Greetings crop pickers, here's the run down of the current top 12 polytunnel crops. Each of our 'Top of the Crops' have detailed growing guides, working with author and long-time polytunnel gardener, Andy McKee, we have produced a series of guides complete with all the do's and don'ts of growing the most popular crops. Whether you are looking to try growing something new, or just want to improve your existing crops these guides will make sure your polytunnel gardening is a big hit with all the family...
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Peas are a perfect example of how you can use your polytunnel to pull forward the start of summer by getting a harvest of sweet, tender peas three or four weeks before you could outside. A great boasting crop for showing off to the neighbours!
Varieties: Oskar, Douce Provence. Oskar is less hardy, so have some horticultural fleece ready for any late frosts, but it will give you sweet peas a week or so ahead of its nearest rivals. It's also very dwarfing, so you don't need to worry so much about what it will shade out.
Sowing: Dig some good compost into the spot where the peas are to be planted in late autumn or early winter. In February or early March, sow the peas 5cm deep in root-trainers or deep biodegradable pots, and keep them on a sunny windowsill: when their roots show at the bottom of the pots, it's time to plant them in the polytunnel.
Push pea sticks between the plants to support them, and tie them to it at intervals in case a late cold snap makes them go limp: when temperatures rise again they'll soon recover. Dwarfing peas like Oskar need less support; I usually just bend offcuts of chicken wire into a shallow U shape and place them over the row right after planting, and the plants grow up through them. If a hard frost is forecast, covering the row with garden fleece before dark the previous day will help them shrug it off.
Diseases and pests: The most common problems for young pea plants are slugs and aphids, but early poly tunnel plantings are usually growing strongly before either of these become a problem. Mice sometimes dig plants up looking for what's left of the seeds, but if you make sure that your poly tunnel isn't used for storage this is less likely.
Pods are ready to pick as soon as you can feel the peas inside them, and checking them for perfect ripeness is a great excuse to eat a few raw in the poly tunnel. Once picked they begin to lose their sweetness within a few hours, so don't collect them until just before they're needed: look carefully up and down the row to make sure that you don't miss any, because this makes the plant stop flowering – which means no more peas!
Recipe: Another incredibly versatile crop, peas are a fantastic ingredient, accompaniment or even eaten raw straight from the plant.