Decide first if you want to grow dwarf varieties, climbers or both. We would highly recommend giving climbers a try. They have gone out of fashion slightly but they produce the biggest crop of the sweetest peas with very reduced pest and disease problems. Next read our independent review of pea varieties which are suitable for growing in the UK.



DWARF PEA VARIETIES

EARLY ONWARD
Early Onward are one of the most reliable varieties of peas, producing a good crop in almost all years. Slightly larger than average pods with an average of seven peas per pod ....... Click here for the full review of this variety.

KELVEDON WONDER
An early maincrop variety which is repeatedly recommended by amateur gardeners in all parts of the UK. Reliable and well-tried, it produces a good crop of peas (eight per pod). Click here for the full review of this variety.

MISTY
Can be grown without support because this is a very compact plant. An excellent crop of peas which are held well above ground level.

METEOR
This is classed as a first early variety which is fine for some uses but flavour is definitely not the best. Click here for the full review of the Meteor pea variety.


PEA CLIMBERS



ALDERMAN
This gets our recommendation as the tastiest pea variety of all. Massive crops with great resistance to pests and diseases. Click here for the full review of this variety.


PESTS AND DISEASES OF PEAS



PEA MOTH


This is one of the main pests of pea plants. You won't notice it until you come to harvest your peas when you will find many of them with an ugly looking muck where the bug has eaten into your peas.

Greenfly insecticides can be sprayed on the plants but the problem is that they need to sprayed when the flowers are open to kill the Pea Moth. But this is exactly the time when pollinating insects will be out and about. So spraying at the correct time will kill pollinating insects.

The best cure is prevention, by covering your plants with insect proof mesh. Climbing peas tend to suffer far less from this pest.

MILDEW


A white powdery film covers the leaves and stems. Avoid this problem by incorporating lots of organic matter in the soil before sowing / planting and water well when conditions are dry. Basically, plants under stress are susceptible to powdery mildew so good ongoing care is the best way to prevent it. We have an in depth article on identifying, preventing and treating Powdery Mildew which can be found here.

HOW TO SAVE PEA SEEDS


When you are harvesting peas, leave some of the pods (expect a minimum of six peas per pod) on the plant to harden off. When the pods are dry, on a dry day pull them off and keep them in a cool, dark and dry place for a day or so more.

Dried pea seeds saved for next year

Prise the pods open, they should be crispy dry at this stage, and remove the peas. Quickly examine the pea seeds and if any have dark marks on them then throw the affected ones away. Label up an envelope or small paper bag and store the pea seeds in a cool, dry and dark place until they are ready to be used next year.

COMMENTS / QUESTIONS LEFT BY OUR READERS

Date: 11 May 2015 From: Mike
Sugar-snap, planted six from plugs i bought, they are now about 8ft tall (each on a single stem) and have pods from about 4/5ft high upwards to the top, is this normal as someone told me i should of pulled the tip on them early on when they where about 12inch high to stop them getting to tall and more importantly to make they branch so produce more of a crop? Any advice for next years crop would be more than welcome.

ANSWER: Climbing sugar snap peas should be left to grow as they want. Only pinch out the top when they reach the height you want. At 8ft tall I would certainly pinch them out now.

The pods do tend to start around half way up the plant so all sounds OK.


Date: 11 May 2015 From: Mike
I've been trying to grow two varieties of pea this year: Douce Provence and Little Marvel. Due to unforeseen circumstances I was late in planting and did so in late May. I put the peas in large pots as I'm limited for garden space and used a multipurpose compost. I kept them watered and placed them in an area that receives sunlight just after noon. Initially the plants were growing well; there was a lot of flower but the next minute the plants started to turn yellow and even though pods were forming there was very few peas and some of the pods only showed the beginnings of pea formation before also turning yellow. Eventually the plants turned completely yellow. Do you know what could have caused the problem? Could it be a disease? I tried to water every few days and would soak the soil because it was very dry. Could overwatering be the problem or were the plants lacking nutrients? Because I had such a poor crop, I recently put some more Little Marvel in pots and they're just starting to come through. I'm hoping that this time I can get them going but am concerned that they may experience a similar fate. Is there anything you can suggest that I do/try?

ANSWER: Because the plants have turned yellow quickly I would suspect over-watering. My guess is that too much water has caused some form of root rot which is affecting their ability to provide food and water to the plant above ground. Make sure the container has holes in the bottom and that it drains easily. Putting the container on gravel or pots stands often helps greatly.

Don't waterlog the containers, slightly on the dry side is better than too much water. Space the plants about 15cm apart.

As far as feeding is concerned I would limit it to a long lasting fertiliser such as blood, fish and bone once every two or three weeks. Don't use general purpose liquid feeds which contain excessive nitrogen for peas.

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