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Peas, like beans, are legumes and produce a dry fruit contained within a pod. They are available as early or later main crop varieties, ready for harvest from June to October. There are dwarf pea varieties that require little staking but larger plants will require support from trellis or bamboo canes.
To save on space within the garden you could inter-plant peas with cucumbers, potatoes or early greens such as radishes, spinach, lettuce. Avoid planting peas near near garlic or onions as they have detrimental chemical and flavour interactions.
Peas will grow successfully in most soils. They enjoy a moist, fertile well drained soil in full sun. Early peas benefit from raised beds or sandy loam soils as the soil warms up quickly.
Choose a sheltered location that is sunny and sheltered from high winds. Two weeks prior to sowing seeds dig over the bed to a medium tilth and add well rotted farm yard manure as this will help with moisture retention and improve soil fertility.
Peas can be sown outside from March onwards, when the soil has warmed up to 10 C / 50 F. Cloches will help to protect against frost buy you can start your peas off earlier by sowing seeds indoors, however wait until the last frost has passed before planting them outdoors. Carefully select early and main crop varieties to give you a long cropping season or sow seeds every 3 weeks to ensure a constant supply of peas.
Sow bush and dwarf pea varieties in drills 5 cm deep at 5 cm spacing's, allowing 60 cm between rows. Vining varieties can be planted in double rows 15-20 cm apart.
Cover with soil and water gently. Your peas will germinate within 7-14 days. Protect the seedlings from birds by covering with netting and regularly remove competing weeds. Thin the seedlings to 5-8 cm apart.
Peas produce tendrils which they use to climb. Taller pea varieties will require support to prevent them from toppling over so use bamboo canes or trellis to create a structure upon which the peas can climb. Position your poles at the same distance you will sow your seeds. Dwarf pea varieties can be support with twiggy pea sticks (small twiggy branches about 90 cm long).
Tie in the young seedlings to the poles until they support their selves. Mulch under the plants in June to conserve moisture. Ensure you water well when the first flowers appear and then at weekly intervals to enable the pods to swell. Peas supply their own nitrogen and thrive in a low nutrient soil. Too much nitrogen produces lush foliage but few peas so do not feed them as they will have sufficient nutrients for the organic matter added to the soil.
You can harvest your peas when the pods are well filled. The pods at the bottom of the plant will mature first. Mangetout and sugar snaps peas should be picked when the pods are just starting to develop and are around 7 cm long.
Pick regularly to avoid any pods maturing as leaving pods to mature will result in the flower-producing mechanism to switch off and reduce your crop. At the end of the season cut the plants down to the base rather than pulling them up. This is because peas are nitrogen fixers and nodules in the roots release nitrogen into the soil which is perfect for next years brassicas.
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