Homegrown peas taste very different from store-bought alternatives. There is nothing quite like a freshly picked pea pod, they are so sweet and crisp, almost like a whole different vegetable from what you normally get.
Because of this, they are a favourite of veg patches up and down the country. But when should you be planting your peas in order to obtain the best harvest? Let’s have a look.
Different Varieties Different Times
The first thing to mention when it comes to timing your pea planting is that there are different varieties that should be sown at different times. Much like potatoes you can get first early, early and maincrop peas.
As the names suggest some of these varieties produce harvest earlier than others and should also be sown at earlier times. Let’s have a look at these different types and also some of the more popular choices within these subgroups.
As we could gather from the name these are the really early peas that will produce your first harvest of the season.
First earlies can be sown indoors in January/February, this is how I start my peas off to get them off to a really strong start.
You may well be wondering well why don’t I just grow first earlies if I can get good crops out of them nice and early.
Surely you could stagger your growing and get good crops of these peas all summer long. And yes, you could.
The problem is though that first earlies tend to produce smaller crops than maincrop peas and they also aren’t as sweet.
These peas have been bred for hardiness more than crop size and flavour. This is why most growers, including me, grow both earlies and main crops.
You can also overwinter first early peas, sowing them in October/November. They will grow and then be fairly dormant over winter before romping away when spring hits.
For my first earlies, I like to grow Meteor peas from Thompson & Morgan. These produce a bigger crop than other first earlies I have tried and also taste a little sweeter.
They are also a really reliable grower and are very easy to get started.
Sometimes also called early maincrop or just early, these peas are grown in between your first earlies and your maincrop peas.
These tend to be fairly similar to a maincrop pea and as such, I don’t really tend to grow them that often, rather I just stagger the seeding of my maincrop peas.
If you do want to grow early peas then they should be sown indoors from march, alternatively, you can sow outdoors from April, weather dependent.
I much prefer to start my peas off indoors though before transplanting. This helps protect them from cold and pests.
These are your “Normal” peas and your main summer harvest. Maincrop peas will be the best tasting and heaviest cropping of all your peas.
They are not as hardy as earlier varieties though so do need to be sown a little later into the season. That is why we grow early varieties to fill the gap.
The maincrop I normally grow is Alderman but I will actually be experimenting with Rondo this year, sign up for my newsletter to see how they go!
When sowing my peas indoors I always start them off in a seed tray on a sunny windowsill above a radiator. Peas are really easy to germinate and will also appear quickly.
When growing peas I like to grow them in succession at around a week to 10 days gap. This will mean I have peas all summer and autumn long, and with a little pea monster about it needs to be done!
Step 1 – Fill a tray with compost
Start by filling a seed tray with compost, I normally use whatever is lying around but if you are particular then you can go ahead and use seed compost.
Step 2 – Wet the compost
I like to wet the compost now before I do any planting of seeds. This isn’t as important with peas as the seeds are large and so won’t get moved around as much
If you water small seeds straight after planting though you risk washing them right up to the edges of the tray.
Step 3 – Place peas on surface
Now I place the pea seeds down on the surface of the compost. I don’t immediately cover them, this way I can have a nice visual check to make sure there is a seed in every cell.
Step 4 – Push peas down
Now push the pea seeds down into the compost, just a couple of cm will do here.
Step 5 – Cover
Now brush some soil over the top of the pea to make sure they are fully covered.
Step 6 – Label
Now an important step that many growers, particularly those just starting out, overlook is labelling. I like to label my seeds with the variety growing as well as the date sowed.
This label will stay with the peas right up until harvest. This way I can see what varieties produced good crops and also how they tasted. If you don’t thoroughly label you will so forget what varieties you are growing where and it may take you a while to work out what varieties work best for you.
I don’t do this, living in northern England in the hills does have its drawbacks. But for those of you in milder conditions, you may want to consider just planting your peas direct to the ground.
This can be done around late march once the worst of the weather has passed. Your germination rate wont be as good as it would if you were growing indoors but you can always sow double and then thin to make up for this.
Peas won’t germinate if the soil is too cold, for me this would mean waiting until too late into the summer, which is why I always start them indoors. But if you live further south direct sowing will be an option, plus you can always help to warm the soil up by using cloches or polythene.
Sow outdoors into trenches around 5cm deep. Depending on your vegetable patch you may want to grow multiple rows, just make sure you leave plenty of space, peas do grow very bushy.
You can also overwinter your peas for a really early spring crop. Just as you would with sweet peas you can sow regular peas in autumn.
You need to do this undercover in a greenhouse/polytunnel but it will give you a delicious early crop next year.
How to plant out peas
Once your seedlings are well established and thriving indoors you will need to start to think about moving them outdoors. I like to do this in multiple stages to prevent shocking the pea plant.
The first thing I do is move the peas out of the seed tray and into larger individual pots when they are seedlings.
Then when spring is in full flow and the weather is improving I will start to get them ready for life outdoors. To begin this I will leave them outside in the daytime, before bringing them in.
Then after a week of this, I will leave them out for a day and a night before bringing them in. I will do this over 2-3 weeks depending on the weather and forecast.
After this, they will be a lot tougher and ready to be planted out into my allotment.
Advice on buying pea seeds
What I do and what I recommend is buying a first early pack of seeds and a maincrop. The first earlies allow you to get growing really early in the season while the maincrop will provide better harvests and taste, so grow both.
I don’t tend to bother with an early variety as the season just isn’t long enough for me to justify squeezing them in.
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