Peas, whether eaten complete with their pods or shelled are one of the most delicious grow your own crops. Fresh peas eaten straight from the polytunnel are a wonderful reward for the home grower. Peas also make a good crop for children to grow – easy and fun to harvest in the sun of the summer. They are a versatile vegetable that can be eaten fresh or cooked and, if you have any left over, they can easily be frozen for later use.
Peas will do fine in any sunny, fertile, moist yet free draining soil. Different varieties of peas will be better suited to planting at different times of year but if you choose the right types and sow them in succession then you can be eating peas from June right through to October. When choosing which seeds to plant when, it can be useful to remember that round seeds are hardier than wrinkled ones. Selecting varieties for mange tout, sugarsnap peas and shelled peas will give you variety throughout the season. Choosing heritage seed varieties will allow you to grow well-adapted crops and save your own pea seeds.
You can begin to sow pea seeds around March or April. Sow ideally on a sunny, mild day. If germination rates seem to be a problem, soaking pea seeds overnight before planting can help. Peas do not like to have their roots disturbed but if problems are encountered with rodents or birds eating the peas before they can germinate then you can sow peas in toilet roll tubes which can then be buried directly into the soil, so peas grown indoors can be transplanted without root disruption. Do not leave such peas too long before planting out. (Pea shoots can also be grown on a windowsill or in another warm, sunny place for use in salads and stir fries early in the year.)
Before sowing your seeds or placing seedlings in their final growing positions, you will need to give some attention to the framework that will support the vining peas. Canes and netting, trellis or sticky twigs can all be utilised to provide some support for your peas. It is best to place the support before sowing the seeds as you do not wish to disturb the roots of growing plants.
Keep peas well watered, especially when they are in flower and when the pods begin to form. An organic mulch spread around the plants will help retain soil moisture and keep pea plants healthy. As nitrogen fixers, peas can be beneficial for a range of other crops in your polytunnel. Practising rotation in polytunnel beds will allow you to gain the nitrogen in different areas.
Mange tout and sugar snap varieties can be eaten whole as soon as they reach a reasonable size. Pick often in order to prolong the harvest. Mature peas for shelling should be harvested when the pods round out and you can see the peas inside when you hold the pod up to the light. It is best to pick peas while they are still fairly small however, as these will have the best flavour.